Friday, 29 September 2017

The Milky Way Over Teide National Park

If you were in one of the best stargazing locations in the world for just one night and could spend it either stargazing or doing astrophotography, which would you pick? Stargazing seems like the obvious choice, unless, like me, you've spent months dreaming up cool astrophotography projects, all the while stuck in a cloudy, light-polluted metropolis.

When Anasua and I went to the island of Tenerife last spring, we booked a parador (a government hotel halfway up Mount Teide, in the middle of the otherwise uninhabited Teide National Park) for not one but two nights, thereby avoiding this dilemma. Or so we thought.

We spent the first night stargazing. Orion set over the Roques de Garcia in a cloudless, moonless sky. At midnight, Jupiter, not long past opposition, shone like a miniature sun. A few straggling Lyrid meteors crisscrossed the heavens, like a curtain-raiser for the Milky Way which filled the southern sky before dawn.

The Milky Way, for my money, is by far the most dramatic naked-eye object in the night sky. But we were lucky enough to have the hotel's Dobsonian telescope all to ourselves, which gave us a closer look at Jupiter, Saturn and a couple of deep-sky objects.

The second night, which I had earmarked for astrophotography, turned out to be cloudy – something that's apparently uncommon in Tenerife, especially at high altitudes. I did not get a single good photo that night. But if I had to do it all over again, I think I would still spend the first night stargazing. Besides, just before we packed up and went to sleep at 6 am, I did sneakily take one single shot of the Milky Way.

Move your cursor over the image (or long-touch on mobile) to see labels: constellations are in blue; planets and deep-sky objects are in pink. Click for a high-res version.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Copenhagen Bicycle Culture – Part 1: People

My favourite thing about Copenhagen is its bicycle culture. This post is more about people: the plan is for this to be a three-part series, but given what a tardy blogger I've been of late, I wouldn't hold my breath.

I. The Cargobike Girl
The true emblem of Copenhagen is not the mermaid but the cargobike, a.k.a. the Copenhagen SUV. Most of these can carry over 100 kg (plus rider) and as such are a viable alternative to cars, at least over short distances. But some people take this to extreme lengths.

The girl in the photo is my friend's sister, on her way to the airport to pick up her parents. On the way back, the parents rode the two bicycles, while the cargobike doubled up as the luggage-van.

II. The Long John Dad
Cargobikes with two wheels, known as Long Johns, are also a common sight (in fact they were invented in Denmark). The most popular brand, the Bullitt, is put to all sorts of uses: Copenhagenize has a list which includes such oddities as the Summer-Wading-Pool Bullitt, the Power-Station Bullitt and the Sperm Bullitt. But they are most often used as a child-carrier.
This man was test-riding Long Johns trying to decide which one to buy, and the kid was loving every minute of it.

III. The Custom Cruisers
Roaming around Vesterbro on a weekend, we ran into an organised ride by a club for people with bizarre homemade bicycles: the Copenhagen Custom Cruisers. They are like a wholesome, pedal-powered version of the Hells Angels. This image, which I found on their Facebook page, may just be the greatest photo I've ever seen.

IV. The Tallbike Guy
While the Custom Cruisers display a preference for elongated bikes, others, inspired by Chicago's historic Eiffel Tower bikes, prefer to extend them vertically.
Pictured above is the third tallbike I've seen in Copenhagen. The first one, a two-wheeler, stopped next to me at a red light. The rider told me he built it at home by welding one frame on top of another. I asked him why, and he replied, "Why not?" Then the lights changed: he vaulted nimbly onto the saddle and sped off, leaving me open-mouthed.

V. The "Grand Old Man of Velomobiles"
In an environment with ample resources and no natural predators, bicycles in Copenhagen have evolved into all sorts of rare and unusual forms. At the Bicycle Innovation Lab where I volunteer, I ran into Carl-Georg Rasmussen, creator of the Leitra velomobile. He was kind enough to invite me to a tour of his workshop in Herlev, which I hope to do someday.

VI. The Bus Driver
Last month, as a steward for Copenhagen Bike Pride, I was tasked with riding at the back of the parade to block the road. (We had permission to go on the main road because there were too many of us to go the bike path.) At one point, there was a bus right behind me, followed by a double-line of cars. I offered an apologetic wave to the driver, but after that I was too embarrassed even to look in his direction: we were inching forward at what seemed like an agonisingly slow pace, and all I could think of was how annoying it must be for him and his passengers.
This went on for about 10 minutes, but to me it felt like hours and hours. Eventually our routes diverged: as the bus veered to the left, the driver honked twice. I looked at him with trepidation, but he was waving at us with a broad grin on his face. It almost seemed like he would have joined the parade if he could!