So we’re back from our short caravan break to Kelling Heath in North Norfolk this weekend just gone, where the 2012 Autumn Star Party took place. I enjoyed 3 good nights of clear skies and stargazing, using a combination of my EQ mounted Celestron C6-SGT scope, my Orion XT10i and my 20×80 big binos, while my wife chilled out reading books, walking the dog, and cursing me when I rolled into bed at 3.30am each morning!
This is the second year I have been to the Kelling Star Party, and it was good to meet up with familiar faces and friends made at last years event (hi Simon, Darryl and Keith!).
This year I made more of an effort to go from one field to the other during the night time observing sessions (last time I stayed very much with my own gear, venturing only to neighbouring pitches). I thoroughly recommend taking the time to do this, as I learned a lot by chatting to fellow astronomers about their kit and asking for tips and advice. The majority of people are more than happy to talk about their passion and show what they are doing or share the view through their eyepiece. It’s one thing to drool at all that lovely kit during the daytime, but even better to see it in proper use at night! Looking through the giant dobs was amazing.
As explained in a previous post I recently got a new Canon EOS 600d DSLR and I wanted to try it out, but was a little vague on how I should set up the 600d camera for astrophotography, and what software I should use beyond that supplied with the camera (namely EOS Utility, Zoombrowser EX and Digital Photo Professional). By talking to people I learned that I should try about ISO 800 (or ISO 3200 to bring enough light for previewing in Liveview for focusing on dimmer objects), and that with my CG5 EQ mount I could probably manage between 30 seconds to 1 or 2 minute exposures, but not really much longer because my mount is not autoguided yet.
Watching a guy called Mark Shelley (www.markshelley.co.uk) operate his kit was the most interesting and instructive. He was using a lovely “banana yellow” Takahashi OTA with an Infra-Red modified Canon 350d to capture NGC6888 The Crescent Nebula, and was very helpful and patient answering my many questions about the setup and software.
He was using Stark Labs Nebulosity (for initial framing and focus preview), IRIS and/or DeepSkyStacker (to check exposures and overall look of the images after capture, and for later processing of the images), Bhatinov Grabber (this uses a cut-n-paste method to grab the star diffraction image created by a bhatinov mask from the Nebulosity image display, re-displaying the selected area in its own screen, and indicates automatically when best focus has been achieved). Although Bhatinov Grabber can control an autofocuser, Mark was actually performing the focusing manually and using Grabber simply to monitor the diffraction spikes.
Mark had developed his own shutter control and dithering software which integrates with PHD autoguiding software (the dithering deliberately moves the scope by a minute amount between images to help post-processing better distinguish what is real and what is noise in the image).
I also discovered EQAlign to help with polar alignment. Of course accurate polar alignment is crucial to good long exposure astrophotography.
So I now knew about all kinds of goodies to investigate further. Unfortunately my phone signal at Kelling was rather too poor to setup a WiFi hotspot to download the software to try it out, so for the weekend I made do with EOS Utility and the new knowledge gained to attempt capturing some images on my 600d. I’ve yet to post-process these to see how well I did !
Overall this year was very enjoyable. The weather forecast was not looking good a week before, but we were treated to some clear nights with beautiful views of the Milky Way, and two hot days during which we also visited Sherringham and Weybourne for the 1940’s Wartime Weekend, where the locals dress up in original uniforms and attire of the day, with policeman, German soldiers, RAF, Army, Naval officers, and the ladies looking excellent in their dresses, furs and hats, everything made all the more authentic by the North Norfolk Steam Railway carrying passengers between Holt and Sherringham. It really was like stepping back in time.
We had to book quickly for 2013 ! On the day we arrived, someone had already booked our pitch for next years event, so next time we will be on a different camping pitch. Also the dates are over the weekend of 5th/6th October so it will be interesting to see what difference this makes in terms of darkness, coldness and weather generally.
Hope it will be as good, and looking forward to it already!