Rival to Mars: First Light at Mount Glasgow Observatory


Rival to Mars: First Light at Mount Glasgow Observatory

I was out photographing Comet 252P Linear in late March in the wee hours of the morning. As well as brilliant Venus in the east, Mars was shining brightly overhead very close to the star Antares in my favourite constellation Scorpius. Photographers know this region very well as it is the most strikingly colourful region of nebulosity you will find anywhere in the sky. With Mars staring down at me, I remember thinking in my sleepy daze "oh yeah.. i've been meaning to photograph that!".

The problem was that while some of my limited spare time had been going into an observatory project it still wasn't functional. So with a celestial deadline to work to, over the next couple of weeks, I managed to install the EQ8 mount and the tiny Fitlet PC and link them to the observatory dome. It was barely functioning but I could just about give it a go. True to form, despite the ongoing drought, cooler and cloudy weather set in. I set the gear up and running a few nights in a row but between the clouds and a number of new (and old) teething problems I didn't have much to show for it. But with better weather on the 12th April (and a few subs from the previous night) I managed to gather 3.6 hours of sub-exposures to create this image. 

Rival to Mars
Mars and its Rival Antares and the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex
CDS-5D, Canon 200mm lens, 110 * 2mins , ISO800.

Mars is on the left, while the brightest star on the right is Antares, a name which in ancient Greek actually means 'rival' or 'equal to Mars'. The ecliptic, the path along which the planets travel lies close to Antares, so all the planets eventually pass similarly close to Mars, but it is because of the likeness in colour that Antares earned its name. At the moment Mars, at magnitude -0.7, is clearly outshing 1st magnitude Antares. But Mars is not always so bright and at other times the comparison would be even more similar. However, after this month, Mars won't pass by Antares again until 2033!

The night I captured this image, the mount was left running way past the meridian (at which point the mount kind of turns itself upside down) and unfortunately the dome didn't follow the mount past that point so I missed out on another couple of hours of exposure when the region was overhead in the clearest sky. There's a story like this for most of my images though - pretty good but never as good as I think they should have been! On the plus side, I didn't lose too much sleep getting this image but the equipment did get very briefly rained on so the next priority is installing the rain sensor to automatically close the dome before it gets wet inside!

Here is the image of Comet 252P Linear which helped prompt the image above, captured as the nearly Full Moon was setting just as morning twilight was starting on the 22nd March.

Comet 252P Linear at 6am on 22nd March 2016
Canon 6D, Samyang 35mm lens f2.8, 2 mins, ISO800
Tracking on SkyWatcher Star Adventurer

And for good measure, here again is the timelapse of the dome project coming together: