This assignment is designed to increase your familiarity with and appreciation of the night sky. What is required is a photograph of a constellation taken by you and a brief write up that explains the conditions under which you took the photograph. As well, a short essay (500 words) will be required on a topic somewhat of your choosing. Read through all the instructions for the assignment before starting, and then start it!
Part A: The photograph
To determine the constellation you will photograph you will need the last digit of your student number. From the following list of 10 constellations, select the one that corresponds to the last digit of your student number. Please note that selection of the wrong constellation will immediately invoke a 50% reduction in the marks allocated to the photographs (and the negatives or original electronic files).
5: Perseus 0: Leo
6: Taurus 1: Ursa Minor
7: Auriga 2 Ursa Major
8: Gemini 3: Cassiopeia
9 Andromeda 4: Cepheus
To locate your constellation you will have to look it up on a star chart. Such charts are available in the bookstore or from the Steacie Library. You may also find helpful the star charts in a current copy of SkyNews, the Canadian magazine of astronomy and stargazing. You can purchase copies of SkyNews for a discounted price of $2.50 each from the NATS office (126 Chemistry building).
Constellations span several degrees of sky. As a consequence, any photograph of them will not need the use of telephoto lenses. In fact, the regular 50mm lens found on most 35mm cameras is well suited for this exercise. Consult your star charts and decide when your constellation is conveniently visible at this time of the year. With the charts, go outside one clear evening to become familiar with the sky and locate your target constellation. Do not attempt photography on this night ‑ just find the constellation and get acquainted with the stars.
The York University Astronomical Observatory (northwest corner of Petrie) is open to the public every clear Wednesday night, and can assist you with learning your way around the night sky. Take advantage of the help provided at these times!
Indicate at the beginning of your write‑up your student number and the corresponding constellation. In your assignment, you MUST include a sketch of your constellation as photographed by you (or an appropriate size photocopy with the area of your photograph clearly indicated), in the correct orientation compared to the photograph you have taken, with the three brightest stars in your constellation labelled by name. In this way, it is apparent to the marker whether you have successfully photographed the target constellation. Also, the negative frame number of the photograph you are submitting in the assignment must be clearly indicated with the photograph itself.
All data associated with the photograph must be included in your write-up, including: (1) date and time of the photograph, (2) prevailing weather conditions at the location from which the photograph was taken, (3) the camera, (4) type of film (or number of Mpix), (5) camera setting (including f/stop if applicable), (6) exposure time, (7) altitude and (8) azimuth (direction) of the constellation in the sky and (9) the (terrestrial) location of your observation. Also, remember that the brightest 3 stars in your constellation should be identified by name and your accompanying sketch should be labelled accordingly. Remember that the aim of the assignment is to photograph a specific constellation and not a specific star. If a group of people used the same film, all members' names also should be recorded on each members’ assignment, along with any special comments. All this information is critical in the assessment of the photograph and in the evaluation of the photographer.
Taking the photograph
You will need a 35mm camera and film. (For a digital camera option, see next page.) Slide or print films are both acceptable providing the ASA/ISO rating (speed) of the film exceeds 100. Generally the higher the film speed, the better. Films that produce the best results are in the range 400 to 1000 ASA. The film you buy is likely to have 24 (or more) exposures on it. As you will only need 6 photographs at most, teaming up with other members of the class is recommended to help cut costs and provide support for each other during the exercise. If you cannot find a camera, one can be reserved through me!
Load the film in the camera and then set the aperture to wide open. That is, set the f‑stop to f/2.8 or lower if possible. The focus should be set to infinity. The exposure time for 400 ASA film or slower should be up to 20 seconds or thereabouts. This means that the shutter must STAY open for that length of time. On most cameras this can be done using the B shutter setting and employing a cable release. Note: To use the B setting, the finger must keep the shutter release depressed for the entire length of the exposure. For film speeds over 1000 ASA, exposure times of order 10 seconds are recommended. While the use of a tripod is not essential some form of `steadying' of the camera during the exposure is highly recommended. Use a tripod, a car hood, a convenient collection of rocks or books, etc. As the field of view of the camera is several degrees, placing the brightest star of the constellation in the centre of the camera viewfinder should ensure that the entire constellation will be photographed successfully. For safety, take several pictures with a range of exposures in the region of your constellation ‑ you do not want to come out again. If a roll of 24 exposures is bought, a group of four people could use the same film.
