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Wilsons Prom – you really need to stay overnight!

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Following on in my series of Victoria’s beautiful, remote Wilsons Promontory National Park, here is a blog to encourage you to stay in the park overnight rather than just do a day trip.

For a start, a day trip from Melbourne is a good 2.5-3hrs drive each way and in the southern parts, there are risks if driving around sunrise and sunset of hitting wildlife – although this risk is extremely high within the park – although the speed limit is 80kph, you probably should do 40kph once the sun is setting and well into the night. On one short drive of 2km at night I saw several wombats, several wallabies, and a young deer – and all of these are liable to suddenly run in front of you.

Vic Parks who run the park advises all day visitors to vacate the park by sunset – this means if you want great sunrises and sunsets within the park you really need to stay overnight.

But be warned, in Tidal River camping ground whilst there is plenty of space off season with over 400 sites it is usually full in peak season – but even off season there are about a dozen wombats who will destroy your tent if they smell food or shampoo, etc inside – they do have nasty sharp claws and can open eskies!

I heard a wombat gnawing on grass near my head while I slept but thankfully he ignored my tent.

tent

My tent with Mt Oberon in the background – see how nice the camp ground is when it’s empty off-season!

The showers in Tidal River have lovely hot water and are cleaned daily but I checked out the other main camp site at the entrance – Stockyards and whilst it is fitted with a nice shower, the hot water was not running.

Climb to Mt Oberon summit for sunset:

You can drive or catch a shuttle to the Mt Oberon carpark, and thence there is a 3.4km 1hr steady ascent of 359m along a shaded gravel road which meanders up on the south-east aspect to the rocky, windy and chilly summit which culminates in the last part being steep steps which can be slippery – bring warm clothes, gloves, jacket and torch as well as your camera with ND gradient filter and your tripod – unless you own Micro Four Thirds and then you could probably get away without a tripod thanks to the image stabiliser but your hands will be cold and tremulous so  a tripod is a better idea for serious work – even then the wind will make longer exposures problematic.

I thought I was going to be greeted with a really nice sunset however distant cloud on the horizon blocked it – nevertheless I did get a couple of nice shots.

Mt Oberon

Looking north-west over Tidal River camping ground and to Squeaky Beach and Whisky Bay.

Mt Oberon

Looking south – one could walk to this knoll and have a great sunset portrait opportunity – but being solo, this was not going to work for me – and anyway I was recovering from the ascent!

The descent is much quicker and can be done without a torch if you don’t stay too long after sunset, but take care walking down the initial steps, the rocks and wood are slippery when wet – hold onto the railing!

Get out at night and capture a cool astroscape on the beach

Wilsons Prom is a long way from city lights and has lovely dark skies – if it is not cloudy which is a high probability down there!

I timed this visit to ensure there was no moon in the sky at 2hrs after sunset then I could head to a beach – Tidal River is easiest and avoids any need to drive on the roads with the wildlife risks – check the tides though – high tide can be more problematic.

October is a great time as the core of the Milky Way arches over in the west from the Southern Cross and to Scorpio which, along with Venus (the really bright star) is setting later in the evening. Cape Liptrap lighthouse is visible across the bay.

Milky Way

This is a cropped version taken as a single shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the unique Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at ISO 1600, f/1.8 30secs but with a touch of dew on the lens as I discovered later.

Early morning sun on the boulders and sand:

I was really tired and missed sunrise but still, the early morning sun provides a better direction on the Tidal river boulders, especially better if it times with the tide having just gone out as it had done for me, leaving newly formed pristine textures in the sand.

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Plus, it is a great time for a stroll around and opportunistic capture of some birds such as this superb fairy wren while you are at it before you go and have breakfast and that lovely 4 minute hot shower before heading out for some more morning walks along other beaches - see next post here – the beaches re-visited.

No where else in the world offers beautiful remote beaches with lovely colored granite boulders to photograph, explore or just sunbake on (oops that’s bad for you!), nice sunsets, beautiful Milky Way winter-spring astroscapes without sub zero temperatures and unique Australian wildlife all around – emus, wombats, kangaroos, wallabies (thankfully the snakes seem to be not too plentiful but I hear they are around on the overnight hikes such as down to Waterloo Bay).

I would avoid the Stockyard Camp ground to camp in if possible though – seems to have much more mosquitoes, lots of noisy cockatoos, no hot shower (at least when I visited), is 30minutes drive to Tidal River and 20 minutes drive to the closest nice beach, and no cafe – but it would be great if you want sunrise or sunset shots on the Big Drift sand dunes.

 

 

Planetary alignment and Milky Way over Australia’s iconic Craig’s Hut in Victoria’s Alps – Olympus f/1.8 fisheye comes to the fore

Monday, February 8th, 2016

January 2016 was a month in which the planets aligned themselves nicely, and last night I took advantage of a few days off with lovely warm sunny days and clear night skies to head up to the rather remote Craig’s Hut at the rooftop of Victoria’s Alps and well away from major light pollution.

The original Craig’s Hut was built for the set of the Australian movie, The Man From Snowy River, but it fell into disrepair and was destroyed by a major bush fire in Dec 2006 (after reading the last blog post, you may be learning a theme – we cannot take things for granted in Australia, bushfires are a constant and increasing threat). It was re-built although not to the original specs, and despite this has continued to be an iconic image of Australia’s High Country which is dotted with huts although most have burnt down in fires and some re-built to provide shelter for hikers and skiers.

Road access to Craig’s Hut is 286km and just over 4hrs drive from Melbourne via Mansfield and Mt Stirling’s Circuit Road – a further 20km drive along a gravel road from the Telephone box Junction (TBJ), and if you have a 4WD with sufficient ground clearance, you can drive right up to the hut where there is a remote camp ground and drop toilet.

If, like me, your car is likely to bottom out on the access road to the hut, your main option is to leave the car in the parking area on the Circuit Road, and back pack up a grade 4 quite steep but well formed 1.7km walking trail which requires some 170m ascent but is readily doable even with a heavy pack and large tripod.

You can’t camp or stay in the hut grounds itself, and the water at the toilets is not potable. Hikers generally camp near these toilets amongst the snow gums, while 4WD campers use the dedicated camp ground some 100m lower down.

For some reason there do not appear to be the annoying aggressive alpine ants which gave me trouble at nearby Mt Stirling (see my blog post on this solo camp trip), and there were no mosquitoes of note, but lots of flies as soon as the sun rose.

Let’s get into some pics (all taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens):

sunset

Sunset on Craig’s Hut – note that you get 270deg views from the hut – all except the SW quadrant, this view is looking north towards Little Cobbler.

Magellanic Clouds

Evening shot of the Milky Way around Centaurus and Southern Cross with the two Magellanic Clouds rendered in sepia toning.

planets

This is the shot I was waiting for and why I only managed 3 hours sleep, although I did extend my iPhone alarm to give me just that bit more!
This is just before sunrise and shows the centre of our Milky Way galaxy rising above the hut with the constellation of Scorpio directly above the hut and a meteor and the 4 planets visible:
Mercury near the fence, Venus the bright one above the fence near the hut roof, Saturn below Scorpio, Mars high above the chimney (Jupiter is out of this frame).

Milky Way

The Milky Way arching over with astronomic twilight well gone just before sunrise.

jupiter

Jupiter high above the hut at dawn – hand held with camera resting on the fence for a 1 second exposure!

dawn

Just before the sun’s rays peaked over the alps but this image was shot with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens.

I had a great time up there, even though this place has been photographed in almost every way possible, I am guessing this is the first time it has been imaged with a f/1.8 fisheye lens!

The Micro Four Thirds system’s weight makes uphill hiking such as this so much more enjoyable than a full dSLR kit, while the fisheye lens means I don’t have to waste my life doing panoramic stitches!

