Saturday, August 20, 2016

Starry Starry Nights

Around this time four years ago, I have just arrived in Minnesota, about to start my undergraduate degree in the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Since then I have called the North Star State home for four years, and looking forward to a few more years here as I pursue my doctorate. Over the years my efforts in astrophotography waxed and waned like the phases of the moon, and fortunately I have been able to amass a number of pictures, each which tells a unique story of its own.

To start off, what better way to commemorate four years in L'etoile du Nord than by showcasing no less than Polaris the North Star. A composite startrail shot in Luci's house in the suburbs of Shoreview, MN; showcasing Polaris 45 degrees high up in the sky, the apparent king of the celestial bodies with all the other stars revolving around him. Four years ago I first set sights on Polaris in Minnesota - it being 4 degrees above the horizon in Malaysia prevents everyone but the most determined stargazers to spot it.

The Minnesota Astronomical Society has been wonderful company throughout. My favorite stargazing site is their flagship Eagle Lake Observatory one hour west of the cities, It is a truly hidden gem in the prairies with many high-quality telescopes, great facilities and most of all dedicated volunteers who runs their public star parties every fortnight (shown in picture, with the Pleaides cluster lying overhead).

A picture of a meteor (bottom picture, lower left) taken from Eagle Lake as well during the Perseids meteor shower of 2016. It was my first successful meteor shower observation with 98 meteors observed throughout the night. In the picture, the glowing horizon faces the Twin Cities -- the light pollution from the metro has been worsening in recent years.

During the course of my undergraduate studies, an affair with solar car brought me to the other side of the world - Australia in search of gold and glory in the World Solar Challenge of 2013. Getting up to race before sunrise did not stop me from looking for the storied Large and Small Magellanic Clusters in the southern skies. The LMC is imaged in the top picture, while camping under the skies in the barren wasteland of Pimba, South Australia. The views are amazing, and I will definitely go back there one day in the future.

Budget travelling in the U.S. brought me out to the Southwest most of the time - where the lure of starry, cloudless skies beckons. These budget airlines are notorious for their baggage policy which only allows one free 'personal item' per traveler. As a result, I mastered the art of 'shoegazing' - using my shoe as the tripod for the camera to lie on stable enough to capture some photons off the glorious Western skies. Pictured above is the constellation of Orion, viewed from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The observatory is where the astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, the controversial planet which was visited recently by the New Horizons space probe.

Shoegazing adventures continue at Joshua Tree National Park in California. The constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius are pictured here with the Milky Way. It is always a joy seeing these old friends - I used to observe the dense, rich clusters surrounding them back home in Malaysia, but they barely rise above the horizon in Minnesota.

We were at an observatory called Sky's the Limit Observatory, because it's always more fun to stargaze with other folks. They happened to have a public night the day we went, and it was by sheer chance of having taken a wrong turn earlier in the day that we spotted the observatory and learnt about the public night event.

Up high in the skies, the Summer Triangle beckons.

Minnesota has her fair share of starry nights when the clouds get out of the way. In the summertime, going camping up North (yes, further north) is a rite of passage for Minnesotans. On one of our camping trips in Tettegouche State Park, the skies cleared up for some startrail opportunities. The pine trees glows fire red from firewood burning through the night. I can still smell the burning wood and hear the crackling noises from these pictures.

And I'm gonna end this post with another classic Polaris star trail also taken in Tettegouche State Park. All the images are taken with a Canon 550D or T2i and my 18mm f/3.5 kit lens, my lovely companion throughout the years.

Here's to more clear skies and starry nights!