Arman Ahmad joins astronomy enthusiasts for a glimpse of a heavenly body
FOR as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by astronomy. As a strapping young lad, I joined the Astronomy Club in my school, Sekolah Menengah Sultan Abdul Samad in Petaling Jaya, enduring jests by friends who warned of an impending descent into geekdom if I joined.
Well I guess it’s their loss then — a part of their childhood that they will never regain.
This fascination with stellar objects permeated into my adult life and although I was never even close to becoming a serious astronomy buff, once in a while I found myself staring at supermoons, eclipses and other assorted celestial phenomena over the years.
Recently, the transit of Venus piqued my interest and I found myself climbing the stairs up the National Planetarium located on a hill in the Lake Gardens.
In case you missed the media brouhaha, the transit of Venus happens very rarely and won’t happen again until Dec 11, 2117. So it’s unlikely that any of us will be around for that next photo opportunity. But for those of you who felt left out, rejoice as a transit of Mercury will take place on May 9, 2016.
The National Planetarium on that day was a hub of activity, packed with schoolchildren as well as adults.
Astronomy buffs were out in full force, setting up their telescopes all over the planetarium grounds. I met Jong Tze Kian, one of the science officers at Angkasa and requested for an opportunity to fix my camera to one of the planetarium’s eight-inch Mead telescopes which had been conveniently set up outside. He gladly consented, but unfortunately, clouds decided to congregate over the sky and block our view of the sun.
When the clouds cleared, the line of people waiting for a turn at at the telescope became longer and in just a few minutes left, the phenomenon would be completed.
I requested for Jong to bolt my Canon to the telescope at that moment. He hurriedly screwed in a Canon adapter and I handed him my Canon EOS 450d.
STUFF TO USE
To view the transit of Venus, you need to use a filter as you will be staring at the sun. Remember when you were a child and used a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun into a brilliant dot to burn a piece of paper? Well, imagine a much bigger magnifying glass and that brilliant dot of light sitting on your eyes.
That’s what happens if you don’t slot the filter over the telescope. If you press the shutter without the filter, poof! the CCD on your RM12,000 camera will go up in a puff of smoke.
My humble Canon EOS 450d was much cheaper, but I still cherished it, so I reminded Jong to place the filter.
He grew more jittery as the line grew longer. Realising that we’d have an angry mob breathing down our necks if we didn’t pull this off quick, we hastened the pace.
Since we had a small window of time to get the image, we adjusted the ISO and shutter speed frantically. After firing off a volley of shots at various settings, the screen just showed blank. I was disappointed. Seemed like I’d have to come back in 2117 if I wanted to capture Venus.
Back home, I clicked through the photos slowly, lamenting on the missed opportunity. In the relative darkness of the living room, a round image vaguely resembling an orange sun appeared on the camera’s LCD screen. And on the top left corner of this orb, was a little round dot, Venus herself! I quickly popped out the SD Card and inserted it into my laptop, boosted the brightness and contrast, and lo and behold, I could see the grainy, very poorly composed image.
Although I realise there is much room for improvements, but I view this photo as the first step in my new hobby — Astronomical Photography.
There is still much more to learn. But even renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry didn’t capture the Afghan girl on his first outing. We have to start somewhere.