Solo overnight hike to summit of Mt Stirling

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Following on from my overnight camping hike up Mt Feathertop, I decided it was time to do one solo.

I thus decided upon Mt Stirling as it was relatively close to Melbourne (some 3hrs drive via Mansfield) and the hike up the mountain is only half as long as the Mt Feathertop hike (4.5km at 500m altitude gain vs 10.5km at 1100m altitude gain), and with the extra weight of cooking gear and food, I felt this would be a good hike to start as a solo endeavour, given I did struggle with the ascent of Mt Feathertop given my lack of fitness.

I had considered extending the hike across The Monument saddle to camp near Craig’s Hut of The Man from Snowy River movie fame but wisely considered this might be a touch too much and perhaps best done another time as the walk from there back up Mt Stirling is on a very steep, severely eroded 4WD track and not much fun with a heavy backpack.

Mt Stirling is in the Victorian Alps and rises to 1749m which is similar to nearby alpine resort of Mt Buller.

Unlike commercialised Mt Buller, Mt Stirling offers camping and is a relatively “remote” camp site – I was the only person camping up there the night I went.

That said, as I soon discovered 2/3rds of my way up the mountain, you are not really isolated from people – I met 3 teams of commercial horse trail riders each with about a dozen horses, and leaving plenty of fresh presents for me to step in while attracting a multitude of flies, and then around 9.30am on a Monday morning, a 4WD enthusiast decided to pit his car and his skills against the treacherous 4WD ascent track to Mt Stirling, presumably not for the views nor to experience the ambience of Mt Stirling but just as a challenge to himself and his colleague, and to further erode the already severely eroded track.

Having left my car at the Telephone Box Junction (TBJ) and placed a note of intention of my trip in the ranger’s post slot, I again mounted my new Aarn Peak Aspiration Body Pack which weighed around 16-17kg with 1.5kg of water.

To reduce weight given that this trip I needed to carry cooking gear and food for dinner, I decided to leave my lovely Olympus mZD 40-140mm f/2.8 lens at home as this would save nearly 1kg, but given the forecast was for the clouds to clear by midnight, and there was hope of Geminid meteor shower being visible (I was 24hrs early for the peak of the shower), I decided to bring a small tripod and the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens as well as my only other lens for the trip – the small, light, Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens. Of course, I also brought along my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. I feel sorry for those hikers who have to cart big heavy dSLRs such as Canon or Nikon with their big, heavy lenses and big, heavy tripods to match.

Despite the weight of my backpack which again performed beautifully for me, the walk up Mt Stirling was pleasant amongst the tall eucalypts and the overcast skies kept the summer temperatures to a comfortable level for strenuous uphill hiking, made all the more enjoyable by knowing that it is only a 2.5hr walk and then I would be able to relax and take in the awesome ambience of being the only person on top of the mountain overnight.

The enjoyment was somewhat reduced with the horse manure and flies, and then, once at the top, by the small but aggressive Australian native alpine ants, Iridomyrmex alpinus, which insisted on swarming over my feet and giving me a few friendly nips whenever I had inadvertently encroached near their ground nests hidden amongst the low foliage on top of the mountain. I thus took some time to plan where I would pitch the tent, even though it was insect proof.

There are a number of emergency huts along the way to the top of Mt Stirling should the weather become extreme, and near the camp area at the base of the summit, there is the Geelong Grammar School hut with a rain tank which unlike at Mt Feathertop, this one had water, although not potable and required treating. To save weight I did not bring the Camelbak All Clear UV water sterilisation kit, but instead brought along a 10 micro water filter kit, which although slower to process the water is considerably lighter.

