Posts Tagged ‘night’

A bright Supernova for NOT the Oregon Star Party!

September 4, 2011

Well the supernova sure has brightened a lot over the last week!

Supernova in M101, August 25th 2011, about a 3 hr exposure with an 11in scope and 2500 iso on a canon D60.

From the night of the 3rd sept. 1.5hr exposure comprised of 20s unguided exposures (chosen frames) of a cpc1100 with a canon 60d at prime focus (f6.3 reducer).

It now easily outshines the galaxy core and is the brightest thing in the field.

So it turns out one of the reasons I had the Pine Mountain Observatory to myself to do ‘supernova LIVE’  (Sept 1st) was because some of the folks had drifted off to the Oregon Star Party.  I too was advised to go, in part for the great skies of the ochico, and part for the company.

Getting there was a bit of a nightmare in that I set the wrong GPS coordinates (a combination of relatively little sleep the night before, and just drifting along with the scenery).  Either way, by the time I worked it out I was 50 miles down the road, and the GPS kept on trying to send me down dirt roads to nowhere to get back.  The tricky thing about dirt roads, is if they are good, you can get up to 45 mph-ish.  If they are not good, not only will you be doing well to make walking speed, but 10 feet can make the whole thing utterly impassable to a polite little underpowered low clearance suburban car like mine! (or the even more devastating, can get the car stuck!) Thus it was after an hour or so detour down a road that started like a ‘freeway’, then it  narrowed and narrowed and eventually turned into a road where I might as well have been trying to drive down a rough rutted river bed.  I think I did well to survive the turn around! Especially seeing as I was miles in the middle of nowhere by this point, with no apparent traffic on the road!  Eventually I decided to retrace my steps down the black top and do it right!

Thus is was that it was about 5pm by the time I arrived at the Oregon Star Party.  I had a brief exchange with the staff, who insisted on a 75 dollar registration fee.  I told them I was there just to take a look around- ’75 dollars’, that I probably wouldn’t even be there a full day ’75 dollars’, and so it went on.  Just for the record, that would make visiting the Oregon Star Party significantly more expensive than Disneyland, which is some 85 dollars for a day pass.  Apart from the OSP is just a bunch of guys sitting out under the stars ontop of a hill.  Now I was actually interested in talking to some of the vendors they had there, particularly Celestron and Orion (the latter about their crappy capture device on their deep sky video camera), but I was knackered.  So I put up my feet in the car and dozed a bit, trying to recover some strength and in part to work out what to do.  Eventually the organizer came out and said they were ‘locking the gate’ at 7pm.  This was bullshit, there was no gate.  Shit what were they going to do imprison everyone ontop of the hill for the night?.  I got his message thoguh, so at that I rolled back a mile or so down the road and found a place with a good northern horizon and set up the scope.  The ochico is notorious for having a fine dust that gets onto and into everything, including optics, and so I was quite happy to not have folk around disturbing the dust.  Set the scope up on M101 and cooked myself some ‘ramen noodle’ soup type stuff.  Hunger and a bad day are by far the best cooks, and it was the best meal I’ve thus far had on the road, snarfed down with butter and bread! Ahhhh!  Then I basically went to sleep for a few hours till M101 effectively set before packing up the scope.  Skies were, I have to say good!

Next day, I meandered over to the John Day fossil beds.  They were on the map and I had no real idea what the hell it was all about.  Turns out there are some fairly reasonable badlands here, full of fossils.  Regrettably however the fossil museum was an hour down the road in the wrong direction, and a tired thunderf00t wasn’t really up for it.  The sedimentary stuff here coincidentally is from the primitive cascades, and goes back 20 million years!  Yeah, exactly to when the supernova overhead capped off…..ooooooh!

Some of the 'Badlands' near the John Day Fossil Beds Oregon.

Picked up wifi and power at Prineville and processed the acquisitions of the night before, as well as a video of supernova so far.  By that time I had really only enough light in the day to make it back to Pine Mountain, where fortuitously, the deep sky forecast was near perfect!  Plus this really the last chance before the moon becomes a serious issue for a couple of weeks to get a good piccie of the supernova.

On Saturday night on Pine Mountain they do outreach, so I agreed to give them a hand: that night many a person was put into perspective with the Cosmos! 🙂  The odd thing was, all of this was apologetically put into perspective with distance and years in the millions, and of the hundred or so people I talked to, there wasn’t so much of a sign or a peep from anyone expressing the young earth creationist view!

