Saturday, January 2, 2010

2004 Perseids@Bintan

Perseids 2004 -  Cloudy Sky Attempt  - A Bintan Beach experience.

 "..... towards predicted peak timing..  a handful of  fast yellowish Perseids surfaced- but only a heavily truncated distribution of bright meteors are available to us. "
yk Chia Bintan, Indonesia Aug 11-Aug13 2004
   After the legendary successful prediction model(s) on the Leonids, the meteor researchers had applied their similar methodologies on other meteor streams 2004-  June Bootids ( foiled by bad weather in S'pore )  and  Perseid.  It was the 'first revolution' dust trail predicted to cut across earth on  Aug 11 20 50 hr that caught my attention.  A mini 'storm level' is even hinted.  East Asia  were favored and 'Luna'  is not much of a problem.  But one problem left - the infamous weather.

      Now where should I go for the show? It must be nearby and accessible and cheap. So I thought why not Bintan? But what are  my chances? A check with Weather satellite map indicated a fairy high chance of clouded over at this time of the year. Even the peninsula Malaya was not spared. 
      From Tanah Merah Terminal,  Bintan Island is just a 45-50 minutes ferry ride away.  The crossing was  uneventful and we did not manage to shed off the white-out sky seen in S'pore. We hopped on the resort transport and found ourselves at the Mana Mana's airy but spartan reception desk.  We were assigned Rm 15 but quickly found out the switch board tripped repeatedly - a obvious short somewhere. We ended up on unit #19. The room was a short distance from the shore line.  Before nightfall we quickly checked out the beach. The sea looked calm.  For the first night we decided to 'eat-in'.  Dinner was served  under the sea-almond trees the fallen seeds occasionally bombarding  the wooden platform with  a loud ' thud' sound .
     We tried the recommended  Jono's Fried Rice, washed down with  ice-chilled local beer - Bintang (Star) Beer with  gentle lapping of the ocean wave in the background.  Not many diners were around.  While waiting for the food I had a quick peep of the night sky above.  Using my palm to shield off the blinding lights from the spot-light  angled in the trunks of coconut trees I could just make out  the rival of Mars - Antares and the rest of the Scorpion's body.   Sky was indeed no better than back home. We needed miracle.

    Carina and friend joined us later in the evening. They too were disappointed by the weather.  Around 1:00 am (s'pore time) we headed for a dark spot on the beach - now deserted.  While the two girls preferred the more comfortable beach deckchair we had chosen  to simply lying on the groundsheet.  The sky was far from perfect for meteors: only a handful of stars shone through the high-altitude clouds.   
 (top) Bintan's  'meteorite' - Ripe Sea-almond Seed  For nearly two and half hours of gazing at the lousy sky we killed time by 'story-telling' and even had time for red wine.  Handfuls of visible stars were - the corner stars of the Square of Pegasus, the simple two-starred Aries.  Lower in the elevation   Perseus / Cassiopeia were not even detectable.  Hours passed, then out of no-where a  yellowish meteor appeared on the west of the square as if announcing the slight improvement of sky condition.  Then slowing and widely time-spaced the fast velocity Perseid surfaced.  They were fast  and white-yellowish in color.   Highlight of the picks was one negative magnitude Green Perseid that left a wake of 2 seconds.  Then there was this pair of Perseids  zipping  down the eastern horizon near the edge of my visual FOV - with the peared shaped meteor heads and tiny short tails.   I expected a longer path length being so far away from radiant.  They seemes to appear  very spread-out in the sky:  below Aries, eastern corner of Pegasus,  and down the low eastern horizons. After logging a count of 12-14,  then the clouds rolled by  and the sky never recovered.  In the east were old crescent moon with Venus close- by all looked pretty 'muted' by the sheet-like clouds.  One  video camera was utilized. And despite close to the water line , dews was settling on every surfaces .  We packed and left the beach.
     In total  I only managed 12 Perseids and 1 SPO in that window of ~ 1 hour, a very small 'haul' [ comparing to 400-500 Perseids seen by others in other parts of the world] but still much better than going home 'empty-handed'.  Many explanations were offered why the slight 'reprieve ' towards the end of the observation. Is it Divine intervention?  or simple breaks from the drifting clouds or simply  plain luck.  Or may be its the Star Beer. [ on retrospect - with higher ZHR, brighter meteor CAN be seen even through clouds... I remember one bright Leonid... shinning through clouds - it must be d*** bright]

