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!