Sunday, August 12, 2007

Perseids and Fremont Peak

This weekend is a great time for astronomy. Its a dark sky weekend (no moon) and its also time for the annual Perseid meteor shower. I really wanted to get out to a place with dark skies to watch the Perseids. After some looking I came across the page for the Fremont Peak Observatory Association, a group of amateur astronomers dedicated to public education. They have an observatory and 30" "Challenger" telescope in Fremont Peak State Park and have facilities for amateur astronomers to set up their telescope. Yesterday, the FPOA had a public event with guest speakers and a chance to look through several telescopes. The park also has campgrounds with several people setting up their scopes in the parking lot.

Kim, Edward and I brought our camping chairs and settled in to see the Perseids. I didn't bring my telescope (you have to be an FPOA "Observer" member to set up your scope) and I mostly wanted see if it would be a good site in the future. The light conditions were decent but not exceptional due to the light pollution from San Jose, Gilroy, Morgan Hill and Salinas. It was however dark enough that the milky way was visible.

Since I don't have an equatorial mount for my camera and my telescope was at home I took only really wide field pictures and tried to keep the exposures short (around 1 minute). I managed to get a couple of shots of the milky way but in looking at the images this morning I can see the light pollution was quite bad.

I was also curious to see what an infrared image of the night sky looked like. Unfortunately I forgot to bring the remote cable release for the IR camera so I was limited to 30 second exposures. The image on the right is an IR exposure from early in the night. There was a very bright tower in the frame which didn't help the shot.

I'm still not entirely convinced about this place to spring for an FPOA membership, but I may return another night to set up in the campground. I'm told that when the fog rolls in to cover San Jose, the seeing can be quite good here. Regardless, its a lot better than in my backyard.

I just received some new parts for my telescope (my power supply and cables died, so I got one of these, along with a dew shield and heater), so I'm hoping that once the seeing improves in the fall I'll be doing more observing and photographing.


Michael said...

Nice! I was tired last night so I didn't make it out, even though the clouds seemed to magically part after dark giving clear skies. I was also a little depressed to be back in Southern Ontario... it seems like almost anywhere else I went in Canada they had superb night viewing conditions... there is just way too much light pollution here. :(

Those are very nice pics of the Milky Way... I need to build or buy a new tracking mount for my camera... hmmm... new project for this winter, I think.

Aravind Krishnaswamy said...

If you have money to burn, you can get a Kenko Skymemo:

I am pretty disappointed with the light pollution in the bay area too. Now I hear Death Valley has dark skies...