Sunday, July 23, 2006

(Not Quite) A Starry Night

A star party that I've been looking forward to for the last couple of weeks was held this weekend. The SJAA hosted the party at Willow Springs which is a piece of 40-acre land owned by Bob Ayers about 2 hours south of San Jose. The site itself is pretty good for astronomy and ranks very highly for dark skies and is rivaled (in the continental USA) only by other sites in the darkest parts of Texas, New Mexico and other nearby states. Every report by the clear sky clock up until Saturday claimed it would be spectacularly clear that night; well every report except the Saturday afternoon simulations. Turned out the later simulations were correct and we got clobbered by a lot of clouds. I took the picture above around 11:30 or so and as you can see there is still a lot of clouds about (hence a fair amount of light pollution). Shortly after midnight the north and northeast portions were a bit clearer; however it wasn't clear enough to motivate me to actually align the scope and try any serious imaging. I did manage to do some quick 2 second exposures of the milky way (shown to the left).

I had really high hopes for the night (and brought a lot of gear to do a variety of imaging) but sadly this was the extent of the shooting I was able to do. Things started getting worse at 12:30 and I decided to head to bed. Since the site is over 2 hours away (over some rough roads) the SJAA (and thanks to Bob Ayer) offered people the chance to camp. The tent was setup without the outer rain flap; so I could see the stars overhead as I tried to fall asleep. Keeping the rain flap off also prevented the tent being an oven since even at 1 AM the temperature was over 80F (27C); thank goodness it wasn't humid. Annoyingly enough I didn't get much sleep (uncomfortable, the tent was on a slope and it was freaking hot) and so I kept waking up every 45 minutes or so. The sky looked like it cleared up a little nicer around 3-4am; but I didn't feel like unpacking all the gear yet again.
We both (Kim came with me) got up at 5am and caught a very nice sunrise as we drove home. There were also a fair amount of fauna. On the drive up on Saturday we saw a deer roadside we also saw these little birds constantly running back and forth on the road. It wasn't until Sunday I managed to get a shot and we later discovered they were California Quails.

The most unexpected 'wildlife' we saw definitely had to be the wild boar (actually I'm not sure they were wild, but I'll assume they were since they looked like they were freely wandering about).

Even though the night was a wash from an astronomical perspective, I still had fun and am looking forward to the next star party (which usually happens for a couple of weekends every month (depending on lunar cycle)).

Technical Specs: All astro (and sunrise) shots with the Canon 5D, 17-40L. The star trails were a summation of two exposures (14m16s & 10m) @ ISO 100, f/4; the milkyway ones were at ISO 1600, f/4 for 2 seconds; the sunrise at ISO 200 @ 40mm, f/11 at 1/125s. The boar was shot with the Canon Rebel XT, 300mm f/4L IS + 1.4x TC @ f/5.6 at 1/400s.
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