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CKemu

Jupiter, The Moon, Mars and an Audience

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I have loved astronomy, space and everything related to it for years. Looking at objects in space has often been a challenge, but the rewards are countless.

It is always a pleasure looking through the eyepiece and being astounded by what I see, but my greatest pleasure has always been sharing that view. Taking photos and publishing them, is great way of sharing what's up there, getting people thinking about the wider universe we inhabit.

It my experience, it's even greater to set the scope up, and then get a friend, neighbour, anyone to look through that eyepiece for themselves, the reaction is often of disbelief, surprise and suddenly for them it seems to click as to why I am constantly going on about space, my telescope and how epic it all is.

Just over a year ago, I heard of something called the Virtual Star Party. Thanks to the power of Google+ and Google Hangouts, amateur and professional astronomers are able to stream a live view of what they are looking at through their telescope, to the internet and thus an audience around the world.

Having watched several of these hangouts; I quickly realised I wanted to be part of this, to share my passion for astronomy and my view on the universe. This was to me, the ultimate way of sharing.

Of course, it's never that simple. I am a bar man, so I work irregular hours, with a changing shift pattern, the weather in England never plays ball and technology can be a fickle thing.

The Virtual Star Party is hosted and co-ordinated in America, so time difference, light summer skies and shift patterns normally conspire against me, but this Monday - the 23rd of September 2013 at 4:00 GMT, I was drinking coffee and joining the Virtual Star Party for the first time.

Technology was against us, with fellow amateur astronomers suffering from computer issues, communication issues and in my case, the microphone on my webcam dropped out.

Gremlins aside, the show went on and for just under an hour we broadcast our view, live to an audience around the world, that hour went fast, and it was fantastic!

I will be the first to admit, I was nervous and really didn't know what to do with myself, something that given the chance I want to work on and prepare for a bit next time. Thankfully my seeing was really good that night, my scopes usual gremlins weren't playing up and the sky was crystal clear with no wind present.

I opened with my view of Jupiter, it's bands and soft hues showing up wonderfully, the audience would easily be able to tell it's live, given the atmospheric turbulence made it shimmer, and shift, but not so much as to ruin the view.

Thanks to my new camera, the ASI120mc and the wonderful FireCapture 2.3 software, I have great exposure control, so could increase and decrease exposure easily and precisely, allowing me to show the four major Galilean moons.

As the show went on, I moved over to my view of the Moon, a combination of good seeing and the new HD mode that Google Hangouts delivers, enabled me to really show off the craters, shadows, mountains, surface texture changes and really just enjoy what remains one of my favourite objects to just sit and stare at, for hours and hours!

Indeed, this view and the kind commentary from the other astronomers, really helped settle my nerves and just relax and enjoy the moment.

The audience seemed to be enjoying the view, asking questions and that really was a pleasure, knowing other people can enjoy what my backyard view has to offer.

This technology, this ability to share, with reasonable ease; a view of the solar system and beyond, from a backyard in the middle of suburbia, is in my mind, remarkable and of huge benefit.

Rarely people look up, those that do, will spot the Moon, a few stars and wonder as I think most people have, what is out there. Here, with this technology, we can share, explain, with detail and laughs along the way.

As the show wrapped up, I moved back to Jupiter - and just as goodbyes where to be said, I spotted the leading edge of the Great Red Spot, something the Virtual Star Party had never seen before, due to timing and other conditions.

So there I am frantically trying to get my focus spot on, whilst Fraser and the other astronomers try to spot it. Ultimately we couldn't tell if it was there, or not. So after the show ended, I captured some footage, and stacked it; it was there, the GRS!

By this point, it's gone 5:00 in the morning, my fingers are cold, the telescope dripping wet with dew, but the mix of geeky excitement and coffee let me stay up for another hour, to capture for the first time ever , a view of Mars.

The sleep deprivation made my shift at work a little bit painful, but I am so glad I finally got to take part in this amazing event, made possible with technology, but passionate, enthusiastic and likeminded people.

It was an absolute privilege to do it, and one I hope to repeat often and soon, well assuming those clouds keep away!

Images attached where all taken using the following setup:

Meade LX90 8" SCT
ASI120mc Camera
3x Meade Shorty Barlow for close ups

Processed with PIPP, Registax and Photoshop.

post-9886-0-26892400-1380038626.jpgpost-9886-0-12961800-1380038627.jpg

post-9886-0-92269400-1380038627_thumb.jppost-9886-0-78167300-1380038628_thumb.jppost-9886-0-64739700-1380038629_thumb.jp

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very nice show, will watch it all tonight thank you very much for sharing that with us. regards mike

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Thank you, the VSP is something I've watched for over a year now and joining it was amazing, the weather even played ball for me :D

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Finally named the craters in my lunar close ups, the giant pair are Atlas and Hercules, and the football stadium with a hole blown out of it's side is Cepheus.

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Great stuff Chris and very brave of you to broadcast live in the early hours of the morning to an international audience! Looks like the 'seeing gods' favour the brave :)

Your processed images show excellent detail and you have even managed to capture clear features on the tiny 4.5" disk of Mars, very impressive for an 8" scope!

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