Monday 17 March 2014

Hopeless Lunar Photography

They make it look so easy on the Sky at Night, or BBC Stargazing. You get your telescope, point it at the Moon or Jupiter, and then reach for your phone. You turn on the camera, hold it up to the eyepiece, tap the screen to focus and away you go! Beautiful lunar photographs instantly result.

Only, it isn't really like that. At all.

Although I do have a cumbersome (and living with my parents) 6 inch reflector, clear skies with a bright moon the other night had me deploying my 20-60x60 spotter scope. Designed for birdwatching, it only has a small tripod, but sat on top of a wheelie bin, you can get some quite acceptable lunar views. Although the moon was all but full, I enjoyed looking at obvious landmarks; the dark floored craters Grimaldi and Plato, the ray craters Tycho and Copernicus, and the brilliant small crater Aristarchus, the brightest spot on the moon.

The Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridium to the posh) is also a fascinating sight not too far from Plato. It really does have the look of a proper terran coastline, a deeply curbed bay with highlands behind it, like a lunar greek island resort.

The problem starts when I try and photograph any of this. I feel like I have to sneak up on the eyepiece so the moon doesn't run away, holding my breath all the while, such is the complete difficulty of getting the camera lens onto the eyepiece, and then onto the moon. The slightest shake of the hand makes the moon disappear out of view, and it's difficult enough to get in the bloody view in the first place.

It is so damn fiddly. The most steady handed of brain surgeons would struggle to line the moon up with the have to follow this tell tale trail of optical effects - back to front - in order to get the moon into shot. You then have to tap screen to focus, activate the shutter, and wait for the picture to be taken for what seems like an age, as the slightest tremor sends to the moon skittering off screen again, and you howl in frustration, and wake your neighbours up.

But, eventually, I got some results.

A bit of moon
Another bit of moon being attacked by a red thing

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