When the film is processed, be sure to warn the developers that it is a film containing stars ‑ tiny points of light and not extended objects like people or houses, etc. It is sometimes best to have the negatives developed without any prints being made. When the negatives are returned (preferably in an uncut state), you can choose which frames to have printed. ALWAYS ASK FOR THE NEGATIVES NO MATTER WHAT THE DEALER SAYS ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE RESULTS. Remember too, that the photographs you are taking are a little different from the normal photograph. The store clerk may well try to tell you that the photographs you are about to take will not come out (for a variety of reasons). Be assured, the above information will result in a successful photograph!
Digital camera option: if you choose to use a digital camera, keep in mind that most digital cameras were not designed for astrophotography. However, with care, it should be possible to produce an acceptable digital constellation photograph. You will need a digital camera which can expose for at least 10 seconds. You will almost certainly need a tripod or other means of steadying the camera. You may also need a wide-angle lens. Otherwise, follow the same instructions and tips provided for film photographs, with the following important exceptions:
1) In addition to the constellation photograph, take a photograph of yourself at the same time and location. If there is any foreground feature in your constellation photograph (such as a tree or roof), include it in this photograph as well.
2) Within 72 hours of taking the photos, send copies of the photograph of yourself and as many successful constellation photographs as you like to email@example.com as attachments, with the subject “BC1800d winter project (student#)” and including in the body of the message your name, student number and the date, time and location of the photographs. You do not need to submit your project within 72 hours of taking digital photographs, but you must submit electronic copies of the photographs within 72 hours if you choose the digital option.
3) The websites http://www.astunit.com/faq/uksciastrofaq.htm#L and http://home.dmv.com/~dcmiller/moondark/june03.html may be helpful.
Tips: Note that a truly dark sky is not necessary for the picture you take. The further from Toronto that you are, the more aesthetically pleasing the photograph will be but your marks for the photograph do not depend on the quality of the picture submitted. As long as the constellation outline can be identified, the marks will be awarded. Note that photographs can be successfully taken from the York University campus, your backyard, etc. Do NOT go anywhere you feel uncomfortable to take your photograph. A partner who may or may not be in the course, is recommended when taking your photograph. An extra set of hands to balance the camera, help identify the constellation, keep you alert, etc., will always be useful.
PART B: An interesting aspect of your constellation
Excluding mythological aspects of the constellations (including folklore, folktales, etc), find an interesting aspect about either the constellation’s importance to astronomy or an interesting object within the official boundaries of the constellation. The summary should be of order 500 words (+/- 100 words) and be appropriately referenced. It should read as an interesting footnote to someone being introduced to this constellation for the first time.
Part C: Format, deadline and penalties
All photographs must be taken between January 5 and March 31, 2005. The assignment is due in BC 205 on Friday April 1, 2005. There will be NO late submissions accepted without a significant penalty: 25% loss of marks per calendar day after the due date. (Example: You score 12 out of 15 on the exercise but you turned it in one day late, so your mark is reduced by 25% to 9 out of 15.) Start the assignment early, both because the number of clear nights in the term is relatively. The assignment is worth 12.5% of your total grade.
Ensure that your name, student number appear clearly on the front page of your assignment. Please note that this assignment MUST BE TYPED when submitted for marking. It also must be securely stapled or otherwise bound together. Loose or unidentified pieces of the assignment will not be marked. A photographic print and its corresponding negative, slide, or pre-submitted electronic file must accompany the assignment. Note that only 1 constellation photograph need be submitted. Ensure that your name and student number are written in ink on the back of each print. Any negative that is submitted must be in a strip of four or five and must NOT be handed in as a single frame. The frame number on the negative that corresponds to the print must be identified. A print without a supporting negative, slide, or original electronic file will receive no marks. Blank negatives (in the original strips) are worth some marks as they show that effort has been given in the pursuit of the assignment. Further, if you photograph the wrong constellation and realise it, up to 50% of the photographic marks for a correct constellation can still be awarded. In other words, hand in ANY photographic achievements.
The approximate breakdown of the marks for the assignment is as follows:
Negative/slide/original electronic files 3
Photographic data 3
Star Chart info/sketch 2
Please be warned. A random group of stars is not necessarily a constellation. Planets are certainly not constellations and neither are streetlights! Be sure you photograph a constellation. Even if the photograph you take is unsuccessful, partial marks can be given for the effort and full marks for the essay portion of the assignment can be awarded. Further, any photographs submitted that have not been taken in the appropriate time frame will result in an assignment mark of zero. (Such photographs are obvious by the relationship of the constellation to its surrounds.) Also, the Presentation mark is awarded based upon such things as your assignment elements (pages, photographs, etc.) being well secured (staples, binders, etc). Loose elements will result in the forfeiture of this mark. Good luck.