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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 fully 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 the language is a mess and was designed by an idiot. That said, so many people have written external libraries for it that is is now possible to do a lot with it if you work round the language's glaring faults.

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.

2018 Feb 12

23:08 UTC

Last night I had a quick look at M78 - partly because I think its one of the prettiest nebulae and partly because McNeil's variable nebula lies close by.

Unfortunately, the image size limit makes it hard to see both well. Will supply a FITS copy to Callum.


2017 Oct 23

21:55 UTC

Jeremy Shears asked if anyone had an image of Crux knocking about. A couple of colour images are shown here. These were taken using a Canon 20D from Australia and a Canon 1100D from New Zealand. Used a simple fixed tripod and quite short exposures. Had to throw away the image edges due to (cheap) lens distortions.

The monochrome picture was taken in New Zealand using a Starlight H18, a Nikkor 20mm lens and a fixed tripod again.

2017 Sep 29

23:54 UTC

While in Hawaii recently, I got a chance to sample the delights of a mag 22 sky again - at the top of Haleakala.

I had intended to take a decent 14mm lens this time (I visited in 2014 as well), but instead made do with the 18-55mm zoom that came with my Canon1100D. Its not a great zoom lens, and its not a great camera by modern standards, added to which I only used a tripod to mount the camera.

I took  a series of 6s 6400ISO f3.5 exposures with the arrangement and later tried to align them using AstroArt6. It didnt do a bad job, but i did have to crop the image quite a lot as the star images at the frame edges were really quite horrible. The vignetting was a little fierce too.

Either way, given that I didnt take half the frames I had intended to because two colleagues had decided to join me - one of them wearing shorts - and if we didnt get down the mountain again by 10pm all the eateries (apart from McDonalds an Zippy's) would be closed. 

Despite that, the attached image gives a feel for the sky there. Milky Way absurdly bright - we mistook it for a cloud initially, there was some about - constellations at weird angles and far more stars than I am used to. A wonderful place. 

The image covers Sagittarius and Scorpius pretty well.

2017 Aug 26

17:54 UTC

Managed to make it to the centre line in Idaho. Fearing hideously bad roads we left our hotel in West Yellowstone for the 106mile drive at 4am. We took a "pretty" wibbly-wobbly route to avoid Rexburg where the population was expected to more than double on eclipse day, but only saw a few dozen cars in the predawn light. So we ended up in the desert about 10 miles east of Terreton (AKA Nowheresville) with about 80 other RVs, SUVs, cars, motorbikes and quad bikes.  The very aptly named Sage Junction. People were excited, friendly and very happy - and that was before anything happened. The 4 hour wait passed very fast.

The eclipse itself was far prettier than that I saw from the shore of the Black Sea in 1999. Thats probably the difference between dry desert air and maritime humid air. Either way the corona looked bigger and more detailed than I had seen previously and the diamond ring more breathtaking. We took 9 family and friends with us and several who had never seen an eclipse before were totally gobsmacked by the fantastic view. There were wild grins all round as the light vanished. 

Had intended to take pics for a minute and watch for the final 75 seconds, but instead watched and took photos throughout. Processing them will take some time. They look quite nice, even when taken using only a 30 year old f5.6 100-300mm canon zoom lens hung on a Canon 1100D and fairly light weight tripod.

The trip back was harder. A 6 hour haul where we at one point stopped completely for an hour - one of our party got out to walk and we didnt overtake him for an hour. But as we had Pringles, water, cookies and fruit, no one cared. Months of prep paid off.

A very, very good day. 

Whens the next one?

2017 May 27

18:53 UTC

A few months ago I tried to image the Gaia mission orbiting out at one of the Lagrange points. That was successful, but due to hazy skies, a weak detection. So I thought I would try something nearer to us and return to Gaia in the autumn. I chose Spektr-R. Its a interferometry radio astronomy system (SATCAT 37755) placed in a highly elliptical earth orbit in 2011 by some guys from Mother Russia. Its a 10m wide dish and so ends up being quite a bright object when the sun-satellite-observer orientation is favourable. I've seen figures quoted of the order of 14th mag - not that much fainter than a normal sized geostationary satellite.

Anyway, I imaged it in 120s exposures while it was out about 320,000km from the earth. I've no idea if its still working, but its currently the most distant man-made object I've imaged.

16:26 UTC

Was out trying to work out why I couldn't seem to get a satellite in my field of view and decided to have a bash at Ron Arbour's new supernova in NGC3938. Well placed, 17th mag, pretty galaxy - whats not to like?

Was impressed by how easy to spot the supernova was against the spiral arm.

A much nicer target than Comet Johnson turned out to be - possibly the dullest comet I've imaged in ages!

And no, I have no idea why the galaxy image is there twice :)

2017 Apr 3

04:36 UTC

I've been messing about with a Paramount MEII recently. I got it set up and TPoint  set up (error distribution odd but around 140arc sec RMS - mount advising no further tweaking) and then found that following updating to a daily build that it couldn't find a thing - literally. It didn't even get its "Home" site right.

Solution was to nuke the TheSkyX Pro build and go back a year or two to an older build and start again. Working my way forward, but worried about installing an update that breaks it again - lost 3 nights sorting it out last time.

Anyone else encountered this sort of problem?

Reply from Richard Miles: Later this year I shall be tackling the same task so your warning should be a useful one!

2017 Feb 6

00:31 UTC

Three simple images created with a decent Starlight camera, a GRB Griturn lens adaptor, a Nikon 20mm lens and a tripod. Unlike some lenses I can think of, the Nikon lens I had borrowed did not totally lose the plot with very red stars and focus was quite easy really. Went for a series of 3s frames and after stacking the images had to crop them a tad because of field rotation.

Have given the lens back but will keep an eye out for one, kinda, sorta.

2017 Jan 7

21:52 UTC

Managed to get outside for the first time in a while - I seem to spend my spare time sorting out stuff/writing code for work or doing things around the house. Ah well, at least its warm indoors. The night of the 4th-5th Jan 2017 was -5.5C - though didn't feel too bad as the wind was very light. Moon was around until around midnight (which was a pain) and I didn't start until 21:00, but I did sneak in V900 Mon, Hinds Variable Nebula and McNeils/M78. Finally gave in at 02:05 when even industrial grade coffee and Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Rammstein wasn't keeping me alert. 

On Boxing Day night I had a go at a mag 20.7 asteroid, but failed as I misidentified the field of view. Ho hum. That's 2hours wasted then. A useful reminder to always have a good quality Skyview printout to hand. Shame to waste a night but at least I spent time under the night sky again.


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