SHAHRIN AHMAD - The Shahgazer of the Orient
By Shahrin Ahmad
I lived in a township about 10 km from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I started astronomy back in 1984 when I was just a curious 10-year old boy, and was awestruck by the tv series Battlestar Galactica! The very first telescope introduced to me was the 50mm 'toy' refractor. I still remember the very first object I observed through the telescope. It was huge and bright and I thought it was Venus. It's only after fiddling with the 'knobs jutting out the left and right side' of the tube, that I realized I was actually looking at an out-of-focus Sirius!
I am pretty much active in doing astronomy outreach to schools, universities and community since 1998. I was also invited as guest speakers on numerous talks, seminars and conventions. I am also the founder of my local astronomy online community, called Falak Online (www.falakonline.net) and is actively promoting the science and fun of astronomy to the public.
I am also an avid eclipse chaser. I flew over to Side, Turkey for the 2006 Total Solar Eclipse. In January 2009, I travelled to Anyer, Indonesia for the Annular Solar Eclipse and also to Hangzhou, China for the Total Solar Eclipse on July 2009. Yes, I got that eclipse fever bug!
I visited Siding Spring Observatory, Australia in 2009 and was totally amazed with the dark sky condition there. The sky was full of stars, with the Milky Way blazing overhead and it was here that I finally experience the shadow effect caused by the starlights! That was the moment went I finally decided to get really down and dirty into astrophotography. I wanted to share all the fantastic objects in night sky, showing them what they've missed. What other ways that I can show them other than through astrophotography!
And so, in 2011, I've completed constructing my home observatory. Based on the roll-off roof design, it was an extension to my double-story house. Due to limited space, I have to placed it on the roof of my 2nd floor. And so this became my roof-top-roll-off observatory!
I am very much involved in computing. My background in Computer Science really helped in grasping all the new technology. Thus, my observatory became my lab in developing software systems to automate as much steps during imaging as I dare to go. Most of my scripts involved using software like MaxIM DL and ASCOM. It was fun experimenting and learning from many mistakes and pitfalls! Currently, I am the managing director of Equatorial Sky Innovations, a small company I set up to focus on developing astronomical control software.
Flashback to 2009, I came across several online telescope renting services and wondered how is it possible to 'rent' a 'telescope' online? It just doesn't make any sense to me at that time. However, out of curiosity, I subscribed to iTelescope (back then it was called GRAS) and began to do some simple shots using the Starter Trial account. I was certainly impressed with the ease of the overall setup of the service. I was even more surprise with its level of services. I remember during one of the sessions, the autofocus wasn't functioning and I emailed Support. To my surprise they replied almost immediately and even credited back my points!
I have so much fun and showing off to my astronomer friends how easy and time-saving the service was. In fact it was too easy, that some of them even said it throws away half the fun in astro-imaging and almost 'cheating'.
However, I look at it in a different way. Living under a tropical climate country, we rarely get a consistent clear night sky (from dusk to dawn). I always said to my fellow colleagues, "in Australia, they have 270 days of clear skies while back home, we have to endure 270 days of cloudy and unpredictable skies!". I wouldn't want to miss all those fantastic astronomical events, such as those magnificent conjunctions involving comets and asteroids, just because of some inconsistent weather pattern!
So, just like Einstein once said "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity", what iTelescope provided was an opportunity. It saved so much time, yet provided with so many opportunities and valuable data sets, under such ideal condition that I will never get from my location. I don't need to worry about setting up the hardwares and softwares, let alone dealing with malfunctions and troubleshooting in the middle of an imaging run! I can now focus all my energy on getting the best results from the existing data sets. The final images still have an imprint of my effort in it!
Among my personal favorite was during the recent return of asteroid 433 Eros. I managed to compiled a series of images showing its rapid movement across the sky. Also during the close encounter between Comet Garradd (C/2009 P1) and M92. (See Shahrin's Blog for more images)
Telescope has already become my 'second' observatory, a complement to my home observatory. Just imagine some of the imaging sessions were executed during morning while I was quietly sipping coffee from my local coffee house or even during the all-too-often wet and rainy evening of Kuala Lumpur sky, and at times while my CCD was quietly collecting photons from my observatory, I do a quick logon into iTelescope, have a quick glance on objects unfavorable from my observatory and press the submit button!
Simply put, I have the whole universe open up at my fingertips thanks to iTelescope!