Mersing Astronomy Expedition 2009
Back from Mersing and I’m itching all over. Hopefully, I can finish this entry without scratching the sandfly bites until they bleed.
So on a nice and friendly Friday afternoon, the group of us left for Mersing in a van with some borrowed equipment from schools.
Two and a half hours later and a sleepy afternoon in the van, we made it to Mersing Town. From there, we had some trouble finding the chalet with my excellent navigation skills.
Of course, we reached after some time.
The chalet is not so much of a chalet than an insect-infested concrete kampong hut.
No TV, no aircon, no toilet roll.
And we already booked into their highest-class room. If they were to give the rooms names to differentiate by, a good start is Bad, Terrible, Nightmare and Night In Hell. We chose Bad.
So Dongwei was like, Nabeh! There are ants everywhere!
And Edrei was like, Whee!
And mind you, these ants are the nut-cracking jungle-trained ants of the Malaysia. Yes, the ones which appear in your nightmares, as well as featured in the Starship Troopers movie.
Oh god it hurts! The bite from these ants are painful! Let’s change into shoes and long pants!
We had enough of that and decided to head out to the nearby open field for stargazing. Nearby here means 2-3 kilometres.
With my superb navigation skills once again, we ended up reaching that site about half an hour later. In a van. Which also means, it’s getting really dark and we have to set up tent, telescopes and all.
Sounds like it’s no big feat, but this is a place with the slightest light pollution. What you see is pitch black. And your ability to make out shapes in the dark is determined by the starlight from above.
This photo, titled Darkness, is exactly what it is. Artificially brighten with Photoshop for your viewing pleasure.
Just as we got everything up, clouds rolled in and completely shrouded the sky. And as if it’s not done yet, suddenly it began throwing out cloud-to-cloud lightnings. We quietly hid in the van and waited for over 2 hours.
Some portion of the sky began clearing and we decided that it’s a good time to head out.
For the next 4 hours or so, we could see about one-half of the sky at most times, with the other half covered by the clouds. Because the clouds were constantly moving, this little window of visible sky kept changing.
I managed to pick out a few moments for astrophotography with my Canon 450D. Enjoy the photos!
First, the Southern sky. Try to pick out the constellations!
To show you how the sky changes over time, I did some time lapse photography of the same area of the sky over an hour.
More of the Southern sky.
And then Scorpius and its neighbours. See the Milky Way at the bottom-left corner!
I also tried some star trails. Not so good and really short because I was limited to a mere few minutes by the moving clouds.
And then I finally gave Deep Sky Objects astrophotography a go. DSO astrophotography is never easy, and something which I barely grasp. All the techniques required to get a good photograph seem foreign to me and I never really bothered because I don’t have the equipment needed.
5 years ago, as a 14-year-old newbie, I eagerly tried my first DSO shot. A photo of Omega Centauri, NGC 5139, a globular star cluster.
It was a complete failure, producing an unfocused, blurred and trailed image.
This time, it wasn’t that much different.
I attached my camera to a Celestron NexStar 5 in prime focus configuration, effectively using the telescope as the lens for my camera.
First, I tried Mizar, a double star in Ursa Major with a partner called Alcor. They appear as a single star to the naked eye, but the telescope easily resolves the two into separate stars. Ancient Greeks used them as an eyesight test to find those with exceptional eyesight.
And then, M7 (Ptolemy Cluster).
I wasn’t about to give up. About 3am, a little 3rd-quarter reddish Moon appeared at the horizon.
And finally, the best effort of a DSO photo so far from me — Jewel Box! The little star cluster of NGC 4755.
It actually looks exactly like itself when viewed through the telescope using your eyes. The colours are right too.
By then, the Moon was coming up really fast and washing out all the stars with its glow.
On top of that, the NexStar 5 suddenly started to malfunction by losing its electronic accuracy (realised it was the batteries), and dew was forming all over the equipment — including the telescope and camera.
Everyone else was already asleep so I decided to call it a day and join in the Hibernation Fest. But not before I left my camera pointing South to capture a 31 minutes star trail while I sleep. Of course, it was once again ruined by clouds moving in occasionally.
Waking up to a sunrise is one of the most beautiful sights that you wouldn’t enjoy.
Especially when you just clocked in 3 hours of sleep. In an uncomfortable tent. Feeding the sandflies and mosquitoes.
You guys want a photo?
Wha- photo? Zzzzz….
Hey guys you know this is going to Facebook right?
Because we arrived at the observation site when it was almost dark, only in the morning could we see how it really looked like.
Relatively flat land. Excellent field of view of the sky.
We headed back to the chalet where we would have lunch… in the van.
And we decided to make up for the lack of sleep.
It was totally hilarious when 5 of us were sleeping on that one bed, and suddenly this female staff from the chalet pops in and stares. Her WTF LOL face was priceless.
I’ll try not to make you bored with what we did in the afternoon, but in summary…
We visited the beach.
Along the way, we found these little interesting crap-like substance shapely thing around this area. We have no idea what could have made/produced/crafted it. We visited the beach at low-tide, so at high-tide the whole area would be covered with water. And fishes can’t do that.
We left for Mersing Town for lunch, dinner, tea, entertainment and random stuffs, coming back in the evening for the second night of stargazing.
The skies were not very welcoming. Upon arrival at the observation site and setting up the telescopes and tent, it started to drizzle. Then rain. Then even heavier. And finally became a thunderstorm. We hid in the van for almost 3 hours until the skies cleared, while the rain attempted to tear apart our tent.
Turns out that the rain soaked all the bags inside — including the three binoculars that we brought.
Oh well, we said, and we continued about our daily lives. Win a cookie by guessing the stars in the background!
I’m like some poster boy for AstroFest over here.
Under the eyes of Sirius and Procyon.
The thunderstorm was still around somewhere in the distance, and I managed to capture this very awesome shot.
And you probably also noticed the terrible cloud cover.
It was so bad, we gave up stargazing for the night and started singing and murdering songs. While I left my camera to do another time lapse of the sky.
A pretty good trip to say the least! And for once, we’re organising everything by ourselves.
About 3 weeks to enlistment, so this could be and is likely to be my last overseas trip in a long time.
I do intend to go to Punggai next or visit the good old Desaru, which offer skies comparable to Mersing. But at least the resorts there are much more hospitable.