Observing / Astrophotography Session @ Mahabalipuram

By akarshsimha; Published 02 Dec 2007

4:30 PM, 01-12-2007 : My phone beeps, there's an SMS from a familiar number.

5:30 PM, 01-12-2007 : I was located at the IITM Main Gate, lots of coffee spilt all over my pant, attributed to my low level of intelligence resulting in an experiment of drinking coffee in the IITM Electric Vans

~ 6:20 PM 01-12-2007: Just as I cross the S.P. road, somebody familiar waves to me from the car and the car stops a few metres ahead.

~ 8:00 PM 01-12-2007: A new Orion Atlas computerized Equatorial Mount carrying an Orion ED80 Apochromatic Refractor and a long-focal-length Orion refractor to be used as a guidescope stood in all majesty on the terrace of a resort in Mahabalipuram, a few feet away from a Meade 10" Lightbridge.

Yes! Dr. Suresh was going to Mahabalipuram (since we BASians cancelled the Yelagiri trip) with Mr. Vijay Kumar and Arun Bharadwaj and I made a sudden decision to join the team. I had none of my equipment with me. (not even my star atlas!)

The equipment used consisted of Dr. Suresh's newly acquired Orion ED80 on Orion Atlas EQ-G mount, Arun's recently bought Meade 10" Lightbridge (It's a wonderful scope!) and Vijay Kumar's binoculars and green laser (amongst one of the most useful tools for amateur astronomy!)

While Dr. Suresh was mostly glued to his telescope, taking auto-guided photographs of Horsehead Nebula and Pleiades (He showed us a picturesque Pleiades through the ED80!!), Arun and me were finding random objects with the 10" Lightbridge and Mr. Vijay Kumar was exploring the skies with his Binoculars, having frequent peeps into the telescope.

Dr. Suresh, as usual, finished his precise polar alignment, fitted the webcam for auto-guiding etc. etc. and finally was snapping horsehead.

Arun and me started finding random deepsky objects. We found M1, M2, M15, M27, M46, M47, M74, M76, NGC 253, NGC 288, NGC 1316, NGC 2090, those two galaxies in Columba, Mars, H and Chi Persei, M45, M42, M43, M31, M33, Running Man nebula etc.  I also happened to see NGC 2090 (11.2 mag, but 'Bright' according to NGC!), M81, M82, M35, that dense NGC open cluster at the edge of M35, NGC 2768 (11mag, but 'cB' according to NGC, was horribly faint considering that it was low in the horizon), M32, M110.

We slept after moonrise at 1:00 AM. 

Arun's Meade 10" Lightbridge is a really marvellous scope, and I was quite amazed by the view of M74 and M76.

A short summary of various parameters of the venue: 

Location: Mamalla Beach Resort, 5km from Mahabalipuram, on ECR road.
Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude at ~Zenith:  6.2 (Star between alpha Trianguli and M33)
Visibility of bright objects with unaided eye: M31, H and Chi Persei, Comet Holmes, M41, M35, M44, M45, Christmas Tree Cluster, M42, Cr 140
M31 Visibility: Direct Vision
M33 Visibility: "Felt" with extreme averted vision 
Milky Way: Visible from Perseus to Canis Major
Bortle Class: 4, maybe.