Tuesday, 28 April 2009

How to look like a pervert

Last night, I got a bit carried away. I hope no-one was watching.

If they were, they would've seen me pressed up against my bedroom window with a pair of binoculars, a digital camera and a slightly-obsessed grin across my face. And they would've seen my bedroom lights flicking on and off, off and on. And, if they'd looked closely, they may have seen me rubbing my hands together with glee.

I can explain.

At Astrofest earlier in the year, I spoke to an astronomy afficionado who explained how - with a relatively cheap telescope and steady hand - it's possible to take a good picture of our lunar friend. I tried a few times near full moon but the results were terrible - blurred, whited-out, like I'd taken the picture through some bubble wrap.

But two nights ago I spotted this beautiful young crescent moon above my neighbours' houses. I quickly whipped out my camera, plastic telescope and tripod. Sadly, in the time it took to balance the telescope on a book and fix the camera to the tripod and balance those on another book (Roger Deakin's Wildwood - as good a prop as it is read), Phoebe had dropped behind Mr Smith's.

(In case you're interested, Mr Smith spent the rest of the night shoving a cadaver-shaped piece of meat into a body bag. Not sure what he was up to, bless him.)

So last night, as the cloud parted, I again set up my Heath Robinson observatory - this time with a pair of Dad's binoculars perched on my window sill. I spent half an hour raising and lowering the tripod and adjusting the exposure on the camera; it was all very technical and professional and I'd hate to bore you with the detail. Eventually, after a year's worth of cursing, I captured my waxing crescent friend in pretty good detail.

I also got this one...

I like it because it shows Earthshine nice and clearly. It's just a shame it's a bit blurred. I think the dark blurry patch beside the terminator, about half-way up the body of the moon on the east side, in the day (lit part), is Mare Crisium: a large, solidified lava-filled plain. Sky-gazers once thought the moon's maria were seas, until we rocketed up there in our swimming trunks and came back terribly disappointed.

Talking of water on the moon: there was also a time when we all thought humans would move to the moon to live out our days. Then we found it was rather sterile and rugged and the grass - if it'd had any - was certainly not greener. However, in May NASA are sending a robot to our lunar relation for some intriguing experiments, including water-hunting. And they've got a fantastically Hollywood way to check beneath the surface.

Tune in to the next post to find out more...

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