Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Dark Arts 3

I do have moments of doubt. five o’clock in the morning is a pretty unforgiving hour when there is no need to get out of a warm bed at all. Still, the celestial wheels are turning and the next chance I get to see this one I will be a decade hence facing sixty. Not to say that sixty is a great age you understand, I shall look forward to it as I have every decade, and so until the great Moo Moo embraces me.
So. Its five o’clock and I am stumbling around my kitchen, scratching my arse, connecting equipment, and making a cup of tea. Asbo grunts and gives me the lazy eye. Blind pugh grunts.
Outside it is cloudy. Bugger!
But as I look to the west I can see stars through the thin cloud and figure I might get lucky.
Tonight my target is a grazing occultation.
Regulus, The Little King, Principal star of the constellation Leo, is going to play its own game of kiss chase with the moon.
If this cloud clears I should see it disappear as the moon crosses its line of sight, and then reappear a few minutes later. Unlike the childhood games of kiss chase where I was too shy to pursue golden haired Gail, I have now learnt that if you stick at it, in astronomy at least, you can get lucky eventually.
Fingers crossed then, I set up my camera on a tripod. Switch on a computer next to it and start exposing. Ooer… No the point here is that I want to photograph three, arguably four different objects. The light face of the moon, very bright. The shadowed face of the moon from which I hope to see faint detail of the grey seas. The star Regulus which is the faintest object I expect to see, and also Venus which I hope to be just inside the rectangle.
Even without the cloud, realizing them all in a picture is optimistic.
As the moon creeps through the ecliptic the cloud gives tantalising windows on the dance. The blinding moon, massive in perspective to the star, eventually swallows its light, occluding.
And now it’s a nail biting wait for the photo that I really want. I want to catch the star as it comes over the darkened limb of the moon. To catch the exact moment that it reappears. I want to see the tiny dot of light as it blinks over the lunar mountains.
The interval drags. I ought to be able to figure it to the exact second but there are so many factors. In fact even with an accurate clock, a precise location and altitude there would be an interval of uncertainty. One that can be used to measure the gap between crags on the moons horizon. Oh heck, I am not that good. But I really do want to catch the moment. And then suddenly the cloud thins right out. The moon is hanging in a crystal sky and Venus is as bright as I have ever seen it. Its in the frame.
Using binoculars on a second tripod I watch the faint new moon, cupped in the brightness of the old. Afraid to blink even.
All of a sudden its there! Click. A laser sharp pinpoint of alien fire sweeps across unimaginable billions of miles, trips a light fantastic over the arid mountains and photons that left on their journey in 1930 spark a synapse and a small piece of digital magic. My imagination outraces Einstein’s speed limit and in an instant retraces the path.
I didn’t expect it to feel this good!


buffalodickdy said...

I really should look up once in awhile....

sablonneuse said...

Wow. I'm not sure which impressed me more: the photo or your description of taking it. They are both breathtaking.

DaveM said...

Perfect timing and a great shot. Your description of the events almost makes me want to find out more about the stars.
I think a post on Gail is called for!!!!!

startare said...

The great thing about your posts is that reading them is as good as being out there with you watching the magic operate, but we can stay tucked up in bed.

bittersweet me said...

startare made a good point. Fabulous photo, although you don't really need it, with your description (sorry!)

btw. connecting *which* equipment?

headless chicken said...


Mike said...

Nice! How long did you have to sit outside waiting for it?
Love the last paragraph.....ever thought of being a science teacher........


Jayne said...


I'm nearly as impressed that you got up so early to take that. I'd have stayed in bed I think.


john.g. said...

Great photo !

Sally Lomax said...

You really should get more sleep!

Sally Lomax said...

Good photo though!

Fi said...

I have pinched your photo for the desktop of my PC at work. It's lovely. Hope you don't mind, i'm not trying to pass it off as mine or anything ;)

rivergirlie said...

my twins are going on a french exchange soon - and it was thinking about your experience! hem hem.

Sparkle Plenty said...



Rosy said...

It is only on rare accasions that I will stick my head out the back door to look up into the morning skies. I not yet have attempt at taking a picture of the night sky while (this third camera of mine) outside late at nights before midnite.. and now after reading your post it makes me want to go out side just before the sun rise up to make an attempt to try to get a picture of the stars as well as the moon, only problem with this task is trying to drag myself up and out of bed at that time.

DaveM said...

Shall we call it Meredics Moon?

meredic said...

buffalodickdy – starlit skies go really well with food cooked over a barbeque you know.

sablonneuse – thank you. As long as I have communicated the fun to be had outside the bed in the early morning….

DaveM – have a play with google sky, it lets you set up shots like this.
Gail was nine, I was ten, and I was shy.

startare – hmm I don’t think the reading is quite the same as the thrill of being there you know..

bittersweet me – I struggled hard to get that picture… don’t really need it! Madam please.

headless chicken – perhaps i should alert people early for astronomical events rather than after. Thank you.

Mike – I sat outside from just after five until just before seven. No real chore in that as you know. I just wanted to make sure all the things i needed were in place as a photo op like this doesn’t come all that often.
As for the science teaching…. very funny…

Jayne – You get used to it after a while, afternoon naps help as well. :-)

john.g. – thank you as well John. Worth getting up at five for I think.

Sally – I think you mean sleep at the same time as other people. I seem to be a creature of the night at present.

Fi – I am flattered, and glad that you liked it. You must have some good dark skies where you are. wrap up warm, get out and have a look.

rivergirlie – well if they find their own star kissed night and a warm barn good luck to them.

Spakle Plenty – Oh it was. The moment that Regulus appeared over the moon was spectacular.

Rosy – hey you can do it any time you know. In a week or so the moon will be rising in the east early in the evening. The trick is getting the timing right for the exposure.

DaveM – Sir, decorum please!

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