Sunday, August 23, 2009

Photographing the Perseids

It's just occurred to me that I've done my fellow photographers a disservice by not disclosing the photographic details of my recent Perseid meteor photography. That's easily rectified: I used a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (400D) with a Sigma 20mm, f1.8 lens. The camera was set to full-manual mode with the aperture at f1.8, the exposure duration set to 30 seconds, ISO to 400, and capture mode to RAW. It was equipped with an 8 GB storage card, a battery grip (so it had two batteries to draw from), and a shutter cable release that can be locked down such that the camera takes pictures continuously. The lens was set to manual focus, and focused to just shy of infinity. I don't know why, but actually setting the lens to infinity produced out-of-focus stars. So, some experimentation was required to get an acceptable focus. Significantly, the lens was wrapped with a Kendrick FireLite lens warmer powered by a small car battery [my thanks to Chris Cooley for bringing that product to my attention]; without that, even on that summer night in a drought, the lens would have become fogged by dew (my truck was covered with it).

I can easily conceive of better setups (a camera with a full-frame sensor and/or a much wider-angle lens, f1.8 or better), but this setup works, even if the best meteors seem to inevitably fall outside of its field of view.

My second-best meteor photo of the night. ©2009 Chris W. Johnson
12:34:56 AM, August 13, 2009.
Bamberger Ranch Preserve, Blanco County, Texas

Monday, August 17, 2009

Perseid Meteor Shower 2009, The Movie

See the 2009 Perseid meteor shower as I saw it, albeit in 49 seconds, rather than four hours and fifteen minutes. The huge change in illumination over the course of the movie was caused by the rising of the moon.

This movie is 60 MB, and if any meaningful number of people attempt to download it on the same day, it will probably exceed my ".Mac" daily bandwidth limit. Sorry for the inconvenience, but it was too pretty a sight to show in low-res, or to compress into pixelated mush.

(And, of course, services like YouTube can't handle high-res video, or video in non-standard aspect ratios; in short, they can't handle any of my videos. Useless, bloody, one-size-fits-all, "good enough" solutions. I seem to have been born a square peg in a world of round holes, and these sorts of small-minded limitations are among the banes of my existence.)

Anyway, enjoy.

2009 Perseid Meteor Shower Movie. Click to Download (60MB).
MPEG 4 Video, 647 x 972 pixels, 49 seconds, 60 MB

Perseid Meteor Shower
12-13 August, 2009
11:33 PM - 4:08 AM CDT
Bamberger Ranch Preserve,
Blanco County, Texas

©2009 Chris W. Johnson

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Nine-Banded Armadillo

Yesterday, I finally took a decent photo of one of Texas’ many nine-banded armadillos, our state mascot. (Originally, legislators tried to make it the state mammal, but other legislators with strong anti-armadillo biases scuttled that effort. Mascot status was a compromise.) Although, as the link above emphasizes, the nine-banded armadillo only recently arrived in the United States (sometime around 1870 it had crossed from Mexico into Texas), it's worth noting that North America used to have a widespread species of "giant" armadillo, about twice the size of the nine-banded, that went extinct. (And that's without going back to the fossil record, which shows that we once had armadillos just a bit smaller than Volkswagen Beetles.) The nine-banded armadillo is to some extent, therefore, filling the ecological gap left by its extinct cousin, and may possibly begin evolving to increase its size, as its new territory has previously demonstrated that it can support a much larger armadillo, and an increased size could improve its ability to tolerate cold climates. This particular armadillo was found within a hundred feet or so of the entry to the Bamberger Ranch Preserve, not long after rain had briefly passed through the area; not enough rain to break our drought, but enough to tease us with the hope. (Note to self: Never enter the ranch without a telephoto camera at the ready; you never know what you might see. I have, for instance, often encountered a large flock of wild turkeys.)

Best Perseid (Photo) of the Night

Over the course of five-and-a-half hours of photography, I seem to have photographed 25 Perseid meteors, of which the one below is by far the best.

Perseid meteor. ©2009 Chris W. Johnson
12:32:44 AM, August 13, 2009.
Bamberger Ranch Preserve, Blanco County, Texas

Counting Perseids

132 Perseids so far tonight. The moon, unfortunately, is really beginning to wash-out the sky, so, even though the number of meteors should be increasing, the number that are visible seens to be decreasing. Rotten old moon. Not sure if it is worth waiting another hour for the peak to arrive. [It wasn't.]

A little while ago I was visited by two big, pure-white dogs that wouldn't quite let me touch them. They appeared like phantoms in the moonlight, and then they were gone - back to the goat herd they live with in an adjoining pasture. Not sure how they got in here with me and the cows. Hope they come back, though.

From under the moon and stars in a cow pasture in Blanco County, Texas, best wishes, and sleep tight,