    Back home I ran the tape through the pc & visual inspection of the 1 hour tape : three perseids , some birds, an unknown bird/bat? doing a figure-of-eight flight( chasing after insects?) ,and one quick-flashing  satellite.  This latter man-make 'firefly' creeping pass alpha Pegasus. The flash pattern had a familar look - it was EGP (trajectory  confirmed using  Mccant's latest TLE).   The other two video cameras were not engaged because of the suspected AGC response-related problems.  Two Canon-T70 cameras loaded with fast films lied idle.

     Second night Aug (12/13) was a complete wash-out.  I woke up Aug 13 around 2:30am and stepped outside  only to find clouds and only one star faintly visible.  Another attempt at two hours later yielded the same poor sky. The scheduled 2nd night watch was aborted.  The rest of Friday hours were spent exploring the beach and the surrounding areas.  We took the 4:30pm ferry home and looking for the weekend rest.
A swift dim Perseid was caught passing zipping past Aries.  Aug 13 am 14:20 (SGP time) Mintron+25mm lens. Note the few 'pathetic stars'  visible.  ( see left image)

Bright Meteor - Video detection

OCT 10 2005 - A very bright fireball this morning 6:09am (25mm f0.95 lens).
A peak- hold image below traced the progression of this fireball. It probably had peaked and half of the other portion lies outside the frame. A deinterlaced single frame image was shown on the 2nd image.   (The short streak is created by a passing satellite Okean-2 or 90-018A.  A skymap plot matching the satellite vs background star is given here.) The bright star in the middle of the frame is gamma Vel at AZ=156d16min and Elev of 35d1min.

Single de-interlaced frame below shows the straight plasma tail trailing from the almost circular nucleus. The fireball took around 0.60 second to transverse the FOV.

2004 - April Two Comets C/2002 T7 Linear & C/2001 Neat Q4

Apr 26 '04-  I use my decade- old C8 with a hefty f3.3 reducer The FOV will be a meager 20-25 arc minute - may be just enough to show the nucleus and a small portion of the tail. For finder I used a 75mm lens coupled with my trusted watec 902H.

(Left ) - C8 with un-cooled Mintron - 1/2 B/W ccd and a electronic video finder  75mm f1.4 Watec-902H. Note the 3 inputs/1 output video switch.

(Right) Deep Sky Object Indoor - I pumped up Mintron 12V1C-EX to max integration ( x128) and the Eta Carina keyhole Nebulae filled the monitor.  - April 25 '04. The monitor was dotted with felt pen to mask out ccd's dead pixels.

Apr 27 C/ 2002  T7 Linear with bright condensed core.  There is a faint spray of tail directed upwards  - [Mintron x128 overexposed the comet core.] 

No telescope needed!!

Portable Comet Setup: x1 Mintron 12V1-EX, x1 Watec-902H, 2 video lens of choice, 1 miniTV monitor, 1 Sony video walkman, RCA cables, a fixed tripod, 12 volt sealed acid  batteries and a dash of eagerness.
May 12 '04 - Wednesday - Arrived at the field around 8pm - big chunks of slow moving clouds were obscuring the comet.  Even at this early hour dews were starting to form on  the lenses.  I  resorted to using my shirt to dry the lenses.   Cloud thinned  9pm + and Neat reappeared bright  competing with  beta Cnc  --  a magnitude  3.53 star  (see map above - 2nd date stamp tick for 12 may). Before I packed up after 9:30pm I recorded a short sequences on 'beehive' in anticipation of this May 15 drop- in  by Neat.

(Right Image) May 13 '04 - Thursday  Sky condition similar to last night.  The faint cone of comet's tail can be traced to 27 Cancri. Dimmest star ~ mag 9.6.  A handful of passers-by joined the fun.

