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Grant Privett

I've been doing astronomy for 50 years (eek), so I am probably not giving it up any time soon.

Astronomy has changed and over time my interests have evolved from planetary observing, into meteors, through variable stars and, finally, to the deep sky. These days I'm especially interested in imaging of various sorts but find making pretty pictures increasingly dull. Its just not a challenge anymore - todays's kit pretty much does it for you. 

I generally use a 250mm f4.3 Newtonian on an EQ6 and Starlight SX694 camera from a site in Wiltshire near the Dorset border where the sky is mag 21. I also have sporadic access to a Celestron 11" RASA.

Fortunately, given the UK weather, I like programming and so write my own MS VB6 code to run a Starlight camera and interface it with TheSkyX software. Its a worthwhile skill for when I finally retire and get the chance to observe more - I want to make the most out of every night. I've also taught myself Python 3, which is useful but was designed by an idiot.

My current software project is writing code to resample images of variable nebulae in such a way as to allow quantitative  comparisons to be made, while my observing interest is in seeing how far a 250mm can be pushed and, also, satellite imaging.

2020 Sep 26

14:16 UTC

During a quick coffee break I had a look to see if McNeil's nebula was back yet. No joy. Nothing visible in a simple 2minute exposure.

2020 Sep 24

02:42 UTC

Following a headsup from Nick James I hoped to observe the near earth object but the torrential rain during the afternoon didnt make things look hopeful. About 10:15pm I glanced out and saw that the sky had cleared, so I gave it a go. At that point the object was moving at 0.25 / 0.48 arc secs per sec and wasn't yet inside the the GEO satellite belt.

2020 Sep 15

22:48 UTC

After a night spent sorting out the telescope - I seem to spend more time tweaking than observing, though a few clear nights would be welcome and help redress the balance - I finally got the pointing working well thanks to Pat Wallace's wonderful TPoint. 

So I thought I deserved some fun and went for something off the beaten track. its Parsamian 21 in Aquila from a catalogue of protostar/cometary nebulae. Actually, it was smaller than I expected and not where I had anticipated - 1950 coords I think were to blame - but as I was using a RASA the field enough was still big enough to capture it. 

Anyway, it is very comet like indeed, but the field of view (MIlky Way) is very cluttered. Had wondered if it might be a variable nebula candidate like Gyulbudaghian's nebula (nicely imaged in recent days by Nick James and Mike Harlow) and worth regularly following but its probably too small for much more than, Q: is It there? A: yes/no.

2020 Jul 31

00:57 UTC

A warm night, a pretty (if intrusive) moon, owls in the distance and a comet that might yet be naked eye were it not for the gibbous moon roughly 90 degrees away. I sat in a deck chair, set up the camera and just kept pressing the trigger. Had intended to do 30 but I knew the contrast would be poor so ended up doing 100 frames. It was worth it really.

2020 Jul 28

00:06 UTC

C2020 F3 NEOWISE is now severely on the fade. The dust tail still impresses but the ion tail, while still long, is now very narrow. The coma was bright green - not obvious with the frame attached as it is scaled to show the tails.

The rain had cleaned the air so the stars were bright, but the moon interfered. It was great to stand outside on a warmish evening and image a comet accompanied by Neil Young, Geddy Lee and Shirley Manson on the headphones.

2020 Jul 23

09:44 UTC

After several nights of stacking lots of images and getting some very nice results, I thought it would be nice to see the comet in the context of its surroundings. So I took some images from my "observatory" (in truth, a piece of concrete in the back garden). 

I could see there were lots of clouds and cirrus accumulating in the distance and so rushed to get something before they arrived. I bumped the ISO to 6400 but used 5s again (only slight star trailing at this declination) as I only had about 10minutes before the cloud arrived.

Anyway, the ion tail is still wonderful. The dust tail seems more diffuse. 

2020 Jul 22

10:26 UTC

Managed another night out on the cricket field. Listened to the sound of owls, foxes and teenagers calling to each other.

Not a perfect night, but the Milky Way down all the way to Sagittarius and there was just a little passing thin cloud illuminated by the baleful glow of Warminster in the distance.

Could have done without the house with the security lights that ruined photos 300m away, but hey! People have the right to be dumb (which fortunately plays to their strengths).

2020 Jul 21

01:28 UTC

After last night going to Knowlton Church to photograph NEOWISE and encountering about 20 car loads of photographers I thought I would try Broad Chalke cricket field again. Comet was still obvious. Its core and tail visible by direct sight with the tail now perhaps 6 degrees long to the naked eye. Its worth going out to gawp, so while I did that I used the camera too.

2020 Jul 18

01:38 UTC

I'm not sure how the astronomers of California cope. Have been out imaging a lot recently and I'm knackered.

Tonight was Friday of course and so even in lockdown I could hear people in the distance arguing and stumbling home from the pub - I rather hoped they wouldnt spot the figure on the cricket pitch taking pics. 

As to the comet. The ion tail is still strong and long. The dust cloud bright - at least from rural Wiltshire where the Milky Way is also obvious. Its big too. Only just fitting in the field of view. Tried 4s exposures  again tonight. If it gets dimmer I will try 5s.

2020 Jul 17

02:44 UTC

Unexpected midnight session at Broad Chalke sports centre. A nice tarmaced area made life easier. The cloud mostly kept away but a few bits appeared top and bottom (Salisbury was under cloud) which gave a bit of an orange tinge.

Even a single image showed the ion trail.

2020 Jul 13

11:07 UTC

This comet just keeps getting better. Way past Halley now and Hyakutake (for me - then in cloudy Shropshire).

This image taken with Canon M3, 50mm, F1.8 lens, plus tripod. Stacked 10x 2s frames.

The ion tail is much clearer than before and the whole thing bigger I thought. 

2020 Jul 12

14:32 UTC

Tried C/2020 F3 NEOWISE again last night. Complete mess....

Took lots of pics at 300mm with the Canon 1100D on a tripod, but the focus shifted so  ended up with just 20x 100mm focal length jpgs to play with. Its not enough with an f5.6 lens!

So lessons learned:

1, don't lose your glasses and waste an hour scouring the field

2, if the comet is moving left to right, use the camera in portrait mode (to reduces stripes)

3, always turn on CR2 creation - SD memory is cheap!

4, gaffer tape the zoom lens at a given setting

5, I mean, really, don't lose your glasses.

Perhaps it will be clear tonight.

2020 Jul 11

21:41 UTC

After getting up for C2020 F3 NEOWISE on about 6 mornings, I finally got to see it this evening. It really is circumpolar - well from Cranborne Chase anyway.

A very obliging comet, that photographs really well. Obvious to the naked eye and clearly extending upward and to the right. Its not Hale-Bopp, but its very welcome.

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