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GIANT VOLCANIC CHIPMUNKS

August 31, 2011

A fun couple of days all in! (28-29th July 2011)

So for night time I decided to indulge in a guilty pleasure, and just drive off into the quiet forests of Oregon, and just, well, sleep!  Well mostly sleep.  I did leave a timelapse going of the milky way from the forests of Oregon…. Pretty!

The next morning I was up early, and spent it bumming around crater lake.  When I first got the lake, it was mirror still!  It’s rarely that still at crater lake (normally wind disturbs the surface, as it had does by the end of this timelapse), so I set up the camera… more pretty!

While that was going down, I got accosted by one of the GIANT VOLCANIC CHIPMUNKS that roam the area!

And boy did that 4.5mm sigma 180 degree fisheye lens earn its keep at crater lake.  Y’see Crater Lake is just so big by the time you can see it, basically only a 180 degree lens will get it all in!

A keep back sign? Now that's just being a 'cliff tease'. Seriously though, these signs litter Crater Lake, which to be fair has a lot of cliffs, but does it really need all the idiot warning for people too stupid to spot poor footing and a terminal drop off?

and these ‘keep back signs’ litter the area in a way that smells of ‘frivolous lawsuit evasion’, or maybe it’s just to keep the number of Darwin Award winners from Crater Lake down.

Spent that evening on top of Mount Scott, well actually a rocky outcrop you have to climb up on near the top of Mnt Scott.  But the views were amazing. Just sat there and watched the sun go down over the lake!

Thunderf00t on mnt Scott looking down on crater lake. And yes, its about a 50ft drop off that rock! Mnt Scott is the highest point in Crater Lake NP. The actual summit has a fire lookout built on it and smells of urine. However for those willing to do a little hand n foot scrambling, there are a couple of satellite summits that have amazing views.

Spent the early evening helping doing some astronomy outreach (of a sort).  Skies were dark, but a little murky.  Had the scope catching photons from the M101 supernova till about 2am before packing up.  However Jupiter rising over the lake gave some captivating specular reflections!  Left the timelpase running till about 4am, would have been longer, but I feel asleep before changing the battery.  Damn my intolerance to sleep deprivation!

Next morning, a very tired Thunderf00t decided the air was still enough to take to the skies, using the helmet of doom!  Here I was alternating between first person flying, and flying by direct sight.  It’s really ballsy stuff in that by the plane has to be quite close (relativley) to fly by direct sight, and if you go further, you are 100% reliant on the video and RC gear working.  There is also the problem that by the time the plane is so far away, that you cannot see it, the plane also cannot see you!  So bascially you have to navigate by big cliffs and the sun to find your way home.  The bottom line is, while the plane was almost beyond the point where you could see it to fly it, it still didn’t make it over the lake.

After that little adrenaline rush I was ready for some excitement, which came in the form of swimming in an ice-cold lake formed by a collapsed volcano!

and yeah that water looks perty and blue, its just as amazingly blue when you get your head under it!  Regrettably, by the time I’d worked that out, I’d left the contraption for getting the camera underwater (a sort of ziplock bag) back in the car, 1000 ft above me on the crater rim 😦

Supernova in M101, Aug 25th, full processing

August 26, 2011

It’s about a total 3 hr exposure with a 11in CPC1100, using a canon 60d (iso 2500).  30s exposures,  throwing away bad exposures (about 60 %) to yield this using deepskystacker (using about 50 dark frames).  The arrow indicates the supernova.

Supernova in M101, August 25th 2011, about a 3 hr exposure with an 11in scope and 2500 iso on a canon D60.

Clearly an improvement of the first attempt which only included about 12 minutes of ‘sky time.’

Right, now back off to the pass to do the same thing again tonight! Me= CRAZY! :-p

 

-All images available under creative commons license, attribution Thunderf00t 🙂

First look at Supernova in M101 (Aug 2011)

August 26, 2011

First look at Supernova in M101 (Aug 2011)

So after much driving around looking for a good observing sight I eventually found one north of Klamath Falls Oregon (good clear view north).

(‘Klamath Falls’ astronomy site, 25th August 2011)

I then brave the moquitoes, and yeah, there were a LOT of them, to get the scope set up.

The scope acquired data for several hours, this is thus far only processed from 6 minutes worth.  I’ve also not got round to sorting the colors out which is why the new exposure appear blue compared to the old one.

A Night looking at Uranus!

August 24, 2011

Uranus is frequently overlooked and for many reasons.  Firstly, lets just say its name hasn’t phonetically aged well.  Secondly it’s small and faint, barely visible to the naked eye, and even the most powerful telescopes show little more than a tiny featureless grey-green disk.

