Jump to content


Photo

Two Nights Observing In Death Valley, NP

  • Please log in to reply
15 replies to this topic

#1 Astro One

Astro One

    Sputnik

  • *****
  • Posts: 39
  • Joined: 20 Feb 2013
  • Loc: San Bernardino County, CA.

Posted 24 March 2013 - 02:24 PM

Living in Southern California, Death Valley is just a five hour drive for me, once it became an IDA dark sky park I started wondering, "why am I not going out there to observe?" In the past I've often driven out to a fairly close area that shows up as a grey zone on CSC's light pollution maps, going to DV meant I'd be able to observe in a black zone, a big boost for sure! For the trip into DV I decided on going to Eureka Dunes, a remote area in the NW corner of the park, reached by driving over seventeen miles of fairly rough gravel roads. The campground there is primitive with no running water, only ten sites spread way out, and, just one pit toilot. I was seeking a place that would be less likely to bring out a goodly number of light polluting folks and I was not disappointed. At the campground only two other campsites, besides mine were occupied. In one site was a couple who came out to hike the dunes and to see comet PanStarrs. They made a nice impression on me because they were using a red flashlight, to help preserve their night vision. In the other site there was a fellow who had owned a 6" reflector in his more youthful days, so he knew a bit about astronomy. These other campers joined me for the first hour or two of each observing night. I personally don't do a lot of outreach work, but enjoyed sharing the night sky with them, and, I was able to show them much more that what can be scene in city areas. As for it being dark it was: On the first night my best SQM reading was 21.90 on the second my best reading was 21.95! I had never gotten a 21.95 before and just to be sure I took two more readings and got the same results. One other comment on this site was shortly after sundown the zodiacal light was very plain to see, my guests even pointed it out and said, "what is that over there.?" A bit later in the evening (still on the first night) I noticed that my head was casting a shadow on the hood of my silver vehicle. I got my three guests over and we started waving are arms around and watching the shadows dance on the hood of my car. Under these conditions my 15" scope was performing more like a 20 or 22 inch scope. I had planned to go after some fairly obscure objects, but with the "new scope" I wanted to get reacquainted with old friends, e.g, many of the Messier objects and numerous NGC items. M81 really blew me away, I saw a spiral arms coming off both ends, just like it appears in photos! On the rosette nebula, for the first time I saw a full ring of nebulosity surrounding the cluster, not just the brighter nebulosity across the bottom of the cluster. The ghost of jupiter stood out more bold, more pale blue, and, more eerie than ever before. M42 was jaw joping to view. Through my 20 X 90 binocs I got nice views of kemble's cascade, the belt of orion, the Pleiades (complete with lots of easy to see reflection nebulae). One goal I did have for the trip was to see the arms of M51 bridging over to its companion galaxy. Using averted vision I accomplished this goal with very little effort. Other great views included the galaxy NGC 4565 and the Sombrero galaxy, with the tall part of the hat looking especially bright. On my first night I observed until about four in the morning. On my last night, being tired from the previous all-nighter and facing a long drive home for the next day I only observed until about 11:30 P.M. Oh, and M101: the spiral arms were quite readily viewed! On both nights, before retiring, I scanned the milky way with my big binocs. On the first night I was particularly struck by the beauty of the summer MW, to me it is way better than its winter sibling. I viewed the trifid and lagoon together in the same FOV. The swan nebula, the sagitarius star cloud, the north american nebula, and plenty of rich star fields with lanes of dark nebula. In addition to two nights of the wonderful star gazing I enjoyed a very pleasant day in the park. And, late in the afternoon I experienced how that hiking up on the dunes yielded an incredibly nice experience. Also, I got a treated to flying bats at dusk each night. Plus, on my last night I was visited by a fox around 2:00 A.M. I was dead asleep when this occurred, I thought its call sound was some kind of bird. But, the next day the couple camped nearby came over and asked if I had heard the fox come through the night before. We got to looking around and saw his tracks near both of our campsites. Oh, on the comet. We all saw it on March 11th, when it was just about 6 degrees south of the one day old moon. It looked good in 10 X 50 binocs, where within the FOV we could see the thin crescent and the comet. Though It looked even better through 20 X 90 binos. It surprised me that this view was even better than the view through my telescope. Being really in the dark is something that is easy to forget, one gets so used to LP and just doesn't remember what the dark is really like! If you have not observed in as black zone I hope you will be able to get the opportunity to do so, it is well worth the effort!

#2 okieav8r

okieav8r

    I'd rather be flying!

  • *****
  • Administrators
  • Posts: 4675
  • Joined: 01 Mar 2009
  • Loc: Oklahoma!

Posted 24 March 2013 - 03:33 PM

Sounds like you had a blast Steve. Little trips like that are great, and if there are a few nice folks around to share the experience, all the better. The darkest skies I have access to are in the far northwest tip of the Oklahoma panhandle, so I make a point of getting up there a couple of times a year, one of those times being the Okie-Tex star party. I hope to get up there soon for some great galaxy views. If folks have a way to get to truly dark skies, they should try to take advantage of it at least once in a while.

#3 IVM

IVM

    Apollo

  • -----
  • Posts: 1068
  • Joined: 07 Jan 2008
  • Loc: USA

Posted 24 March 2013 - 04:01 PM

Sounds like a great site!

#4 Astro One

Astro One

    Sputnik

  • *****
  • Posts: 39
  • Joined: 20 Feb 2013
  • Loc: San Bernardino County, CA.

