Sunday, March 29, 2015

Messier 51 and Omega Centauri

The sky has been clear for the past few nights, and last night I finally got some observatory time! Most of the night was spent helping another amateur astronomer with his scope and making adjustments to the Epsilon-200, but I did get a little bit of time for imaging. The first, an image of the Whirlpool Galaxy, was created from a series of test shots. The focus is a little off, and some of the fainter detail didn't show up because of a bright moon (68% illumination). Despite the problems this image is actually better than my previous attempts. I did not shoot dark, flat, or bias frames.

Messier 51, the Whirlpool Galaxy; Epsilon-200 on NJP; Canon EOS Rebel T3; 8x180 @ ISO-1600
Globular cluster Omega Centauri is a monstrous cluster that appears very low on the horizon (about 11 degrees at most) from my latitude. I've seen it visually once, and have wanted to image it for years.

The problem is that it is only visible for a few minutes from where the Epsilon-200 is located at the SHSU observatory. I imaged it as it passed between a couple of trees at the the south end of the observatory. Seeing is bad that low down, and it is within the light domes of several cities.

Omega Centauri; Epsilon-200 on NJP; Canon EOS Rebel T3; 33x30 @ ISO-1600

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Five Stages of Astronomical Grief

The weather pattern these past few months has not been conducive to viewing or astrophotography. As I mentioned in a previous post, when the sky hasn't been cloudy the humidity has been high. Throw in a busy schedule and an intense need for sleep, and I haven't gone out much lately.

And it appears that I am not alone. A LOT of folks have been complaining about the clouds.

A recent post on a forum on which I participate got me to thinking that there may be a relationship between grief and the feeling we amateur astronomers get when we can't go out and play for long periods of time. So, I mapped out the stages of grieving in relation to the Cloudy Night Blues. After all, I need SOMETHING to do that's at least moderately astronomy-related.

Stage 1: Denial

Maybe the weather will improve. Astronomers have to hold onto whatever tenuous shreds of hope they can grasp. Hey, sometimes the weather forecasters get it wrong! But all too often they are correct or, worse, they predict clear skies and it clouds up again. All of this eventually leads to...

Stage 2: Anger

Why won't these !#@$=! clouds go away? Our inability to control the weather, coupled with an intense urge to do astronomy stuff often results in increasing frustration. Frustration can sometimes blind our reasoning. OF COURSE there are valid reasons for clouds, and our opinion of and dislike of them are of no consequence to Mother Nature. The cycle of frustration, impotent rage, and meteorological ambivalence to our condition brings us to the point of...

Stage 3: Bargaining

Maybe I can view between the clouds, or, God, if you make the clouds go away then I'll [insert promise you will never be able to keep here]. In this stage, we may attempt to adapt to our circumstances, or we may become delusional...or both. Either way, those who reach Stage 3 are well on their way to potential emotional disaster if the weather does not improve. There is no magical cure for cloudy weather, and often the cycle of clear-to-clouds-to-clear takes several days or weeks, depending on the season and local climate. When we realize that our best efforts to cope with or appeal to nature's good graces are useless, we experience...

Stage 4: Depression

I'll never see the stars again. What is the point of all this? Prolonged suffering generally gives way to despair. Many torture victims describe a point at which their torment overwhelms their convictions and they give in. Only with clouds, giving in doesn't make them go away, so then there must be...

Stage 5: Acceptance

I need a new hobby, or, I will be patient, then when the time is right I'm taking a personal day from work and spending all night outside. Nothing lasts forever. Not even clouds. Well, maybe they do in some places. At any rate, just accept the clouds for what they are. Or don't. Either way, there's nothing you can do about it.