In later years i fitted a Mintron 12V1 to a russian 300mm lens for a closer view. The set up is still portable.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Peleng 8mm

APART from doing the Watec 902H video imaging of the Leonids I also tried out fixed tripod wide angle photography.I bought the 8mm Peleng f/3.5 Russian Lens about a year ago and had not done much with the lens. I was curious just how many Leonids could I catch. In addition the distorted view lend another unusual look of the sky. The lens came with a screw mount and Nikon mount.Since I had only one Nikon camera so it ended up in Nikon FM10 - a manual camera. [ unlike the totally unattended operation of pre-programmed 6 Canon T-70s array on my the other setups]   I stood this camera together with another Canon EOS 3000 S.L.R fitted with a 15mm f3.5 lens (both needed a cable release but the latter with auto film rewind) on the same tripod with a super-plate to support dual cameras. The objective of these wide angle lens pairs was solely for recording bright very long trails fireball. When the film was developed in 4R I was not at all impressed. Attempt to use flat bed scanning only introduced ugly mechanical roller mark. Then I ask my photo savvy coworker for help. He scanned the negatives using a Nikon Coolpix scanner at 1350 dpi and the results was excellent. I 'rediscover' my 'lost' meteors.  An example was attached here. The cropped image on the right showed three red color Leonids close to polar star in Camelopardus / Cepheusis border. Clicking the image below for a closer look and spot the leonids. Take a look around the oversize image and you will be amazed by the numbers of meteors  picked up by the 8 mm lens.  In it meteor trains were starting to show on the brighter meteors. There was even a bright red Leonid that get 'framed' by the a enclosed box structure. Many more were found hugging the eastern horizon. On the right edge was the white building that housed BOAO's 1.8 meter reflector.

2001 - Leonids Meteor Shower ( Storm Level) , Korea

Dusk approaches but still bright enough to see the blue sky - two leonids graced the eastern sky.
For a tropical folk unfamiliar with high latitude constellation, recognizing the Ursa Minor  took me some time.

SUMMARY - visual, video, film camera

Taurids /Leonids Long tail Earth Grazers- Early evening visual treats of Taurids fireball and fantastic long and thin trail (60 -110degree) Leonids lasting  for a couple of good seconds - with entire trail visible . Not unlike the Perseids.At peak time the Leonids Arrival Rate - is evidently lower than the Leonids seen in Jordan 99. It was well below my expectation.  I even delayed firing the T-70 arrays waiting for the sky to fill up with meteors. Eventually I did after realizing this IS the rate and nothing higher Leonids fireball - brightness / Persistent trains- What it lack in arrival rate it make up with high percentage of bright meteors. Also 'pairings' were evident where the 2nd meteor appears to follow similar or close trajectory of the first. I could not stop imaging that spatial density of the debris that got burn up perhaps were closely together - in clumps of  frozen flake in the cool vacuum space before ending up in fiery flurry. Or are they coincidental in close line-of- sight?  Five to six meteors were seen which  left a visible tubular trains or 'glow-worm' for at least 5 -6 seconds.  One lingered for so long that  I was able to video record its slow dispersal. Flashed by one ground illuminating / shadow casting Leonid which lit up the ground from my behind.  It was absolutely AMAZING.

Watec-902H & aspheric 3.8 mm f/0.8 auto-iris lens 89 x69 degree FOV or 63,00 sq degree (~1/4 of the sky) - a total of 613 meteors brighter than mag 1.5+ were recorded ( first pass visual play back count) in 1.88 effective hours (113 min). LM cutoff is >1.0 mag. ( Details see Leonids Video)

Canon 50mm T-70  arrays: A total of 174 meteors were captured in 5 /6 array cameras. Total effective exposure time is or ~216 min or 3.06 hrs per camera with a total coverage of 5x20x40 or 40,000 sq degree or ~ 1/6 of the sky.

Wide angle Lens - 8 mm f/3,4 Peleng , Sigma  15mm f/2,8 mm lens captured many multiple leonids.  More than 30 turned up in ~ 1/2 hours of exposure. Many bright short or no tail Leonids were detected at very low elevation in the Meteor Rich Layer just above the horizon.

