Blog Post from Ian "Coops" Cooper
I am just catching up after a marvellous sleep deprived weekend at StellarFest (formerly Winter Astrocamp) hosted by the Horowhenua Astronomical Society at Foxton Beach on the Manawatu coast. The 'Costa Del Foxton' certainly lived up to its local reputation as part of the 'sunshine coast.' Despite the dire weather forecast about 50 people made the journey to the site at the Foxton Beach Bible Camp and were richly rewarded for their efforts. A great variety of talks to cover the daytime and possible cloudy night was easily offset on the Friday night with fine views of rich meteor activity in between the bunches of cloud that regularly broke of the Tararua Ranges under the strain of the cool, stiff easterly!
The easterly dropped a couple of knots on the Saturday morning, but only a couple. The bulk of the high frontal cloud associated with the ex-tropical low that was bashing the east coast of the North Island had broken free and sped westward out into the Tasman Sea leaving Foxton and a big chunk of the west coast of the Lower North Island sitting in clear skies for another 24 hours.
With clear skies beckoning the talks planned for the Saturday night were transferred to the Sunday so that we could get out under the stars straight after dinner. Astrophotographers and telescpe observers comfortably mingled on the main field. The only ones that didn't turn up in hoped for numbers on the Saturday night were the meteors! Other than that conditions were marvellous considering the weather that most anticipated. When we got cold it was inside by the big open fire of the hall with either toasted marshmallows or home made soup to revive you.
The astrophotographers were the last to fall over. I went after imaging the Andromeda galaxy low on the northern horizon at 4.30 a.m. and Andrew Drawneek stayed the distance in order to capture the conjunction of the Moon & planets just before dawn.
After John Burt had done a white balance correction to my Canon 450D earlier on I was impressed with the difference that it made to my Milky Way shots compared to the rosey tint that it had before. Attached are a couple of montages stitched together by Steve Chadwick. The first was at 10.20 U.T. (p.m. N.Z.S.T.) & 14.40U.T. (2.40 a.m.). Check out Eta Carina at lower culmination on the later montage. You can see the strength of the easterly on the smoke coming from the hall chimney, lit yellow by the few nearby street lights!
The Friday night was more transparent but only marred by big rafts of broken cloud. In the second montage you can see the faint orange cloud that is the remnant of the broken frontal cloud that detached from the main system on the Friday night. This faint stuff wasn't visible to the naked-eye.
I also attached a very overexposed shot of the Zodiacal Light that crested the pine trees in the west. For some city dwellers it was the first time that they had seen this phenomenon!
Montage One: 10mm @ f/4 120 Seconds on ISO 1600
Montage Two: 18mm @ f/3.5 60 seconds on ISO 1600.
Zodiacal Light 20mm @ f/3.5 5 minutes on ISO 1600
A very memorable weekend with everyone doing their bit to make it happen.
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