Friday, 30 January 2009

The Galactic Centre (over Hilo of all places)

I'm certainly no Wally Pacholka when it comes to photographing the night sky; about a hundred times worse I reckon - his photos are absolutely incredible, even awe-inspiring and I absolutely hate the word awe (and absolutely). Still, I can't help thinking that he's actually oil painting them but there you go, I'm jealous of his talent. What keeps me going is that I guess he knows as much about infrared spectroscopy of the interstellar medium as I know about photography, so I'm calling things even! I'd love to learn his secrets though.

Then again, I'm a beginner photographer with a $200 camera (with functions that still confuse me), so I don't think I'm starting off too badly. Last night was the first time in my life that I actually had a real go at photographing stars. Don't get me wrong, I do that all the time, but it's using scientific instruments and large professional telescopes (and in the infrared) and a tripod and camera has me baffled most of the time. Let's not forget that taking photos on a high mountain means freezing your butt off whereas just about every professional telescope has a nice warm control room.

Last night was one of the most beautiful nights I can remember on Mauna Kea. The atmosphere was dry, so pesky emission from OH ions in the upper-atmosphere that can ruin dark nights was limited, and it only took a couple of minutes to get dark-adapted and the sky was glorious. So out came the camera.

Gemini-North was busy shooting down alien space ships with their laser and the picture in my last blog entry wasn't what I hoped for, double-vision and all, so that was my motivation. Unfortunately my latter effort was equally crap, but when trying to find a good place to take a photo of Gemini I saw the lights from Hilo Town and thought I'd take a few pictures.

So, my first efforts at real night-time photography (the last photo is my favourite by the way, I'm getting the worst ones out of the way first):

A panorama of the night sky and Milky Way over Mauna Loa with the UKIRT dome to the right. Just two weeks ago I got told off by one of the Mauna Kea rangers for taking pictures from this exact spot, but they aren't around at 3am, so there! Don't anyone tell them that though...

My crap second attempt of taking a photo of Gemini shooting down aliens with their laser. I hear they have the shoot-down score on the side of their dome somewhere. I've yet to find it.

I was pleasantly surprised/shocked with this one. While walking up to the Gemini dome I saw Hilo Town down below to the east and it was so clear. There was a glow in the sky above Hilo (above the few clouds that is), nothing to do with light pollution, and thought it might be the zodiacal light and decided to take a few photos.

It turns out it was our Galactic centre rising above Hilo. I know Hilo isn't exactly considered the centre of the Universe, but at 4-am it was certainly close to the centre of the Galaxy! For those that have got this far and don't know what the centre of the Galaxy looks like from earth, well, look at the brightest lights of Hilo Town and then go 45 degrees up to the right. It's that bright bulge complete with dark (dust) lanes all over the place. Hilo is about, what, 30 miles away? The Galactic centre is almost 30,000 light years away. I'd hate to have to go shopping there every week.

Do you know the very odd thought that entered my head when I was taking the Hilo pictures?

Something to do with the cold? It was well below freezing and quite windy, I couldn't talk for 10 minutes when I got back in the warm because my lips were frozen. Altitude? Well, a few days and nights in a row at 14,000 feet does strange things to your head, believe me. Shift work? Yeah, that screws you up.

Anyway, my thought was: did I forget to turn the lights off in my house?


Zuzana said...

The last picture is incredible! Just keep at it, you have talent.
I get what you were thinking, as to me the first thought was that you took a picture of an erupting volcano at night.;))

Anonymous said...

Really good pics I've lived here 24 yrs and woke me up Keep going, any way to blow up to full screen?
Aloha GD Hilo

Tom said...

Anon - just clicking on the picture should give you a larger version, but I think blogger reduces the size of the files, so you don't get a good version. If you're interested in any picture and want a copy, drop me a line. There's a contact address in my profile. I don't read that email to often but do occasionally, and am happy to share a picture or two.

Incidentally, I think I have a better version of the GC over Hilo picture with the noise reduced. I'm still learning so these things take time!

Thanks for popping by and for your comments!