Tuesday, August 20, 2013

StarFest 2013

Another StarFest come and gone. There are quite literally two seasons. StarFest and Christmas never mind construction and hot, humid weather. This year was not quite hot and not quite humid but it wouldn’t be StarFest without a Tornado Warning issued somewhat close to River Place Park. That was Wednesday. Wednesday morning started off with a bang as nasty weather moved through with high winds and rain. Later that afternoon, a funnel cloud was spotted near Arthur, Ontario. Wednesday for whatever cosmic reason, is “Tornado Day”. Arthur, thankfully, is not that close to where we are. Still, it was a tad disconcerting that, once again, a tornado was spotted during StarFest.

K and I got lucky only because we showed up as it was clearing up. Lots of set up including our trailer, dining tent (Party Central!) and the New Eyes Old Skies vendor tent. So luckily for us the weather cooperated.

Wednesday night it cleared and we got some observing done. I was working with a 105mm Antares Refractor trying to demonstrate just how faint this particular telescope could see visually by challenging myself to observe some very faint Struve double stars in Aquila. Given the ever encroaching light pollution I did manage to spot a pair down to 12.5 magnitude. Not bad!

Thursday night really defines StarFest personally for us. Always good times and good fun. Tony and Janet and Jim Kendrick finally showed up along with John and Maggie, Dave, Brent, Drew, K and myself for our annual Thursday night pot luck dinner which is always so much fun. Everyone has become family. I am not sure StarFest would be the same without it. Thankfully, we were all able to get back together, not to mention the usual shenanigans of our music night with Dave, John, Mickey, Victor and someone else I can’t remember. Otherwise it was great fun.

I cannot honestly remember when we first visited Normand Fullum's monster 36" telescope but it was sure impressive...We didn't get a chance to look through it.

Friday was the first vendor day and it was lots of fun to see old friends and to make new ones as K and I volunteered to help out Bruce and Susan at the New Eyes Old Skies tent. Friday was a very nice day till about early afternoon when high altitude clouds began to form. By evening a line of clouds began to form and showers were bearing down on River Place along with some moderate wind. Someone forgot to cover his scope, a wonderful TEC 140 (not to mention any names, right Malcolm?). So we packed everything up, guitars got out again and the “Girls” had their little pow-wow in what we guys have nicknamed “Estrogen Meadows” which is John and Maggie’s tent. Except they kick out John. At midnight it had cleared. I should have gone to bed, but I rolled out the Tele Vue 76 for some deep, wide field observing…

Saturday was the last of the vendor days as again we volunteered for New Eyes Old Skies and made a day of it. We believe we generated quite a bit of buzz there and we hope to see all our new friends throughout the years to come. It was also fortunate that Saturday night was THE night at StarFest. Still, I was dead tired but managed to work with my ES127ED to start the Herschel 400 list. This list can be very challenging. However, I stayed mainly in Cassiopeia and some of the wonderful open clusters in that constellation. But by 1am, fatigue was really becoming a factor and K and I crashed for the night.

Sunday we took everything down and headed out for our annual lunch at “The Spot” restaurant where again our good friends met up to enjoy a good meal, lots of laughs (we were slap happy!) and just to reminisce about StarFests past.

StarFest can be defined many ways, but I define it as a place to gather, a place of “fellowship under the stars” (not my phrase, that was a StarFest phrase), a place for family. Our “astronomy family”.

More great memories. And more to come…Check some pics below...


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A 5" APO as a bird photography scope? Are you crazy?

The short answer to the second question is "yes"...

Anyway, if the other way of saying "pushing the limits" is "doing something crazy", this might actually apply. Historically and practically the best focal length for bird photography in terms of a small APO refractor or spotting scope is usually about 300-500mm focal length. Same generally goes for lenses. Steve Owen, a great bird photographer, works from a marvelous Canon L lens, the 100-400mm zoom. That makes a lot of sense to me. Any focal length above this is generally reserved for the catadioptric style optical tube. That makes sense too as it is compact to handle such a longer focal length.

And so goes the thinking until I tried this...

Outdoor Bird Cannon?

Now, before you start thinking I've lost it (or is it too late for that?) let's take a look at that set up. That's a 127ED Explore Scientific 5" APO with a 952mm focal length on the SkyWatcher AZ4 mount head and a standard tripod. This set up is not too heavy and not too heavy to transport for a short walk. Yes, a SHORT walk. I wouldn't want to hike it. Attached is my Canon 30D DSLR producing a crop factor of 1.6 making the effective focal length 1523mm and you might be surprised about the results. With that sort of focal length getting close to 500 metres or more is possible. But is it practical? Yes and no. I found there were a lot of gremlins working together. First, there was a lot of infrared around as it was bright and sunny and of course that equates to poor seeing at such a distance. Second, I was set up on a wood boardwalk like structure affecting the stability, perhaps that had an effect. Probably the hardest thing was to get focus on moving objects. Birds just don't sit around too long, so that was really tough. The auto-focus 400mm lens has a big advantage over this set up.

Have a look at some of the results...

One thing that I did learn in the two hours at Rattray Marsh here in Mississauga, is that birds-in-flight is almost next to impossible. It can be done, but there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get it. I'd rather leave that to the 400mm crowd.

In the end, with some more practice, this could be a very nice, stationary set up to work from to compliment my 480mm Tele Vue 76. But there are limits. I would only want to walk a short distance and at the end of this particular session, I had to walk up hill with it. Not fun :) M