Monday, June 18, 2012

Starry Journey at Pulau Perhentian

My very first dark sky journey to an island!

Pulau Perhentian is an island off the coast of the state of Terengganu in Malaysia. It is a quiet, serene island with an awesome night sky – you can see the Milky Way with your bare eyes! I went there with a group of stargazing enthusiasts, needless to say I had fun there – learning stuff from the more experienced ones, getting to use droll-inducing professional equipment and enjoying the starry skies with like-minded fellows :) Over ther eI took pictures of a few types : Milky Way pics, startrails, moon shots and the general island shots :D

Here are some pictures of the Milky Way, added with description. All was taken in a Canon 550D using a 18-55mm kit lens.


Milky Way with Scorpio and Sagittarius. It’s not the best shots I have, been experimenting with the color tweaking over at Digital Photo Professional and haven’t decided on which shade I like the best. The Milky Way is thickest over here as we’re facing the centre of the galaxy we’re in! 60s f/3.5 ISO 1600 guided


Left : Scorpio sinking into the horizon 25s f/3.5 ISO 1600 unguided                               

Right : The Summer Triangle asterism which is composed of three of the brightest stars in the summer sky – Vega of the constellation Lyra the harp on the left, Altair of I on the right, and Deneb of Cygnus the swan down below. In between is the Milky Way. 30s ISO 6400 unguided


What colour of the Milky Way do you like the best? I decided to go with a tinge of blue for this one to bring out the nebulous clouds you can see in the centre of the galaxy. You can even spot some of the star clusters in this picture! :) 65s ISO 1600 f/35 guided

Full size :


Another experimental  shot of the Milky Way, 302 secs ISO 400 f/3.5


Composed and stacked by successive shots of stars in the night sky, it shows the movement of the stars across the night sky and are beautiful portraits in astronomy. Here are some of my very first attempts in startrails.

Startrails 1Startrails 2Up : A startrail of the Summer Triangle rising above the eastern horizon. Can you spot the tracks left by Altair, Deneb and Vega? Stack of 66 photos, 25s, f/3.5, ISO 1600.

Left : Scorpio setting in the west. You can faintly see the glow of the centre of the Milky Way in this startrail. There’s a meteor too in the right corner, did you spot it? :) Stack of 88 frames, 25s, f/3.5, ISO 1600.

Below : Spica and planet Saturn setting in the west. The brightest ones in the centre of the picture are Spica and Saturn of course :D

You can see that this photo sports a slight hourglass trail. This is distinctive of the equatorial region. Stack of 44 frames, 25s, f/3.5, ISO 1600.

Startrails 3 

Earthshine on 26-days old Moon

Earthshine - why is it so special? It is the light of the sun reflected from the earth and reflected from the moon back to Earth. It pretty much goes like in this diagram. That's a handful, but it's why it is so special.

Earthshine is essentially the light of the Earth. As much as Venus, the Moon, Uranus reflects light from the sun, Earth does too! But usually we don't get to see it because we are basically standing on Earth. However one way to observe the Earth's light is by observing Earthshine during a crescent moon.

Nowadays, astronomers aim for Earthshine to study the light of the Earth, which reflects off crops and our atmospheric nitrogen, oxygen and other gassies - and use the data collected to assist them in analyzing lights from other stars to detect life on other exoplanets.

IMG_1131_1 earthshine

You can see the hills illuminated on the ‘earthshine-ed’ part of the Moon! :)

Other than that, we will also see the craters of the moon of course, and determine the craters on them!

IMG_1150_map annotated

Full size :

The shadow of the moon now features the edges of the side of the Moon visible to us, and it's craters all the way. Now have a look at Nasmyth and Phocylides Crater. You notice that they are overlapping. Which crater was formed first? :)

When you're bored you can also start reading up on the names of the craters, which are actually names of astronomers over the centuries. For example, Aristarchus Hills is actually named after Aristarchus of Samos, a Greek astronomer that...actually... was the FIRST to present a HELIOCENTRIC model of the Solar System. Not Copernicus, but Aristarchus.

The Moon is 26 Days old. The Moon can only 'live' for 28 days so we are looking at a very 'old' moon now. On different days we can see different longitudes of the Moon. It is becuase as the Moon revolves around the Earth, the play between light and shadow illuminiates the different longitudes of the Moon. For example, notice the different craters lighted up during the 23rd and 26th day of the moon.

23 day old moonIMG_1150_map

The trip there was fun on its own too, you can do snorkelling and diving in the Perhentian Islands as well as the islands nearby. Here are some pics of the island.


Our stuff on the trolley. The guides literally popped their eyes out seeing our mountain heap of astronomical equipment.


The jetty at Perhentian Island.


The Beach.


Some photos from the Island. It’s a beautiful place on its own :)

And finally, a surprise! One of the uncles who joined the trip, we call him Dr. Jeeva, gave me this rare giant binoculars, an Oberwerk 22x100! The aperture is 100mm! He said he has many equipment in his place already, he rarely use it so he gave out this along with some of his other equipment he brought to the island!

This binoculars with its 2.6 degress field of view, will be superb in viewing the Moon and clusters! It’s truly an awesome pair of binoculars!



  1. Thank you very much for this post of your very nice starry sky photos taken on the Perhentians. I am not in Malaysia but am planning a trip to the Perhentians. On which beach of the Perhentians are those photos taken? Also are the typical southern hemisphere stars (e.g., Southern Cross) well visible from where you took these photos?

    I can be emailed here -- tylech, account Just call me "Ziyang".

    Very happy to find this post.

  2. Hi!

    I'm Angelica and I'm currently writing an article for Expedia Travel Blog Malaysia called "5 Places to Spy the Milky Way: Malaysia Edition". I would like to feature Pulau Perhentian as a place to go, and would like to ask for your permission to use some of these photos for the article that will be published on their website. Credit will definitely be given.

    Hope to hear from you soon! I can be reached at

    Best Regards,

    1. The pictures are pretty shit but do what you want with credit.