A family group setting up ready for a night of Moon viewing. Credit Celestron
Clear crisp winter nights are often the best for star gazing in the Australia but, it gets very cold, so don’t forget to rug up before doing any extended star watching. Winter sees our night skies dominated by the Southern Cross, sprawling Scorpio and Sagittarius, in which the heart of our galaxy hides, so it’s well worth stepping out into the chill for an astronomical thrill.
There’s a nice half Moon on Saturday July 5 and a good opportunity to take a photograph of it. There’s something magical about those pictures of the moonlight sky and dazzling stars, they convey a special something that daytime photos can’t. You’ll need a tripod to hold the camera completely still for clear pics OK. A shutter release cable is handy too.
Turn off the auto focus mechanism and bracket your shots, up to a couple of seconds, but not to long to avoid background stars having ‘tails’ on them. Point the camera at the moon, click, and keep the shutter open for the desired length of time. NEVER use a flash! Take several shots at different speeds and see which gives the best exposure.
Take the batteries you know you’ll need, as well as the batteries you think you won’t need and don’t forget to retain your ‘night vision.’ This is the process by which the eyes increase their sensitivity to low levels of illumination. In the first 30 minutes, sensitivity increases 10,000-fold, with little gain after that. But brief exposure to bright light temporarily rolls back this hard-won increase.
Got a smart phone? You can hand hold it over the eyepiece and careful aiming might get you a few nice moon shots. Email them to yourself. Now, go and look at the images on your computer and pick out the best one. Nothing beats trial and error, it’s the best way to build up experience and collect a good number of moon ‘selfies.’
Your scope may be modest, but don’t let that prevent you from using it! An inexpensive telescope that gets used is superior to a premium scope that sits in storage.
If your telescope is wobbly it may be time for a ‘tripod tune up.’ In most cases, the worst feature of a low priced telescope is the tripod and the head that holds the tube which lets it point to different parts of the sky. A telescope doesn’t magnify just the things you’re looking at – it also magnifies every wobble and vibration in the mount.
Does the view through the eyepiece dance around when the wind picks up? That’s probably because the tripod’s not rigid enough. Do you see wild vibrations every time you touch the focusing knob? The problem might be in the tripod, the head, or both.
To fix a bad case of wobbles, first tighten the wing nuts at the top of the tripod, where the legs meet the mount head. Shorten the tripod legs as much as you can. The lower the scope, the less it will shake. Tap the end of the scope while looking through the eyepiece and time how long the view takes to settle. A couple of seconds is fine, but 10 seconds is way too long.
An easy way to improve a tripod’s stability is to suspend a weight between its legs. Fill a plastic bottle with water or sand and hang it between the tripod’s legs. The extra weight will keep a light mount from swaying in the breeze, and it may help damp vibrations. A brick can be uses too. Hey, don’t laugh, home remedies like these do work.
Want a free star map of the night sky that you can download and print off for every month of the year? Thought so, then go to www.skymaps.com and select the map for the southern hemisphere. Print it off, head outside and get ready for some pretty easy stargazing! Get David’s free astronomy newsletter and a free 323 page e-book called ‘The Complete Idiots Guide To Astronomy.