March 27-28, 2020
Weather: Clear – Cool, calm, dry – 65-45°F (18-13°C).
Observing Time: Sundown (~7 pm) to 4:30 am
Bortle Scale: 1.5
Rice is pretty far away from home!
Purposely traveled here to get away from people amid the Covid-19 pandemic “Shelter in Place” causing closures of the National Parks (idiots kept crowding them despite being told to practice “social distancing”). I think this location was social distancing enough! Aside from passing cars along CA-62, I never encountered a single soul!
Comet Atlas was making headlines as people were hearing it may brighten to naked eye levels. This night, it wasn’t naked eye level yet – I observed all night and still needed my telescope to spot it. While still appearing dim and fuzzy, I didn’t have too much difficulty seeing it with the 8″ scope, and it only took a 30 second exposure to show the color!
After getting successful shots of M35, M44, and the Leo Triplet, for some odd reason my autoguider wasn’t working properly. I really wanted to go for M51 and M101, but every time I tried to calibrate to that section, PHD Guiding 2 on my laptop kept telling me it failed to calibrate. Then I tried going to Virgo, and it still wouldn’t work – it kept saying that the stars were not moving enough… was it possible that my polar alignment was too perfect?! So to keep from getting too frustrated, I took a break from imaging and just decided to do visual observing.
The contrast and transparency of the sky that night was remarkable! M13 looked just like its picture, and through my 8″ scope I could increase the magnification and still see a splash of individual stars! I could even glimpse the spiral arms of M51, even though you usually need a larger aperture to do so!
M 13 inspired me to try again.. this time with the 2″ 2X Barlow setup… sure enough, my autoguider worked well enough despite the extra weight. With M13 and M57, I was able to get five minute subs without an issue, though not as sharp as I’d want it, but I think that’s more to do with the Barlow lens itself than the focus and collimation. Would have kept going if it wasn’t already approaching dawn!
On my way back, the Summer Milky Way was bright enough for me to notice it out of my car, and thus I snapped one more wide shot for the evening!
In all, a successful night. If Rice, CA, proves to be a reliable dark location that isn’t too windy, then it’s definitely a go to place for me.
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