After pitching my Big Sky Revolution 2P tent and boiling water for tea and for my dehydrated beef pasta dinner, I became excited by a very unexpected sunset as the sun managed to find its way under the big blanket of cloud to light up Mt Speculation and the Cross Saw ridge:


Mt Speculation

I tried to get some sleep and wake up after midnight when the forecast for the cloud to disappear came to fruition and allow me access to the summer Milky Way and the Geminid meteors, but alas, sleep did not come easy, but I was rewarded with beautiful dark skies full of stars, but very few meteors (I was after all 24hrs too early for the peak meteor shower).

Looking south to the Southern Cross, Centaurus and the Magellanic Clouds whilst I boiled water at 2am for a hot chocolate and marshmallow – a meteor came shooting down from the Small Magellanic Cloud aiming straight for my tent (Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at f/1.8, 30secs):

Meteor

and at last a Geminid meteor sweeping from Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twin stars at lower right and across to the left upper between Orion and Taurus with the lights of the alpine tourist town of Bright in the distant north-east horizon:

Geminid

Next day, after earlier moving my tent into the shade of a tree, I was awoken at the unearthly hour of 11.30am by female voices warning me that there were women around and perhaps extracting myself from the tent naked would not be a good idea – I suspect they were secretly hoping for a Hugh Jackman pouring a bucket of water over himself, but instead, they got a bleary eyed George Clooney asking where the Nespresso machine was and discovering instead, a dozen women on horseback!

The heat of the midday sun meant it was well and truly time to eat the remains of my cheeses and “twiggy stick” salami before it went off, and then to go exploring the summit of Mt Stirling and the ridge across towards Stanley Bowl.

The summit (at left) from the east ridge looking towards the prominent Mt Cobbler:

summit

and another view along the more gentle parts of the 4WD track – the camp ground is the small clearing to the right of the base of the road:

Mt Cobbler

View of Mt Buller from the eastern ridge:

Mt Buller

The hike back down to the car was hot and sunny (it was 34degC at the base of the mountain, although I suspect it was only around 20-24deg air temperature for most of the hike but the direct summer sun made up for the difference!). I decided to go a different route down which was longer but supposedly more picturesque. I took the first of several possible short cuts, this one was to Wombat Drop but after some 400m the path which had been notable for the grass becoming longer and more difficult to see snakes in, suddenly was terminated by a sign indicated it was under revegetation and thus I returned back up the path to the gravel track and continued on my merry way.

Somehow, perhaps because of this experience, I missed the last of the shortcuts and ended up walking far further than I needed to, down to King Saddle Hut, and a very boring 4km or so walk along the Summit Circuit Road (had I bothered to put my reading glasses on and consult a map, I could have walked instead to Razorback Hut instead of along the circuit road) back to the TBJ where fortunately, my car still had all four wheels and the windows were even intact!

The drive back to Melbourne was broken by a hamburger in the township of Yea, but I did miss not being able to allow myself extra time to photograph the beautiful late afternoon light coming through onto the hillsides in this lovely region. I was concerned that the boring drive down the Hume Freeway would put me to sleep and to further delay my trip home would only create a greater risk. I thus regrettably gave up on enjoying the beauty of an uncommon light that was truly inspirational.

Hiking with the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens – what is it good for, how can it best be used?

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

Following on from my previous post on Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter for hiking, last night I ventured out on another solo sunset bushwalk on a different track through the gorges – but this time I brought some head lamps to get me back in the dark!

For the hike, I only took 2 cameras and lenses as with the last walk, but this time did not use the MC14 teleconverter, and again both cameras were carried on my waist belt which really takes the weight of my back which is fantastic – but see my last post for issues with this method.

The Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Micro Four Thirds equates to an ultra-wide angle 14-28mm zoom on full frame, and thankfully, the f/2.8 aperture and image stabilisation provided by the Olympus OM-D E-M5 allows when to keep shooting hand held in the gorges after sunset whilst keeping ISO at only 400 which allowed for f/5 shots for adequate depth of field and 1/6th to 1/3rd sec shots hand held even though my heart was pumping from the exertion and a little fear of heights as I stood on the edge of a 100m sheer drop to get some of the shots!

