May 28-29 2017
Equipment Used: Celestron 4.5 inch Newtonian w/ Declination clock drive, IPhone 6s plus w/ NightCap Pro
Since that Monday was going to be a day off, it felt like a good night to go on Sunday Night, since I had not been out in my usual spot, the Cottonwood Campground in Joshua Tree National Park.
Cleardarksky was predicting great conditions, including good “seeing” and excellent “transparency” in the sky due to the dry air. The months of May and June are generally ideal for that spot since the summer monsoon hasn’t affected the desert region yet; and believe me, I have been out there during the monsoon months, and have dealt with near overcast skies due to all the moisture in the air.
Unfortunately, being Sunday night on Memorial Day weekend, that meant a lot of people were out camping, and Cottonwood was no exception. When I got there, the campsite looked like a small city of RV’s and tents. Even the gate to the second campsite loop was open, and that area was almost full. The sounds of families and groups of friends having a good time, plus a few stereos, filled the background noise.
The crescent moon was my first target, and through my telescope I could instantly tell how much sharper the moon looked due to the dry conditions. The following pictures, taken with an iPhone 6s plus and a Celestron Newtonian 4.5 inch do not do it justice.
While even a crescent moon can affect the dark adaptation before it sets, unfortunately, the large crowd meant more people running around with flashlights, waving them around like they were lightsabers!
As night fell, I could see hikers coming from nearby Mastodon Peak and Cottonwood Spring, and their flashlights from a distance looked like Christmas decorations. RV’s would have their outdoor lights on, and people going on walks around the campsite would wave their lights everywhere but down! There was one child, left unattended, running around the campsite shining his light everywhere we went.
To make things worse, there was a young Asian couple next to me who were absolutely TERRIBLE with their lights. First, they used the headlights of their car to illuminate their campsite as they were setting up their belongings, even as they had flashlights blaring and a fire burning; why they couldn’t set everything up during twilight hours is up to me. Second, they would NOT turn their flashlights off while they were sitting around their campsite, and at times they were blaring in my direction. Not even the tall bushes could provide enough refuge from them. Third, as the rest of the campers turned in for the night, these people were STILL up and about, never considering the fact that people around them need the darkness to sleep and/or do astronomy!
Thankfully, before I had enough, they did turn everything off and go to sleep, and finally my eyes could adjust to the night sky, and I could attempt to try some long exposure photography, which I am just getting into.
The app that I was using was NightCap Pro, which is supposed to specialize in night photography for iPhones.
Antares and M4 looked great, and even in my small telescope I could see individual stars in the star cluster. However, as I tried getting a picture of M4, either my telescope is too small, the aperture in my iPhone is too small, or M4 is just too dim even in dark skies to be photographed with the combination of instruments I was using. This discouraged me from later trying M13, which is a similar looking globular star cluster.
Next I tried NGC 6231, which is often nicknamed the “Scorpius Jewel Box,” one of my favorite targets in Scorpius. Unlike M4, I could clearly see it on my phone, and played with the long exposure settings, which resulted in these pictures. Since it was my first time actually getting a deep sky object, I was happy with the result, as you could clearly see some differences in the color of the stars.
After that, I tried M7, or the Ptolemy cluster, which to the naked eye appears as a large fuzzy dot near the “stinger” in the Scorpius constellation, and got similar results.
After that, I tried the Lagoon Nebula, or M8, which is just above the “spout” of the “teapot” of Sagittarius. Even before I took the picture, I could still see some hints of red colored nebula on my phone, and of course, after playing around with it, here are the individual frames.
So, all in all, despite the people inconsiderate with their white lights, it was a good time figuring out the Night Cap Pro app on my phone, and a good result of me taking my first few astro pics!
Now I just have to learn how to stack the photos, AND get a tripod to help me take pictures of the sky.