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Dark Site Excursion

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#1 GeezerGazer

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Posted 12 June 2021 - 11:34 PM

At new moon in May, seven members of the OFLI "club" (Off Fisher Lane Irregulars... yes, a nod to the street urchins of Sherlock Holmes' notoriety) met up on the eastern border of California in the White Mountains.  We had 4 nights of excellent seeing and transparency at one of the darkest sites I've experienced.  One member measured with his SQM at 21.9

 

We camped and observed at 7,000+'.  It was really pleasant by day when we explored the region for Native American petroglyphs... finding the "Sky Window" and "13 Moons" on the volcanic bluff north of Bishop, CA.   These really well preserved petroglyphs, believed to be more than 1000 yrs. old, were very impressive.   Another day, we drove to the main Bristlecone Pine forest, to hike among the oldest living, non-clonal, organisms on Earth, in the high dolomite landscape at 10,000+'.  The Whites are so named because of the dolomite which is a type of white limestone... no other trees grow there but the Bristlecone.  Being in their presence offers a different way to time travel.  

 

Nights were cold, down to the low 30's.  I used my battery operated hand warmer every night as I observed from about 10pm until 1 or 2am.  One night I went to bed early and got up at 1am to observe until dawn.  The camaraderie was great.  The observing was really great.  I used my 8" Newt most of the time, but also used my 105mm and 300mm Nikon lenses for a wider FoV.  I took about 160 photos, but culled them to 91.  The first 8 images in my gallery were taken from the White Mtns.  You can see them here:  

https://www.cloudyni...-phonetography/

 

I was able to grab Omega Centauri just a couple of degrees above the horizon.  Rather than nebulae, I took lots of images of galaxies and clusters.  One image was interesting (included in my gallery) of the Cat's Eye PN.  It was the first time I had captured the faint H-a that surrounds the very bright core.  Even though it's grainy, it's amazing that it can be seen at all in a 1 second exposure... thanks to NV.  

 

The photo below has a fair amount of edge distortion but it is still one of my favorites from the trip because it shows the vast extent of H-a that surrounds Gamma Cygni.  You can easily spot the Crescent Nebula on the right side; the Propeller hiding in a small cloud of H-a on the left.  ISO 250, 1s exp/20s average in NightCap, 7nm filter with Nikon 105mm AiS lens.  This presents a 9.5° FoV.

 

IMG_2333.jpeg

 

This next one I labeled for reference, was taken with the 8" Newt with .73x reducer, no filter, ISO 80, 1/3s exposure/averaged 15s.  Using the Newt with a 2x Barlow and using a bit of digital zoom, I took images of about 30 individual galaxies, two of which I put in the gallery.  This one's a bit dark but I lightened it for my records.  

 

IMG_1973.jpeg

 

Dark sites give a whole new dimension to observing... with or without NV.  If you have an opportunity to visit a dark site, take it!  This was my 5th trip with the OFLI guys, but about my 20th dark site excursion.  I have another already planned for late summer!


Edited by GeezerGazer, 12 June 2021 - 11:35 PM.

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#2 AllStarez

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 03:00 AM

Wow amazing trip, thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures bow.gif


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#3 chemisted

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 08:24 AM

This is another great observing report from you, Ray.  Thank you!  The central portion of the full blown Sadr region image (accessed in your link) is very like my views using a 12nm filter with a 7 degree and f/1.7 setup.  Since you were at a dark sky site did you use the 12nm at all to get maximum stars and nebulosity to the edge?


Edited by chemisted, 13 June 2021 - 08:40 AM.


#4 GeezerGazer

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 10:27 AM

This is another great observing report from you, Ray.  Thank you!  The central portion of the full blown Sadr region image (accessed in your link) is very like my views using a 12nm filter with a 7 degree and f/1.7 setup.  Since you were at a dark sky site did you use the 12nm at all to get maximum stars and nebulosity to the edge?

I didn't Ed.  I am pretty content with results from the 7nm filter which always seems to expose the greatest amount of fainter H-a without intruding on star attenuation too much.  There are always tradeoffs!  After all of the filter testing I did, I find the 6-8nm bandwidth as best overall with my modest optics for imaging with the phone. I still use other H-a filtration but mostly stick to my 7nm now.  It would be interesting to see if the 12nm would show that faint H-a around the Cat's Eye... I also should have tried using the 3.5nm on the Cat's Eye.  Fainter H-a seems to show better with the narrower filter.  It might have revealed some actual structure, rather than just a grainy appearance as in my photo.  Next time!  smile.gif  The phone imaging does tend to reveal things I cannot see visually at the NV ocular with my 8" Newt.  I have wondered if others have seen the Cat's Eye halo visually by using their NVD with a bigger aperture.  The Hubble images of the Cat's Eye have always intrigued me with the concentric rings and incredible rendition of structure seen here:  

https://hubblesite.o...anetary-nebulas


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#5 VegaSkyLoom

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Posted 27 June 2021 - 04:52 PM

Great post on your adventures, thank you!

 

Is there a site with a list of darkest sites around the US / world?



#6 GeezerGazer

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 12:42 AM

Vega,

You can try this webjsite for known dark sites around the world: 

https://www.darksky....on/idsp/finder/

 

I live in N. CA, and there are some pretty good dark sites here.  But I've travelled to Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas for observing.  I find it's a little more fun to go south to see some of the Southern Hemisphere constellations when traveling to dark sites.  

Ray



#7 Jeff Morgan

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 12:06 PM

Great post on your adventures, thank you!

 

Is there a site with a list of darkest sites around the US / world?

 

I use this web site to suggest areas:

 

https://www.lightpol...FFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

 

Then I get out a detailed atlas and Google Earth to look at topography and road access.

 

From there, one has to get feet-on-the-ground to scout promising sites. No substitute for that. For example, seeing signs that it is a local party hang-out for high school kids.


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#8 ButterFly

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 06:31 PM

From there, one has to get feet-on-the-ground to scout promising sites. No substitute for that. For example, seeing signs that it is a local party hang-out for high school kids.

And just what qualifies as a "road".  The Kaibab/Prescott/Coconino National Forests have great places to go (when open).  Unfortunately, some roads are refractor only, and all are definitely traveled before.  Driving in the dark for the first time on some unknown quality road with glass is a recipe for disaster.


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#9 Jeff Morgan

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Posted 29 June 2021 - 01:48 AM

And just what qualifies as a "road".  The Kaibab/Prescott/Coconino National Forests have great places to go (when open).  Unfortunately, some roads are refractor only, and all are definitely traveled before.  Driving in the dark for the first time on some unknown quality road with glass is a recipe for disaster.

 

Indeed. As a general rule, if 4WD is required it is too rough for my optics. 

 

Last November SkyRanger and I had a session planned for the site we refer to as Area 357 (as opposed to Area 51). We neglected to factor in it was Elk Season and every suitable spot nearby had a camper/RV already in place. This required us to improvise a search new sites in the dark. Not a fun process.

 

Site scouting is best done in daylight hours well ahead of the day you need it.


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#10 Astrojedi

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Posted 30 June 2021 - 09:40 AM

Sounds like a great trip. I love that area especially the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. I am always in awe standing next to living things that have seen the Greek and Roman civilizations come and go.

 

On a related note here is Omega Centauri from the SDAA dark site with my AT92 & Gen 3 NV. Looked just as good as in the 18” Dob next to me although smaller in image scale.

This is handheld on a manual mount so not as good as your captures. When I am imaging the AT92 & NV are the perfect compliment.

C1CAEAFA-EAFD-4D25-A71C-114C12C557C0.jpeg


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