I have previously discussed the specs of this lens and compared it to the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens for Four Thirds dSLRs in which I point out that thanks to the shorter sensor-lens flange distance by removing the clunky mirror of dSLRs, wide angle lenses can now be made much smaller and lighter – this lens is one stop faster at f/2.8 yet is substantially smaller, lighter and less expensive than the Four Thirds version.

What can you use such a wide angle lens for and how can you use it to get the best visual impact?

Ultra wide angle lenses do take a bit of practice to make the most of them and are not to everyone’s tastes but can really add an important tool in your kit, even for hiking.

Most people would initially think, great it lets me shoot really wide shots so I don’t have to bother with panoramic stitching. Whilst that is true, you will end up with lots of sky which can be boring.

A better use is to find an interesting foreground object (these are not always easy to find on Australian bushwalks) and ensure focus is on that subject, and stop down the aperture to give enough depth of field to give the object context and perspective of the landscape background.

Other uses for a lens like this include:

  • ultra wide angle shots of alley way graffiti art – often alleys do not allow one to get far enough back with other lenses to capture the entire artwork – this lens will, and as alleyways tend to be dark, you can use this lens hand held in darker conditions than most other camera combinations.
  • Milky Way astroscapes like the one I captured in the next post after the walk at the railroad crossing – these require a wide aperture lens (f/2.8 or wider), a ultra-wide angle lens (14mm full frame) which is very well corrected for coma aberrations, purple fringing, etc which would otherwise make for ugly star shapes – this 7-14mm lens is really very nice for this.
  • indoors – the lens is awesome for available light real estate agent shots and architecture
  • creative works

Let’s see what I managed to get on my very hurried hike in low light:

First an overall view of the gorge after sunset. Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 1/3rd sec hand held on top of a sheer drop down a gorge after sunset, ISO 400.

gorge

The sheer drop down the cliff, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 1/5th sec hand held:

gorge

The narrow walking trail of the spur, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 ¼ sec hand held:

gorge

The narrow walking trail of the spur, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 7mm f/5 1/6th sec hand held:

gorge

More uses for the 7-14mm:

Forest canopy at sunset, Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 14mm f/4 1/60th sec hand held.

forest canopy at sunset

Here is how it performs in a dark alley at dusk:

Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 9mm f/3.5 1/3rd sec hand held.

alley graffiti art

And some more bokeh shots with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8:

62mm at f/2.8:

gorge

70mm f/2.8:

gorge

 

a lunar interlude – shortest lunar eclipse in 500yrs – and our last blood moon for 3 years

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Last night (4th April 2015) we witnessed our last total lunar eclipse for the next 3 years and apparently the shortest in the past 500 years.

Shooting a total lunar eclipse at totality is challenging however there are are nice features on the Olympus OM-D cameras which do help such as:

  • continuous live view – no need to always be resorting to mirror lock up as on a dSLR
  • magnified live view to allow accurate focus which is actually quite difficult near totality
  • relatively cheap and high quality telephoto reach with the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter
  • reasonable ISO performance at ISO 1600

So here are a couple of mine from last night taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter to give 800mm focal length (in 35mm full frame terms), on a tripod with IS turned off, but with 12 sec self timer ON to reduce camera shake. Both taken at f/7, 1/2 sec, ISO 1600 and have had some cropping done but minimal processing in Lightroom.

Some cloud over the 1st one:

eclipse

eclipse

Occultation of saturn by the full moon tomorrow night (14th May 2014)

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

UPDATE: Here is a shot from tonight using the Olympus E-M5 with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens and eyepiece projection via a 10″ Newtonian telescope. Seeing was not great but at least the clouds were less than earlier.

saturn occultation May 2014

Those lucky people in Australia with access to a camera and a telescope (or at least a telephoto lens with around 1000mm or more focal length in 35mm terms) will be able to attempt to photograph saturn with its rings going behind the full moon (this is called an occultation) tomorrow night.

