The Geminids Meteor Shower '04

Monday night Dec 13 the gang agreed to meet at C.T. English School up on Summit to photograph and watch the Geminids, predicted to put on an unusually strong show this year under a dark moonless sky. I arrived and Karl joined soon after to find very wet and foggy conditions; fog was forming right over our heads from north winds blowing up the ridge. My old friend and noted Bay area astrophotographer and marine biologist at CSU Hayward - Chris Kitting - joined us soon afterward. Karl convinced us it was clearer back at his place, and a little meteorological reasoning led us to move our operation to Highland Way a mile east of Karl's place. We called Shahram on the cell phone to meet us at the new location, and arrived there by 10:45pm. Karl was right - it was clear, no wind, and promised great photos as the fog below blocked the lights of Santa Cruz.

The meteor shower was quite strong, with over 90/hr and many quite bright. We saw a few brighter than Venus. We're hopeful that several showed up on film. The brightest meteors were a strong green color from oxygen III emission. Other reports gave the rates at 160/hour.

A highlight was Comet Machholz, a big green ball with two stubby faint tails in western Lepus below Orion. Chris sets up his Takahashi mount and prepares his Nikon for some 300mm shots of the comet. I'm at left, adjusting the STV videocamera. Jupiter is in the background to the upper right. Chris' shot of me at right was taken with his Nikon Coolpix 995 and flash.





And here I'm STILL adjusting the STV. Karl watches the STV monitor looking for signs of the comet while I move the thing this way and that on the ball head mount attached to the oak mount board clamped to the GM-8. The 100mm Nikon lens gives this video camera a field of view that's only a couple degrees wide, and it's very difficult to blindly aim at an object and have it show up on the monitor. I tried for half an hour before finally getting Comet Machholz to appear on the frame. Chris is at left, and Shahram has now arrived and is at right.

Shahram and Chris eventually moved their camera gear to the GM-8, as the polar alignment is so good that no guiding need be done. We had some close calls as the whole set-up flopped over twice due to weight imbalance. I'd left the counter weight rod at the observatory.

Chris captured a bright Geminid in Monoceros on this picture using his digital Nikon D100 set at ISO 400 with Nikor 20mm lens wide open at f/2.8 for about 5 minutes. Comet Machholz is the small green 'star' to the right of the head of Lepus, lower right of Orion. As always, click on any blue-bordered pictures for the full size .jpg version. A much brighter Geminid streaked through Lepus, lit by the lights of Santa Cruz below, a brilliant green to the eye and as bright as Venus. Chris got a nice photo here, and if you look closely you can see the Orion, Flame, and Horsehead nebulae. Chris used a Hasselblad with 80mm Zeiss f/2.8 lens wide open for 15 minutes, on Fuji 400F slide film, pushed to ISO 800, and scanned into digital format.

I took a series of pictures of Comet Machholz using the STV with 100mm Nikon lens wide open. These were practice shots, trying to learn how to set the options using the unique user interface of the STV console. At left is a 7 minute exposure; an align/stack of 7 x 1-minute each. No dark subtraction or flat fielding or resampling. The comet was low and suffered some from the lights of Santa Cruz. You'll see the little dotted line segments; these are hot pixels offset from each other as each frame was aligned and stacked. This comet's two tails are very offset, as it's near opposite the sun in the sky. The dust tail is at about 10 o'clock, and the ion tail about 4-5 o'clock. At right is a shorter 1.5 minute exposure, but this time I turned off the auto dark subtraction. It's an align/stack of 3 x 30sec images with bicubic resampling.

Karl headed home around 2:30am, while Chris and Shahram and I kept at it till about 4:30am.