What I Did on my Summer Vacation

Rain rain, go away...

Rain rain, go away…

For Central Florida, the summer is a slow time for astrophotography. There’s virtually an embargo on starlight, it rains daily, and at night the humidity is very high, the sky a pasty white, and the bugs… don’t even get me started on the bugs. Even the most obsessive imager will groan at 80 degree weather with a dew point of 79.5 degrees… and this is at midnight! In South Florida where my observatory is located two hours drive away, it is a virtual swamp. If I want to image, I have to leave the state, or go remote.

Software Bisque "Booth" at Cherry Springs Star Party

Software Bisque “Booth” at Cherry Springs Star Party

This summer I had the opportunity to sneak some vacation time into three otherwise business trips. For starters, I attended the Cherry Springs star party in Pennsylvania. This was a bit of a drive, but we had two good clear nights while I was there. It’s amazing how short the night gets driving just a little north this time of year. I lost over an hour and a half of non-twilight imaging time because of the latitude change. My Veloce and Paramount MX did not let me down however, and I managed a decent shot of the Iris Nebula over two nights.

The Iris Nebula from Cherry Springs

The Iris Nebula from Cherry Springs

The next two legs were because my oldest son did an internship at Software Bisque in Golden Colorado. I work remotely for Software Bisque, and he of course wanted to have a car while he lived out there. So I rode with him and we drove out to Golden and then I flew home. Later, I flew back to meet him there and we drove back. On both trips, I did “work” stuff while in Golden meeting with the home office and generally planning all the ways we are going to take over the world. Stuff like that.

Naturally on such a long drive… we got a bit distracted – both ways of course, and perhaps got a little off course along the way. We did touristy things like sample the local cuisine in New Orleans, visited the Alamo, and ate at every non-chain hole in the wall dive we could find. Florida it seems does not have a monopoly on poor weather, and the first leg of our trip was a bust astrophotography wise. I even rented a wide field lens hoping to do some Milky Way shots at the Grand Canyon. I did get some nice photographs, one of which features the beautiful rain clouds approaching over the canyon. In New Mexico, I visited a budding astronomical community in Deming and spent the night with friends there. Yep, more clouds that night.

MeteorCrater02One sight you must see if you go west is Meteor Crater. It’s not a day long type of attraction, but allocate yourself a couple of hours. There’s a visitor center, museum, etc. A fascinating place and the scale will blow you away. Notice the mostly blue skies during the day in the photo at right. The night sky was generally filled with the flashes of lightning all through New Mexico and Arizona. Desert? What desert?

After my stop in Golden I flew to and worked at an astronomy expo, then home. On the return trip out west I had a little more luck weather wise. We met up with my other son and the three of us went camping in the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. I took a Paramount and a (rented) Canon 60Da along with my 5D Mark III and a friends 15mm f/2.8 lens. The forecast for one and only one night was for clear weather after some rain. It was drizzling when we set up camp, but I took a chance and set up a mount, and got ready to do some tripod shots of the milky way. As soon as the sun went down, the skies cleared and were clear all night long. Success at last!

The Milky Way from the Tetons

The Milky Way from the Tetons

I finally got my long awaited milky way shot! The weather was cold and clear, and perfect for DSLR imaging. I put a 200mm lens on my rented 60Da and shot 5 minute unguided subs all night long of the North American and Pelican Nebula from a Paramount.  I managed to do the whole thing on battery to boot. One of the things I’m working on at Bisque is coming up with new workflows and product enhancements to better support portable imagers. We may be in more observatories than anyone else in the world, but I’d like to see us in more backyards and campgrounds too! More on that this fall (and keep an eye on my Bisque blog too over here).

The North American and Pelican Nebula from the heart of Cygnus the Swan.

The North American and Pelican Nebula from the heart of Cygnus the Swan.

I was pretty happy with my shot from the heart of Cygnus. I don’t shoot with a DSLR that often any more, but they do have their advantages (small, low power, VERY portable). Speaking of which, I’ll be giving a workshop on DSLR imaging and another on equipment selection for beginners at this years SWAP (South West Astrophotography Seminar) in Tucson AZ. I’d love to see you there!

Florida makes up for the summer with exceptional seeing and transparency in the fall and winter months. I can’t wait, and I have some catching up to do; with a vengeance!

 

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