Friday, November 18, 2011

Camcorder Astronomy

Another common question asked during sidewalk is "How do you know that is a Jupiter and not a star or man-made satellite?". I like to answer this question by saying "Look at it through a telescope." Afterall, Galileo didn't have a smart phone with planetarium apps to point at the sky to find out. Even if he did, he would still want to verify with his own eyes and optical instrument.

What if one does not have access to telescope and still want to find or proof that "star" is actual Jupiter? How about a high zoom camcorder? That is a really cool way to find out and as a bonus, you can record the proof and show it to your friends.

Check out these cool videos by youtubers with their Sony camcorders capable of 30x optical zoom and 42x extended zoom.

In the following video, the bright disc is Jupiter and the "stars" you see beside it are some of the moons of Jupiter.

Here's a zooming-in video of a nicer quarter moon.

And this one from a Panasonic camcorder. 70x optical zoom!

What an excellent way to view and record the upcoming Total Lunar Eclipse on 10th December 2011 which is fully visible in Singapore! Great device for doing sidewalk showing the Moon, e.g. projecting the live feed to a big screen.

Having said that, unless one is really into astronomy, I doubt one will buy camcorder just only for this purpose. So please read the online reviews on the non-zoom functionality of such camcorders before making a purchasing decision.

These camcorders seems to be quite affordable. They are priced at about USD $500. But for me, if I didn't have a telescope, I would rather spend the money on a decent used telescope. Sure, I may not be able to record these interesting videos of Jupiter and Moon directly. But I would visually see even more amazing stuff like star clusters, globular clusters, colourful double stars, better views of all the planets, Moon and Sun (with a solar filter), nebulae and galaxies!

If you already have a camcorder now, try zooming it on Jupiter and Moon soon!

Update 21/11/11:  This one is from youtuber giofrasa on the Sun. Warning: DO NOT look at the Sun directly. Only look at the Sun if you are wearing proper Solar filters or if the instrument you are looking through are properly fitted with such filters as shown in the video.

The spots you see on the Sun disc in the video are sunspots which can be many times the size of Earth.

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