The Southern Cross

Out at Pascoe Vale Girls College we have been meeting regularly, students have been teaching other students how to drive the telescope and we have thrown ourselves into Astrophotography.

Students aligning the telescope at Pascoe Vale Girls College

Students aligning the telescope at Pascoe Vale Girls College

Even the parents have been getting in on the act with Madooshi’s dad learning, then teaching us about Registax and how to stack images. Madooshi’s dad also told me how he made a telescope for Halley’s Comet in 1986 as a kid growing up in Sri Lanka out of old camera lenses, shipping rope and a car clutch. He saw the comet and continues his love for astronomy today with his own telescope in his backyard. We love that he is sharing his enthusiasm with us!

First some reports from a few students:

This one from Tenisha Fernando (Year 12) on the Rephract Science Club observing session;

It had been a while since my last viewing night with Year 12 taking great priority over many things and even though I had a SAC the next day, I was incredibly grateful to Miss Ankers for persuading me to come to the viewing night on the 30th of July! The sky was beautifully clear, giving us a chance to see so many different things. Since it had been a while, I was pretty rusty with setting it up the telescope but thanks to Gaby (Yr 8) and the teachers, we managed to get the telescope set up and quickly aligned using Arcturus and Rasalhague and quickly on our way to our first sight, which was the incredibly bright Venus! It looked absolutely amazing, but what was even better was Saturn which looked crystal-clear through the telescope! It looked so good that my sister (Saumaya Year 10) and I took pictures of it. I took a few with a mobile camera and it turned out well, but the best pictures came when we added a camera to the telescope to get some amazing photos of it. After taking a couple of shots we moved to a cluster of stars, the Wishing Well Cluster (C91) to be exact. It looked amazing and the pictures we got were absolutely stunning. After playing around with the light exposure and timer, we found the best pictures came out at an exposure of 800 with a time of either 5 seconds or 30 seconds.

Each of us took a turn then, Gaby centred on the Jewel Box Cluster (C94) and also the Running Chicken Nebula (C100) and we took some shots with the same settings.

Samantha (Yr 12) took us to Omega Centauri (C80) and we changed the settings to ISO 1600 and varied the exposure time between 5 and 15 seconds.
Overall the night was amazing with all the different things we got to see in the sky thanks to a beautifully clear sky and amazing memories to remember what we saw with the photos we took. Hopefully the rest of the term is filled with clear Tuesday nights so that we can see some more amazing things!

Since that night the students have been experimenting with their images. This one of Saturn by Tenisha using photoshop.

Tenisha's image of Saturn created by stacking single images in Photoshop

Tenisha’s image of Saturn created by stacking single images in Photoshop

The year 7’s have been getting involved in the program of late and on a relatively cloudy night, Gaby (experienced Year 8 student, who came along just after she had won the overall competition for the St Johns Ambulance Event that day) took over and instructed them on how to align the telescope. Later the clouds had cleared up and we quickly looked at the Moon after which Gabby grilled the Year 7’s on the alignment process.

So this comment from a year 7 student; 

My favourite part would have to be seeing the moon through the telescope and Gaby’s quizzes. 

A couple of weeks ago, we also dabbled in some nightsky photography, all inspired after reading though Phil Hart’s eBook – a great no fuss book to get you on the way to taking amazing images of the sky, lots of inspiring pictures too. Still a lot of work and exploring to do, but here is my image of the Southern Cross.

Southern Cross in the clouds taken with DSLR

Southern Cross and pointers in the clouds taken with DSLR

The Southern Cross is a very important constellation for the Southern Hemisphere. It is always visible in our night sky as it is very close to the South Celestial Pole (SCP). Unlike the Northern Hemisphere, we don’t have a star like Polaris which shows us where the pole is, but we do have a number of ways to find it, here are three by CSIRO’s Science by Email. So the Southern Cross (or Crux) tells us where South is and hence used for navigation, features on the Australian and New Zealand flags and is always the one constellation all students, teachers and parents can pick out in the sky.

Australian Flag showing the Southern Cross

Australian Flag showing the Southern Cross

There are also two pointers that ‘point’ to the Southern Cross,  Alpha Centauri, the brighter star and Beta Centauri, the closest to the Crux. The next post will feature Alpha Centauri, so stay tuned.

Viewing Venus required the lunar filter as it is so bright. You can definitely see it is in a gibbous phase and I love the colours the atmosphere is creating around the planet. We then connected the camera to take this image of Venus.

Venus. Single shot with DSLR and telescope.

Venus. Single shot with DSLR and telescope.

Technical details;

Southern Cross: Canon EOS 700D DSLR with 17-85mm lens. 10 sec exposure, ISO 1600, 17mm focal length. No post image processing.

Venus: Canon EOS 700D DSLR with 12″SCT. 1/60 sec exposure, ISO 100. Cropped image.

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