Times in the various cities can be found on Ian Musgrave’s web blog post here.

For those of use in Melbourne where the forecast is for nice clear skies (hopefully), saturn will disappear behind the moon at ~ 8.50pm local time and then reappear around 10pm.

You will not need to go to a dark rural site as light pollution will not be as much of a problem other than preventing accurate polar alignment – but this is not really needed either given the short exposures of well less than 1 second. More of an issue is atmospheric disturbances so, a site above grassed land or over water and away from houses is preferred – but then you will have to deal with standing on wet, dew affected grass. For best seeing, elevated sites away from urban areas may be best – but these are colder.

You will need to have everything set up by about 8pm to ensure it is all working for you, and the telescope has had a chance to cool down so your seeing conditions are better.

You will need to manually focus on the moon or saturn well before the crucial events occur as you will be too busy taking shots in the couple of minutes or so each event itself will last.

Ideally you will control your camera remotely so you don’t shake the telescope, and ideally you won’t be using a SLR but a mirrorless camera so the mirror doesn’t shake the telescope.

An ideal camera for this is the new Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus E-M10 or Olympus E-M1 as these are not only mirrorless cameras which can shoot at rather fast burst speeds of around 10fps for brief bursts (you need rapid shots as atmospheric seeing changes rapidly within each second so sharp images may only be seen on a few frames out of 10 shots), but you get a great compromise in having the most telephoto effect for a large sensor camera while still having good image quality at ISO 1600-3200 (and you will probably be needing ISO 3200).

Better still, these 2 cameras allow you to wirelessly tether to a smartphone so you can see what you are imaging on your smartphone BEFORE you take it and remotely release the camera shutter without shaking the camera. Very nice indeed – my Olympus E-M5 does not have this feature so I will be using a TriggerTrap accessory and iPhone app to trigger the camera by cable.

Manual focus is made more accurate by being able to magnify the image in the electronic viewfinder.

Here is a previous blog post of mine demonstrating what can be achived using the Olympus E-M5 with the TriggerTrap accessory to photograph the occultation of Jupiter by the moon.

Tomorrow night’s event will be a little tougher as saturn is much less bright than jupiter, but it will be higher in the sky so hopefully there will be less atmospheric disturbance and less atmospheric extinction.

Here is one of my images from the Jupiter occultation:

Jupiter

Good luck and have fun.

For those without the above, a pair of binoculars will be useful.

More on astrophotography here, and more on lunar occultations here.

Lunar eclipse over Melbourne

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Last month’s eclipse of the moon at moonrise in Melbourne was quite challenging to photograph.

It would have been nice to find a location with the city’s buildings in the foreground, but given the position of the moon rise this was not easy and thus a spot along the shores at Williamstown was chosen which looked across the bay towards St Kilda’s Palais Theatre.

The very dim eclipsed moon was difficult to see rising over the Dandenong Ranges in the distance and it was not until it was some 5 degrees above the horizon that it could be seen through the autumnal haze. Manual focus was made much easier with the electronic viewfinder and image stabilisation during magnified view using the Olympus E-M5 camera.

My initial attempts were with the Olympus E-M5 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens with 2x converter (the EC-20) at full 200mm focal length giving an equivalent field of view of 800mm on a 35mm camera.

This is a favorite set up of mine for the moon but being so low and with the atmospheric disturbances it was not possible to get sharp imagery of the craters.

Timing of the shot of a lunar eclipse is quite critical as the most aesthetic image is when the sunlight just starts to hit the edge of the moon (as shown below).

I then resorted to doing wider angle shots to show the yachts anchored nearby, so here is my version of the lunar eclipse:

lunar eclipse

EXIF: 100mm focal length (50mm + 2x telecoverter = 100mm in Micro Four Thirds crop = 200mm in 35mm full frame equivalent), ISO 1600, f/7.1 (f/3.5 x 2), 1/4sec, tripod mounted.