2001 I had the opportunity to join the AKM Meteor group from Germany and others to view the Leonid in  B O A O,  South Korea. Planning took a LONG LONG time since my last Leonid 99 in Jordan . There were three potential sites to go this year : Australia, China and Korea. US was left out as the prediction models suggested a grandeur encounter will take place closer to Singapore i. e East Asia/Australia.  Australia could be a good choice but the thought of chasing for good sky on 4-wheeler is a little too much for me.  Finally the choice became easier as Daniel  invited me to join him in Korea.  Plan B will be joining D M S group in China.  Since then I had amassed nearly sixty kilos of instrumentation.  For this year Leonid expedition I had only one objective  -to view and record Leonid in the predicted 2 hours+ windows and that it is all about it.  I know weather could ruin all these  and ended up having  anxious days looking hopelessly at satellite maps depiction of  clouds drifting across Korea. For this short trip I  did not plan to get Lonely Planet guide - no touring of any kind was planned this time. I kept my finger crossed and prayed for good weather. [.... good weather indeed!]

Nov 17 2001 - Departure for Korea

TV-reporter crew came 2:20pm. I had my interview on camera,  video filming etc all done before 3:30pm.  By 7pm  I was on my way to Changi International Air port catching the 10:30 flight out to Seoul. The plane flew over China air space, passing  Shanghai in the middle of the night.

Arrived in Korea new Incheon International Airport, Seoul  slightly before 6:00 am. My aluminum casing caught the custom officials attention and after I convinced them the contents- cameras and stuff is my personal things he waved me on. After changing some Wons ( 1000 won = S$1.5) . I waited for others to arrive FOUR hours later. It was a boring wait. Lucas, Andreas/ George, Paul and finally Rainer.
A nephew of Mrs. Lee turned up and we took a bus to xx, have lunch and proceeded to another express bus to Yeongchung. By the time we reached there it was already pitch dark. Two awaiting taxis whisked us to the BOAO through the long and winding road. The taxis were stopped a few hundred meters from the 'top' and luckily others gave me a hand to pulled, lifted my excess luggage. BOAObservatory will be our home for the next few days.

That night we began observation after ten local time. While others scrambled to set up their instrumentations I chosen not to do anything but to get familiar with the compound. I met a group of local university students setting to do tripod photography. 

Nov 18 2001 earth ploughed through dust-trails of Comet Temple-Tuttle resulting a grandeur view of the Leonids Meteors downpour over USA sky at Nov 18 10UT ,and repeat some 7-8 hours later onto East Asia. Initial estimate of ZHR( Zenith Hourly Rate) of 1000 ( or 2000+?)US and 2700 in East Asia. Up to 20-40 meteors per minute or even fifities (short period) were reported. While '01 ZHR is lower than '99 of 4500 seen in Jordan, sky gazer were enjoying a relatively 'abundance' of bright Leonids, some came zipping pass the dark sky in 'pairs'. The other bonus from the East Asia's resultant twin dust trails were the sustained broad high ZHR  lasting at a stretch for more  than 2 hours ( compare to just 40 minutes in Jordan 99). In 2001 , the actual rate was LOWER than the predicted (5000 / 8000). This put storm level prediction back to state of the'art' than 'science'. But at least predicted the timing is close enough to not missed the show. Its a pity whatever modelling refinement won't get tested till 2099 - by then the researchers and definitely me won't be around that long to test it. I bet despite the full moon next year 2002 - many will still flocks to view it since that might be the last chance in their LIFE time to view any leonids storms. Or is this year Leonids the last in
our life span?

  Best Memory of the 2001 Asian Storm - "2001 ........ I remembered one intense colored fireball in the west, elevation 50 degrees, seconds later I still can discern the individual rainbow -colored segments lingered , slowly fading away. The color segment merged into a diluted pink ,  dilated and morphed into the typical  broad based triangle , finally changing into a color of pale greenish gray.  It was like someone had left the water color painting  in the rain......"

 Predicted vs Actual - The 'lower' than predicted Zenith Hourly Rate of the 2001 STORM LEVEL was more than compensated by the brighter meteors , fireballs and longer high ZHR . The weather co-operate also in the region ( China, Korea,  Japan).