Most powerful telescopes will show the five main moons of Uranus, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon.  The innermost of these Miranda, has, if memory serves the highest cliffs in the solar system (due to being previously (presumably) smashed by an impact) and has an orbital period of about 1.5 days.  That means you should be able to easily see its movement over the period of a night.

Now I had tried this previously, and had been surprised that the planets movement was comparable to the movement of its moons, but that night had been scuppered by a flat battery.

Movement of Uranus vs background stars

The stars in the background are fixed. The two picture of Uranus are taken a few hours apart, and while the moons (relatively close to the planet) don't move much, the planet conspicuously moves against the background stars!) (click to enlarge)

So it was that I set out with my scope on the evening of 22nd Aug 2011 to see what could be captured.  I decided to head up to an observatory site that had previously seemed good up near the top of the somewhat active volcano, Lassen Peak.  The site is high, almost 2 miles up, but the seeing was less than perfect (a very constant ~ 5mile an hour wind, which was probably a blessing in that it bought warmer air from somewhere, but was also a curse due to the wind chill- I was surrounded by snow fields!).

Nonetheless, at prime focus of the 11in CPC1100 with ~1000 iso and 4 second exposure on a canon 60D seemed to bring out easily at least 4 of the moons of Uranus.

After that, I just had to maintain the kit for 8 or so hour.  A pain in the ass, as there were several pieces of kit that all need to work or the night would be ‘lost’.  So you basically have to periodically check all the batteries on the various time lapse and tracking kit are working functionally.  The bottom line is you can actually get quite a lot of sleep, but its horribly disjointed. The practical upshot of which was the next day I was wiped out to the point where I had actually planned to head up into Oregon to do something, but for the first time ever on a road trip I did something I’d never countenanced before.  I stayed a night in a motel!!  First time in 5 years!  A motel 6 I should add!  All I wanted was somewhere where I could get a shower, a bed for the night, and damn, just sit back for a moment, put my feet up, and have a glass of wine……ahhhhhh.

I was REALLY happy when I processed this, not really for what I had hoped to achieve, which was to get the motion of the moons, as while it was visible, it wasn’t that great.  But what was great was the motion of the whole Uranus system against the background stars.  I knew this MIGHT be visible, but I really didn’t expect it to looks as cool as it did!  Now it should be said that most of the motion you see here is probably not due to the motion of Uranus, but due to the motion of the Earth.  Nonetheless, its still really cool!

The finished results!

Watching Sunset on the Moon, and things that go bump in the night!

August 20, 2011

Well it’s a start.  Sunset on the Moon!

This is the time lapse of sunset on the moon, taken at prime focus with a cpc11 with a focal reducer and a canon 60D.  The conditions were less than perfect.  This was about 9 hrs all in, and really quite an infuriating 9 hrs.

Firstly, since my ‘run in’ with the mountain lion, I’ve become VERY twitchy about things that go bump in the night, and would periodically scan the torch around, looking for ‘eyes’.  There was also an amusing part when a piece of paper blew out of the car.  The ‘sudden noise’ in the dark elicited an immediate reaction from me, which to the impartial observer must have appeared quite funny and disproportionate! (twirling around ready to attack the piece of paper…… hmmmm….  time to switch to decaf!)

Not all bad though, amazing what the heightened senses can find!


For some reason the telescope is lousy at tracking the moon.  I think this is to do with the fact that the Earth axis, and the normal of the orbit of the moon are out by about 6 degrees.  Practically what this means is the moon not only moves at a different rate to the stars (that is it goes around the sky in about 25 hours, not 24 like pretty much everything else).  But even with lunar rate, the tracking is poor.  I think the moon is also moving up/ down due to the difference in the normal of the Earth rotation and the moons orbit, and the mount is not smart enough to work this out.  The practical upshot of which is the moon will drift out of the field of view over a period of about an hour, so I had to set the alarm to go off every 20 minutes throughout the night in order to recenter the moon.

Further recentering the frames, taken every 2 minutes in editing is also a pain in the ass.  Thankfully Sony Vegas now has a ‘motion stabilizer’ feature that takes a lot of the donkey work out of this.

This is the finished product!  Well actually, only part of it.  At prime focus the telescope can get the best part of the moon in the frame.  I just selected one crater, as it shows the shadows nicely.

Tracking on everything else is perfect, in that at the end of the evening I dialed up Jupiter, and it went straight to it.  Cute! Never seen Jupiter by the full light of day before!

