Tuesday 26th July. Oh woe is me. It always the bugger with astronomy is the more powerful the kit becomes, the harder it is to set up and get it all working. Further seeing as it takes so long to set it up etc, if you’re doing it you could as well be trying to do something. However it’s a dangerous strategy.
So in the morning I headed down into Ridgecrest for breakfast and wifi at Mcdonalds. Turns out they have some 1000 calorie breakfast (big breakfast deluxe or some such) for ~3.5 bux. Great for a man travelling as it means you don’t have to worry about finding much food for the rest of the day. Rendered and sorted out the files from the previous night, before picking up some food and water for potentially a few days in the mountains.
I was heading up to a place I found on google Earth that looked okay, but always difficult to tell. Sky forecasts were excellent! Going in I could tell it was going to be dark, very very dark, as you pass a sign going into the mountains, the first says ‘Next gas 90 miles’, and the next says ‘NO GAS’ (Sherman Pass Road). Damn did my car struggle with that hill. It was HUGE. Small engine, in a very heavily laden car means the engine can, if you are not being very gentle with it, go from normal to overheated in less than a minute. Indeed there was one point on the slope when I thought ‘that’s it, time to turn back’ as even with the heater going full blast, to suck as much heat out of the engine as possible, it was still getting hotter and hotter, and eventually I had to stop. Fortunately a little further up the wind picked up and that helped out a lot. But damn was this road deserted. Once at the top it leveled out into a sort of plateau.
Found a turn off very soon just opposite the ranger fire station, and headed off down the dirt road off the road to nowhere. Found a shade tree in the forest and put my feet up for a few hours. Resting myself for the long night ahead. The wind was strong, but I had confidence that it would die down by night.
At dusk, and not having seen another soul on the road I decided to head out for a astro site. Turns out the site I had found on google was almost 20 miles away! Ag. That would put me getting there in astronomical twilight. The road snaked up above the trees, then I could see down the other side of the sierras and the smog in the valley on the other side. All of a sudden the clearing opposite the rangers firestation looked very appealing, but that was 10 miles behind me now. While I hadn’t seen another soul on the road, I was uncomfortable doing astronomy by the road side. Drunk guy driving home at night, not paying too much attention, or expecting anything else on the road could me a recipe for a bad night. I headed back for the dirt road off the road to nowhere, and set up the telescope!
The beginning of the night was amazing, watching the Milkyway appear out of the darkness overhead. The initial idea was to run down the kit, and hopefully get some stuff done. The original plan was to get Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon, all on the same magnification.
There are several ways I have of doing this. I have a stripped down HD webcam I wanted to give a go. That crashed and burned first. It has one of those bright blue LEDs that needs to be covered, and I didn’ have anything to do that on hand. Next was to try eyepiece projection on either the DSLRs or a camcorder. That was the most annoying one. Turns out there are screws to hold the eyepiece in, and the eyepiece projection kit slides over the top of it. Well the location screw was missing! I had no way to hold the eyepiece in, and no realistic prospects of finding it in the car. Fortunately I have many screws in the car, and soon found one that would do the job, its just that it sticks out too far to allow the eyepiece projection tube to slide over the top. NOOOOOO. 50 miles from anywhere with thousands of bux worth of kit, all rendered effectively inoperable by a 1 cent screw. No problem, I still had that new Deep Sky video camera bought with the kind donations to this channel. I was going to use this to give people a reasonable idea of what you can see through the eyepiece while looking at deep sky objects. Regrettably it was still all boxed, and in the dark in the middle of no where, with no wifi, is not the best place to engage on the learning curve. After much fiddling, I got it working, but it was shite, pathetic, unbelievably poor. I wasn’t too fussed, I didn’t believe for a second that folks like Orion could field such a product that would perform so poorly, and that I was just missing something. However the battery was dying on the laptop by this time, and I had to stand off on this was too. By this time, the Milkyway was a magnificent arch overhead, the sort of thing that would move a man to poetry, but I was tired, and frustrated by my repeated failures over really small stuff. It kind of reminded me of that Apollo 11 story. While on the moon they managed to break off the lever that armed the return rocket. For the want of a dime store component a multibillion dollar rocket and two mens lives lay in the balance. Fortunately for them they managed to flip the switch using, if memory serves a biro! I too probably could have solved all the problems given time. But the night was getting on and I was very tired. Set up the D60 (I’ve been v. impressed so far with the sensitivty of this camera). This was just a 1min unguided exposure of M16 (The Eagle Nebula) (albeit with the ISO jackted to 5000). After that I left it chuntering away doing 30s exposures at ISO 1000.
By this time it was getting cold, really cold, and I took refuge in the car, only to doze off once or twice as Jupiter rose in the East. Went out about 4ish to see how the kit would perform on a planet, to my horror to find that the battery power supply for the telescope was struggling. Depending on the supply, if you flatten the battery, it’s dead for good. That pretty much put an end to the night. Packed up everything. The car was a complete mess by the time I finished, but had the engine running to get some juice back into the powertank. Then drove up the dirt road to find somewhere that would have some form of shade come day break. The horizon was already light by the time I finally pulled over for some shut-eye.