Nov 18/19/01 - Another  night to remember - long trail and long duration earth grazers-fireballs -and more fireballs- persistent trains - ground illuminating meteor-
Spent the day time setting up my instruments - assembly of T-70 cameras, link up with T3 cables and loading ASA800s ( kept in fridge since 99) and set up video systems. Lens were pre-focused in poor Singapore night sky and tapped down to prevent focus shift.
Scouting a place for my four tripods. Not wanting to spill lights on others I selected a 'secluded' area half- way to Observatory's  1.8m reflector. After four trips I managed to haul all my set ups there.
Night descended -and I walk around to find out where others were - AKM were setting up their intensifier systems between the Solar Telescope and another small building. Visual count folks were just outside of the Observatory adm buildings:  Some sat on chairs, some cocooned in sleeping bags or special  reclining supports. Two or three were at 1.8 meter reflector up the hill.  There are plenty of places to set up your gear undisturbed on good pavement.
Fog Scare Temperature was just 4 C and the sky was lovely. Then without warning large ominous looking billowing fog/clouds roll towards us hours before the storm. I look at my Casio watch - the temperature had soared to 11 C. The warm moist air condensed on everything in sight. Luckily the ponchos saved the 'night'.  I used this to cover the six T-70 cameras - a move that save the whole system - as I later found out the 4.2 kg 12AH gel battery slipped my hand when I tried to take it out of the bag. The terminal slug broke my thumb nails drawing blood.   This is the 2nd Kendrick anti-dew system for the camera arrays! So it was out of action - no dew protection. Luckily no dew was encountered for the rest of the night during the storm. Without the  ponchos the condensation collected on the lens will freeze out!
'Plan B' or 'go some where' plan was hatched - The groups gathered in the adm block there are talks about going for a lower elevations to avoid the fog. A scout car was send down hill to check out the visibility. Meanwhile the engine of the bus was kept running in anticipation of a move. I decided to stay put - won't have time and energy to relocate the instruments. Luck was on my side when the fog/cloud cleared up  well before 1400 UT.
Night continue.. Clear sky returned (LM mag 6.0+)  The earlier  film of water  on ponchos had turned into ice!!  In this sub-zero temperature, the RCA wires  and 12 volt wire seems to have life of their own - they are stiff  and can be held standing upright!  I turned the Kendrick heater to high setting to keep the largest glass surfaces - the two fisheyes bone-dry and started un-timed exposures as I waited for my anticipation  of the on rush of meteors.
Somewhere along the night ( was 17:20?) I fired the T-70s array with programmed 6 minutes exposure and 3 seconds delay (to allow for tape transportation with safety margins). And also aimed the aspheric 69x89 degree lens/watec-pair towards Orion.  I  placed both  the recording video walkman and  gel battery in a zip-up haversack ( to shield against cold).  Train spotter camera-video pair (avenir 25mm f0.9/watec902H and EOS100) sat on another  tripod.. Somehow only two video system survive the cold - the other two had battery problem - I had forgotten to zip the Orion bag - exposing the video cameras/Lithium battery to the sub freezing temperature.
Leonids arrived..., streaming all over the places. The radiant slowly climbed into view and for the next few hours we oooh and aaah  and gasped at the bright fireballs - persistent train here and there.   Most  exhibit the customary green- yellow- red or just a terminal burst of yellow/red. A few were 'stand-outs' from the crowds: while most of the train observed lasted ~ 3 seconds there are exceptions. ( rough guess of one train every 10-20 bright meteors?) I remembered one intense fireball in the west, seconds later I still can discern the individual rainbow -colored segments lingered for a seconds or two, slowly faded away while at the same time dilated and spread into the typical linear arrow based shaped, changing into a color of pale green/gray. It was like someone had left the still wet water painting out in the rain.  Two others were intentionally caught by 25mm f/0.90 watec-902H setup. A fireball exploded close to Ursa Major, a beautify arrow shaped train developed, distortion started to change the the beginning end into a triangular shape. Minutes later I re-look at Ursa and saw a unfamiliar nebulous comet-like cloud on the left of the Ursa Major. Seconds later after realizing it was the train remains I wasted no time to aim the avenir 10 degree video system towards it and recorded it on tapes. The smoke ring dilated into a pear shaped some xx minutes later. It was my first meteor train on VIDEO.
Ground illuminating fire ball - My first experience. I was facing away from the burst. Suddenly I saw the ground lit up - a meteor had exploded in my back. For a split second I can see clearly my Orion telescope bag, its content - as if some one had triggered a flash light.
Dawn slowly approaches - the leonids was still going strong. Slowing the sky brighten, Venus crawled from the eastern horizon. Leonids was still evident - many yellow dashes against the brightening east.