See my wiki for how to photograph the moon.

Reports that comet ISON C/2012 S1 has failed to survive its journey around the sun may be wrong

Friday, November 29th, 2013

According to the latest reports based on images such as the following, it seems that comet ISON has failed to survive it’s close encounter with the sun which will be a big disappointment for those in the northern hemisphere hoping to see a bright comet next week.

Note that the brightest part of the comet is no longer the head:

 

comet ISON Nov 28th 2013

However, since this image, a later image shows it is still there:

comet survives

But as of 29th Nov, reports are that it has substantially faded to a magnitude of around +2.9 with suggestions that if the comet reappears it will probably be a large diffuse object without the usual dense comet head, and with a magnitude of +5 which will be a disappointment to those in the north hoping for a bright comet for Christmas.

At last! Comet ISON C/2012 S1 brightens after an outburst – should be an interesting couple of weeks

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

We all love comets, especially if they are bright, naked eye comets as these are quite uncommon.

For us in the southern hemisphere, comet ISON C/2012 S1 will only be visible BEFORE it passes around the sun on 28th Nov 2013,  and even then it will be difficult to see low on the east horizon just before sunrise.

But, for those with motor driven telescope mounts and cameras with wide aperture telephoto lenses, it may be an opportunity to capture some lovely images such as this one by Damian Peach which was taken yesterday after the comet had suddenly brightened to magnitude 5.3 after an outburst:

comet

This 2.5 deg wide image was created by stacking 5 x 2 minute monochrome “L” images with a 2 min color “RGB” image using a SBIG STL-11k CCD astro camera mounted on a 105mm aperture f5.0 telescope (ie. focal length = 525mm).

A very cool animation posted on SolarSystemScope.com:

For those in northern hemisphere, especially at latitudes north of 30deg N, if this comet survives perihelion, it may become a lovely naked eye comet like the one I took of comet McNaught below – only time will tell.

comet McNaught

My photo of comet McNaught taken 23rd Jan 2007, Olympus E330 dSLR, 60sec, ISO400, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens at F/2 in a rural region see HERE for more of my photos and info on comet McNaught P1

Hopefully the skies will clear next week so I can try some imaging myself with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera with my Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 L lens.

 Unfortunately for us in the southern hemisphere, the comet has become very difficult to see in the morning twilight as it has not become bright enough to offset the atmospheric extinction of being close to the horizon, as well as being close to the sun and with moonlight increasingly becoming a compounding issue  – not to mention the low pressure trough bring clouds to much of Australia from 20th November onwards.

Update 26th Nov: reports that the comet may be disintegrating however, this is far from conclusive – see Ian Musgrave’s blog post

Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS with Olympus E-M5 and 75mm f/1.8 lens – time to get your camera out on the 12th March for crescent moon and comet image!

Monday, March 11th, 2013

2013 is shaping up as a great year for astrophotographers with a few comets around to have fun with although none as aesthetically beautiful as the awesome Comet McNaught of 2007.

I recently posted an shot of comet Lemmon as it passed the Tucanae globular cluster and the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy here.

On the 2nd of March 2013, I drove down to one of Melbourne’s bayside beaches to get a shot of Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS comet just after sunset using the Olympus E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens mounted on a tripod.

Unfortunately I miscalculated where the comet would set in relation to the beach and highway traffic headlights became problematic, nevertheless I think it is a lovely shot with the Dromana beach on a balmy warm night as a couple enjoyed the romantic ambience oblivious to the comet.

ISO 3200, f/1.8, 1 second exposure:

comet

Tomorrow night (12th March 2013) at sunset for those in Europe, America and Africa, they should get a lovely opportunity to photograph a thin crescent moon next to the comet just after sunset – unfortunately in Australia, the moon is too close to the sun at sunset and will set before the comet becomes visible in the twilight, although we may get a chance the following night on the 13th March if clouds do not obscure the view.