Sunday 31st (Sodium Boom n beyond)

August 4, 2011

Spent the morning very happily going over the potassium footage.  The whole thing is a symphony of physics and chemistry that eventually I decided it would take too long to explain, so I just put up the explosion footage.

It had been raining in Ridgecrest and this clearly was  a freak event.  The standard greeting in Rigercrest between the notably fat folks seems to be ‘hot enough for you’, and not without reason, I think it’s been over 100C every day I’ve been here.  However for the afternoon I decided I would give blowing up the sodium a go.  Now I have lots of sodium, and the scale and geometry is different.  Eventually I decided the way to do it was to get a stick over a reasonable sized vat, which meant that I could lift up the sodium from a distance, have it swing over the vat, then be lowered in.  Sodium is significantly less dense than water, and so would need to be weighted.  The sticks were typically about 10g, so eventually I wrapped up about 4 sticks in aluminium foil, attached weights to them and lowered them in to the vat from a distance.

Initially the reaction seemed really quite slow, to the point where I was wondering how this was going to pan out.  Indeed it took over 10 seconds before the first ‘explosion’ (compared to about 1second for the potassium experiment).  I, for my part am mostly certain this is related to the metal boiling.  However, when it really blew up (and did so quite convincingly) it really made a mess of the container.  Again, the hydrogen burning wasn’t really even a relevant factor, it’s just the adiabatic expansion of the gas released by the reaction.  In this case 40g gives about 40L of gas.  Thats a lot of gas to release in a 5L container!  On inspecting the aftermath it became clear that large chunks of sodium had been thrown clear of the reaction, not just unreacted, but unmelted!  This for me was a stunning observation!  It shows that whatever the reaction that takes place, the rate that heat is generated at the surface is MUCH higher than the rate the heat can be conducted away from the surface.  Sodium is an absolute bitch for making a mess!  Small amounts of sodium had been sprayed all over the tripod, and stripped the paint.  They had then picked up water to make conc. NaOH, draincleaner which will first turn you skin into soap, before chemically burning you.  The stuff was everywhere!  Cleaned up as best I could (again I was on the inaccessible dirt road to nowhere in my little ravine).  Headed back to LA.  Stopped off to see Lisa n Howard n pick up a shower, which I more than needed.  Initially i wanted to get up onto mnt Wilson early, for sunset, but got chatting to Lisa and that never happened.  It was full dark before I set out on the nightmare trek across LA by dark.  It didnt help that I managed to set the GPS wrong, and ended up on the long drive through the horrific twistiy winding roads of the Wilson range (rt 2).  There had been rain here too, and while the road was all but deserted, top speed was about 40 mph and ‘tire killing rocks’ materialized out of the gloom on a regular basis.  Driving that 20 miles was an incredibly intense experience, ultimately driven by ‘do u want it or not’.  I did, I wanted to get up on mnt wilson and do something on light pollution and LA.  I got there about midnight, and got my piccies!

Thursday n Friday (29th) July, Lotta Processing, Lotta Piccies!

July 30, 2011

The night of wednesday and thursday morning was when it all came together.  This is when I was sizing up what the kit I had could do, gather the knowledge to actually do stuff.  The problem comes is it almost worked too well, to the point where I was drowning  in data.  I have two laptops capable of timelapse, one camera capaable of whole sky timelapse, videocams n webcams capable of going on the back end of the scope as well DSLR that can mount up on the scope.  Sure it’s great having those options, but it’s almost too many options.

Plus I’m still a noob at the processing, particularly of the deep sky stuff.  After many an hour of fiddling I managed to get Deepskystacker to play ball with me:

M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy

M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy, ~ 10 x 30s exposures (11in SCT), stacked with DSS

Globular Cluster M22

Globular Cluster M22, ~10x15s exposures with a cpc1100The Helix Nebula, planetary nebular in Aquarius

The Helix Nebula, planetary nebular in Aquarius

With the deep sky camera I want to give folks an idea of what they will actually see at the eyepiece.  With the other stuff over the period of a day or two I managed to put together some moderately good ‘whole sky zooms’