The DAY AFTER - At first I thought I can try just something simple tonight. Like a single video system on a tripod. But previous night 'dusk- to-dawn' observation had sapped too much energy out of me.  I was dead tired and I slept early to recover. I dragged myself up to pack my single video system and gone back to sleep.  I woke up feeling refreshed and re-charged. The loud snoring of our bus driver did not bother me.  Breakfast on bread and  two cups of Nescafe black ( no sugar). Lunch was simple also - cup instant noodle was fortified with sausage and washed down with soft drinks. Many used the late morning and afternoon to transcribe their previous nights Leonid 'takings' into standard IMO result sheets. Many recording methods were used : voice recording with background time pips from talking clock, pen recording of meteors ( count and magnitude) on rolls of paper tape, Hartwig Luethen's   handheld PDA pre-programmed with 'tic-tac-toe like' quadrants . It is amazing people can do all these in the dark. The scribbling of meteor data on a roll of paper is a feat I never ever will master.  While the stare-mode  intensified systems will be analyzed automatically by  famous  Sirko Molau's MetRec.

Post Peak night ( Nov 19/20) I was told the  ZHR -was well below 15 - so  I didn't missed much then.  I could have used this night to check out the Comet Linear 2000/WM1 but...We had a look in one of BOAO telescope dome. The entrance was so low that everyone had to stoop low and crawled in. A 10"? in Meade stood in the center. The set up was for the asteroids work I was told. Group photos were taken and the scene repeated itself no matter where you go - camera'person's mad run to set up timer and sprint  back to the groups.  Heh - the timer  is 10 second long - enough for the top speed runner to finish the 100metre.  We left with the hired bus to a town mid way between here and Airport.  Since most of us leave on the Nov 21 1 pm. We  won't be able to make the journey in time for the flight if we depart from here direct. The bus made a slow journey down the 1100 meter height through several hair-pin bends. On the way to xx we passed fields of harvested padi fields - with padi tied up like... beds of Korean cabbage ( where kimchee came from), apple tress. At a pee stop we get down to stretch our legs, some catch a few puff of nicotine. Convenience stalls lined the bus-stops catering for passing passengers. There are noodle house with stretch of bench w/o chairs where you tuck into hot noodles standing. a group of 'aunties' attract my attention to a 'kaki' fruits. Another collection of strange fruits photo for me.  We arrived at the Royal Hotel and headed straight to a nearby Temple. Dusk is fast approaching. We passed hawker with their dried products. It was a quiet town with a few streets. Big plastic drums were filed with Kq left to soaked in saline. Crowds thinned as we reached the temple ground. The main 'star' of attraction - Buddha was under scaffolding. I look around for interesting pose to shot. I found the early moon and get a few composed shots. Dinner - finally we had something much better than instant noodle - Korean meals. Beefs and mushrooms on hot plates and a dozen dishes of vegetable things washed down with 23 % clear alcohol. That night I have a good sleep - pillow under my heads for the first time.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Comet Halley (1986?)

Notice the nebulous Halley Comet near the Bent of the Scorpion Tail?  My first comet in Singapore since 1980s

CA - Morgan Hill 1998?

Cassiopeia - 'W' just above the tree .. pretty hard to make out in this star-studded exposure.

The tail of Scorpion and M7  near mid centre...fixed tripod. Morgan Hill , California.

Lick Observatory, CA after a horrid ride on a winding road.

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