Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog. My name is Steve and i am the lucky owner of a John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. I built her over three years with the help of my father, father-in-law and two children. She was launched in August 2007 at Queen Anne's battery marina in the barbican area of Plymouth. This blog is a record of our voyages together around SW England.
Arwen has a YouTube channel of her own. Search "plymouthwelshboy".






Saturday, 20 January 2018

AstroGC: star gazing on Gran Canaria


Collected promptly at 5pm from our hotel, Jose drove us up the GC503 much to the alarm of ‘Her Indoors’ who had already experienced this road twice before!  We stopped off at a restaurant where we were offered free drinks and an explanation of the night was given. We were on the AstroGC telescope tour and the aim of the night was to do stargazing using 16” telescopes and learn something about the night skies. The group size was a maximum of twelve with two telescopes between them. 
Regular readers of this blog will know I normally refrain from making recommendations on companies, tours, products etc but not this time. If you visit Gran Canaria, this tour is worth every euro! Nearly 600 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor can’t be wrong can they; and frankly, based on our experiences they weren’t. Carmelo and Jose were outstanding in what proved to be exceptionally difficult conditions, when thick cloud built and high winds whipped the clouds across the skies. Despite these challenging circumstances we saw constellations, binary stars, distant galaxies, shooting stars, passing satellites and the actual milky way. Having your own personal astronomers on tap to answer questions and pass on their enthusiasm was just icing on the cake. There were quizzes and prizes and no I won’t share the answers. Meteorite fragments to observe, after all Jose has a meteorite collection of some 700 specimens and has collected them from all over the world. 
There were extra warm clothes available; seating, mint tea and best of all and boy how I wish I’d had one of these on all my fieldwork trips, a projector screen in the black of the mini people carrier van and a digital projector attached to the lift up boot door. Awesome, a brilliant orientation of the night sky lecture so you could get your eye in. 

High above Mogan, we craned our necks for two hours looking at the stars in the windows that appeared between thick cloud. Unusual and testing conditions for our astronomers and they coped and adapted well. I know, I’m a teacher trainer and assessor. They were brilliant! Both intuitive, they understood their audience’s needs. They fussed over every comfort, made sure all could see the various stars through the scopes and answered all questions. Passion and enthusiasm all night despite the testing conditions. 
Laser pointers helped pinpoint nebulae, distant neighbouring galaxies and constellations. M54, the binary stars that form the eyes of the swan or Cygnus constellation; the Orion nebula. The great plough, little plough, the Polaris star. Cassiopeia. 
In the pitch black with just the twinkly lights from valley villages below, our stargazing spot was an old undeveloped car park area attached to a closed-up restaurant in its own grounds. No car lights, no disturbances. Perfect. 
You can really reflect on your place in the universe up there high in the peaks above Mogan. Far from feeling insignificant, I felt really special. Here we were on a planet that sustains advanced life forms. Conditions just right at this particular point in time and space for life to flourish on this planet in this solar system in this small corner of the Milky Way galaxy. And were there advanced lifeforms looking at us watching them? Of course there were! I did wave at them but whether they saw me or not, who knows. 
AstroGC have their own website. They don’t take advanced payment because they are never sure whether an evening will go ahead or not due to changing weather conditions. They make this clear on their site. You sign up, they confirm with you and then they will text you when a viable evening is a goer. Try to give them several nights, it increases your chances of getting a successful trip. If you don’t know how to take a good sunset picture with your camera, learn to do so before you go as they stop off at a point where the sunsets are simply stunning. Take a camera and tripod and learn how to do some basic star time lapse photos or videos on the camera. I gave it a go. My very first attempts ever are below along with some tips. I learned the hard way!!
This team have planning down to a fine art form. You won’t regret it. And by the way, no money is taken until the tour is going ahead and expect it to be postponed if conditions aren’t optimal.


My very first attempts ever at time lapse photograph, so go easy on me!!

Tips for sunset and starry sky time lapses using GoPro Hero 5 black
for night time:
1. select night lapse photo mode
2. select shutter speed of 30 seconds
3. continuous shooting node
4. 12 mp
5. spot meter off
6. 3000k white balance selected in protunes
7. ISO 800 selected
8. sharpness set at medium
9. EV - N/A
10. make sure you have something in the foreground that is static; and some distant light source sometimes help
11. shoot for at least a couple of hours to get a really lengthy film clip at end. Don't worry if you have to quickly change batteries just try to set the GoPro back up in its original position. 
12. goes without saying - use a tripod!
13. some internet sites recommend 10 sec shutter speed and white balance at 5500K - so experiment!
For sunsets: set to time lapse; photo every 5 seconds; medium view; 12 mp for camera and 30fps if doing video; and try to set your scene remembering the photographic rule of thirds.
Good luck, have fun!

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