The night of Thursday was a COMPLETE BUMMER!  So I decide that finally, I need a night of sleep, so I just rolled out of Ridgecrest to the hills above it.  Nice quiet area, looks to be used for motocross (albeit very rarely).  Same place I stayed the first night.  Beautiful night, not as black as the first night, but still very good.  I charge all the batteries up for the DSLR.  They run for about 3hrs, so I have to get up every 3 hrs to change the batteries, but hell, that still looks to a solid nights sleep to me.  This time I take off the lens guard which was preventing me getting the full 180 degrees.  The night was warm and fresh, although the dust gets up your nose every now and then.  Indeed it was so pleasant that I just got out a sleeping mat, and slept on the ground int he desert.  I love that sort of thing, waking up intermittently to see the Milkyway directly overhead, and spanning from horizon to horizon in a silver arch.  The time lapse ran solidly from sunset to sunrise.  Perfect, every movement timed, every footstep placed, a flawless executions, till I get down to the town and take a look at the piccies.  Turns out it wasn’t properly focused: GAAHHHHHHHHH.   GAHHHHHHHHHH.  GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!  To further rub salt in the wounds the dark sky forecasts look poor for the next few days.  Dammit!  I needed that footage!  It was then I realised that I had probably left the wide angle lens for the webcam up on the pass.  Its only worth about 30 bux, but there is no real chance of finding one on the road, and none whatsoever in Ridgecrest.  I decided in the end to head up to the pass, for the third time.  I could see the weather looked fairly intense and brooding over the mountains.  The weather was some of the wierdest I’ve ever seen.  In the valley is was 40 or so mph winds, very strong.  However by the time I got up to the pass, it was dead calm.  Found the lens, took about 30 second.  A big relief.  But the wierd thing was the clouds appeared to be static.  Never seen anything quite like it.  Usually clouds can always be seen to move against foreground objects, but not these clouds.  They were moving incredibly slowly.  I set up the wholesky timelapse as it might look cool!  Shortly after dark it started to rain, turns out only a few drops, but it’s impossible to tell how things are going to go in the mountains when you can’t see the clouds.  I took the camera in.  A mistake as it turns out, but there were thunderstorms within 30 miles.  After that the clouds burned off somehow, and I set the timelapse up again.  DAMN!  I want whole sky, dusk till dawn!  Still had to get up 3 times during the night to change the battery, but no big deal.

Tuesday 26th July (SCREWED, by a screw)

July 27, 2011

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.

The Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula, July 26th 2011

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.

Monday 25th July (WHOLE SKY time lapse!)

July 26, 2011

Monday 25th July, up after dawn and rolled into LA.  Traffic is a nightmare!  Picked up the fixed camcorder by 9ish and headed over to a mcdonalds for wifi.    Caught up with blog n emails.  Notably I’ve now got a buddy in Hawaii who’s ready to give the global timelapse thing a go.  He sounds like he really knows what he’s doing and certainly has much better kit than me.  However I still needed a location to head to.  I checked out the clear sky forecasts and they were excellent in the Sierra Nevada valley.  Packup up and headed out, charging batteries on the way.  This is always the absolute nightmare of astro-on-the-road is when you are spending so much time out of doors in the hard sunlight, your body really syncs up with the sun in a powerful way.  Almost to the point where, sun goes down and you go to sleep, and yeah it’s REALLY hard to fight against that to stay up all night doing stuff.  On the way out of LA I stopped by and saw Lisa, who had lent me a couch during TAM.  Then the drive out to the North.   Again the traffic was a nightmare.  Got to Ridgecrest in late afternoon passing enroute something that looked like an observatory, but I now believe to be military radar of some sort.  It looks a good site.  Lots of roads leading off into the desert near the top of a mountain, purportedly for dirt bikers, but whatever, looked like my polite surburban 2wd low clearance could handle it.  Picked up the largest coffee I could find, and headed out into the desert.  In the end I hardly had to go that far off the road and was there for a fantastically dark sunset.  However there was wind, 10-20 mph wind.  Firstly thats the kiss of death if you are trying to point a telescope at a point source, and secondly there was a small amount of dust with it.  Now that was great for the lasers, meant you could see them easily, however its a killer for shutter mechanisms, drives gears etc.  I decided I would stand off on setting up the scope till the wind died down.  The wind didn’t die down, not even a little.  However the sky was superb with the milky way forming a glowing arch from horizon to horizon.  Started messing around with the cameras.  Even if I can’t do any astro, I’ve got some stuff to field test.  Most notably the 4mm ‘180 degree lens’.  Gave good piccies of the Milkyway and after a while I decided to laser my name into a mountain, just for yuks.  After that, I spent a wonderfully pleasant night, with the cool desert wind blowing steadily through my car, all the time with my head poked out of the window, watching the stars slowly spin above my head.  Jupiter rose fast and high, and the late cresent moon somewhat after it.  The next morning I was quite happy with the results!