Posted 24 March 2013 - 05:17 PM

Thanx, Rex

#5 okieav8r

okieav8r

    I'd rather be flying!

  • *****
  • Administrators
  • Posts: 4675
  • Joined: 01 Mar 2009
  • Loc: Oklahoma!

Posted 24 March 2013 - 07:06 PM

Thanx, Rex


I almost forgot Steve....welcome to Cloudy Nights!

#6 LivingNDixie

LivingNDixie

    TSP Chowhound

  • *****
  • Moderators
  • Posts: 18729
  • Joined: 23 Apr 2003
  • Loc: Trussville, AL

Posted 24 March 2013 - 09:56 PM

Sounds like a great observing run Steve!

#7 mountain monk

mountain monk

    Surveyor 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 1954
  • Joined: 06 Nov 2009
  • Loc: Grand Teton National Park

Posted 28 March 2013 - 04:03 PM

Well, I've been raving about Eureka Dunes here for several years, so I'm glad someone else visited and confirmed it's excellence. Congratulations and thanks for the fine report. I'm envious.

Dark skies.

Jack

#8 Astro One

Astro One

    Sputnik

  • *****
  • Posts: 39
  • Joined: 20 Feb 2013
  • Loc: San Bernardino County, CA.

Posted 28 March 2013 - 07:56 PM

Thanks, Jack. I'm not sure about another trip there due to the washboarded road, it was rough even though it was recently graded. I am looking at another area of the park that is not quite as dark but is at 5,300' rather than 3,000.' This area is Lee Flats not to far from Panamint Springs, it sits right on the edge of the black zone. Also, the road to it is paved, just old with potholes. Also, the park service permitts camping there too, but no table or pit toilet. I learned about it from another member of CN on the LP forum. It is a little known and scenic area of the park with joshua trees. I envy you for being in an area of the country with high elevation and some nice black zones! Steve

#9 jrbarnett

jrbarnett

    Eyepiece Hooligan

  • *****
  • Posts: 20631
  • Joined: 28 Feb 2006
  • Loc: Petaluma, CA

Posted 28 March 2013 - 09:43 PM

Great report, Steve. Washboard is often the price we pay for isolated darkness.

One thing I will say is this. As much as I like the black zones of northern DV, trading black for gray opens up many additional options with unique benefits. For an easy to reach, astro-friendly gray zone, try Grandview Campground in the mountains above the Owens Valley and Bishop. For deeper southern vistas (omega Centauri, Centaurus A) with decent roads, try the group campground or Mid-Hills campground at Mojave National Perserve.

I envy your SoCal digs. You have much better access to desert dark skies than we do in the wine country.

Regards,

Jim

#10 Astro One

Astro One

    Sputnik

  • *****
  • Posts: 39
  • Joined: 20 Feb 2013
  • Loc: San Bernardino County, CA.

Posted 29 March 2013 - 12:17 AM

Thanks, Jim :)

#11 Feidb

Feidb

    Surveyor 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 1788
  • Joined: 09 Oct 2009
  • Loc: Nevada

Posted 29 March 2013 - 09:01 AM

I just don't trust my truck to venture into those isolated places. Furnace Creek isn't quite as dark, but we get some pretty decent viewing at the airport during our biannual events for the LVAS, despite being at -192 feet. I'd like to be able to try those isolated areas, but... I just put $1500 in new suspension on my truck and it's already got 100K+ on the odometer. I also have to save my vacation time and use it sparingly. One day...

#12 Astro One

Astro One

    Sputnik

  • *****
  • Posts: 39
  • Joined: 20 Feb 2013
  • Loc: San Bernardino County, CA.

Posted 29 March 2013 - 12:02 PM

Your being practical, which is quite reasonable. I tend to go out on limbs, and fortunately they seldom break on me! Glad to hear your input.

Steve

#13 JayinUT

JayinUT

    I'm not Sleepy

  • *****
  • Posts: 3933
  • Joined: 19 Sep 2008
  • Loc: Utah

Posted 29 March 2013 - 03:56 PM

Congrats Steve, nothing like a multiple day trip to a black zone in the desert! Now, I'd go for a night or two if the clouds would ever go away. At least the temperature is warming up! I loved the descriptions of M81 and M101 and Kemple Cascade. Just terrific. Thank you for sharing it.

#14 Astro One

Astro One

    Sputnik

  • *****
  • Posts: 39
  • Joined: 20 Feb 2013
  • Loc: San Bernardino County, CA.

Posted 29 March 2013 - 06:33 PM

Thanks, Jay: I just spent twenty minutes marveling over your terrific sketches! Now I can't wait until Pegasus is in good position so I can take a good look at NGC 7814, I don't recall looking at it before. I have definitely looked at the spindle galaxy numerous times, but not NGC 4026; so I'll check it out. Steve

#15 JerryOrr

JerryOrr

    Explorer 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 55
  • Joined: 08 Mar 2013
  • Loc: Oracle, Arizona

Posted 29 March 2013 - 09:01 PM

I feel a road trip coming on.

#16 astrokwang2

astrokwang2

    Messenger

  • -----
  • Posts: 405
  • Joined: 06 May 2004
  • Loc: Arizona

Posted 31 March 2013 - 02:33 PM

Great report! SQM of 21.95!!! I was out in DV in Feb of last year and spent one night at the Racetrack recording star trails. I felt like the skies were a tad bit darker than here in the outskirts of Flagstaff. I regretted not bringing a scope. It was funny when I arrived there were two other parties there recording star trails.






Cloudy Nights LLC
Cloudy Nights Sponsor: Astronomics