Easy for Me to Judge

This is interesting. Here I am hanging out in a coffee shop for the wi fi access during my lunch break, and here’s a lovely young woman hitting on a dude with a Mac. He was sitting there with his ear buds in, watching a video or two. She approached after sitting across the room for a few minutes, and now they’re still talking politics even after he botched her name.
Geez dude, ask her to sit down already.
I can make these kinds of observations because I’m 51 years old, happily married for 22 years, and thankful that I don’t have to do the flirty-dance anymore.
Holy crap dude! She’s leaving! She just wanted to sit down. Man, do I want to knock some sense into him.


The annual Mid-Atlantic Star Party is about my only opportunity to try any long exposure astrophotography.  I’ll dabble in some 30 – 90 second exposures at my home observation spot in the front yard, but not the three to five minute guided shots I’d like to do.

MASP is held for one week every fall near Robbins, NC.  There are sometimes as many as several hundred amateur astronomers there every year.  I’ve been able to attend every year but one since we moved here in 2003. The last couple of years have seen sparce attendance, but I blame the economy for keeping people away.  Or the weather.  2011’s gathering was clouded out all week long.

When the weather and economy cooperate, MASP is a great time.  Robbins is less than an hour away from home, reasonably dark, and close enough to a great mom-and-pop fried chicken place to make it a must every year if possible.

The people there have been great over the years. The range of expertise is remarkable. I’ve met the most casual observers camped right next to hard-core guys doing spectroscopy of all things.  One of my most memorable encounters was with a Marine who had driven up from Camp Lejune with his astro gear.  His passion was photographing transits. He showed us some jaw-dropping images he had taken of the International Space Station passing in front of the sun and the moon (not on the same pass, of course!).  At the time, he said he had never really tried any long exposure photography with his DSLR and was setting up for his first run.  His first exposures of M101 were awesome right out of the gate (even before processing in the computer). I’ve been shooting with a DSLR on my telescopes for years now, and with film cameras before that.  My stuff still pales in comparison to those pics.

You know, it’s kind of like golf.  You hit one really good shot in a dozen, it’s enough to keep you going.  Astrophotography can be as challenging as you want it to be. I’m not looking to get anything published in Sky & Telescope magazine or anything, but I do want to take a few more shots I can be proud of. I just need to improve my ratio.  I’d like to improve to four or five good shots out of a dozen.

I’m going to post a few of my MASP shots from 2008 since that was the last year I had good luck with conditions, equipment and avoiding silly personal mistakes like leaving a crucial USB cord at home.

Here’s to hoping for clear, steady skies in 2012.

M31 3min x 5 exp f/6

M42 3min x 3 exp at f/6

Sculptor Galaxy 3min x 5 exp at f/6

M33 3min x 5 exp at f/6

Astronomy Weather and Snake Bite

The weather this winter has been really mild temperature-wise, but the skies most open Friday nights have either been cloudy or rainy. My grandfather would say we’ve been “snake bit”. We have yet to get our middle schoolers out under the stars with the new school telescope this year.

Worse, the computer hand-control we received with the scope isn’t working. After setting everything up a few months ago for a trial run, I ended up with a blank screen on the controller. Orion’s customer service was great about it. All we need to do is send it back with the order receipt and they’ll ship us a new one. Actually, Orion did one better. They’ve offered to send us a new controller even before the faulty one gets to them. Very nice.
Meantime, if we could just get the skies and David’s school schedule to line up, we can still get Celeste out under the stars. I think the kids would get a kick out of what’s up there right now. Jupiter is still in a good spot for the next few months, and Mars is coming around for some good viewing this spring. Fingers crossed.