Cottonwood Spring, Joshua Tree National Park
Observing Time: 20:00 – 2:00 (UTC -8)
Weather: Clear, mostly calm, dry. 75°- 55° F (23.65° – 12° C)
Seeing: Average to Above Average
Bortle Scale: 3
I once again chose the Spring parking lot rather than the crowded campground; figuring it being a Sunday night and “too cold” for the daytime hikers, I’d have the large area to myself. For the most part, I was correct.
As I arrived shortly after sunset, I could see many cars looking like they were getting ready to leave, but of course as I was setting up, that didn’t stop the curious patrons from approaching and sticking around to learn about the sky from me. At this point, with this location getting way more popular and visited in the last few years, it’s something to expect.
To all the people who got my card, had a wonderful time chatting with me, and are now reading this, I hope to see you at the Geminid Meteor Shower event!
The sky looked absolutely wonderful and reminded me why it’s still designated a Bortle 3… or maybe it was my new glasses! Not only did the “Winter” section of the Milky Way still look brightly defined, but M31 and M44 were obvious naked eye targets – And I’m only just saying because I’ve had my share of nights over the years in that spot when they weren’t that obvious.
Being less than 24 hours of the Leonid Meteor Shower peak, the Leonids definitely made their presence known throughout the night, and I definitely saw a few that left trails.
Started with Cygnus/Cepheus for the Fireworks Galaxy, then went to Auriga, Orion, Canis Major, Puppis, and ended on Leo in that order.
When I focused on the rising side of the sky in the east-south east, PHD2 had zero issues guiding, and I never had to recalibrate when I switched around.
For whatever reason, I could not get C12 as sharply focused as I would have liked, but that could also be attributed to the seeing conditions in that direction. I also tried the Cave Nebula but I wasn’t satisfied with what I could get in processing.
I was actually in the middle of a long sub exposure for that object when a convoy of cars drove in and ruined the exposure. They all parked at the side of the lot near the trailhead, and it was a group of about a dozen or so people between the 3 cars… they never approached me, but I was constantly looking over my shoulder wondering why they were there and what they were doing . 10 minutes later after wondering around the trailhead, they all got back in their cars and left! Perhaps they realized that spot wasn’t the actual campground, and went to go look for it.
The Flaming Star Nebula and M78 showed no signs of issues with the background stars, and overall, I was very satisfied after processing.
My new 2020 shot of the Horsehead Nebula was done with the intention of putting my old shot from late 2019 to shame. I think with a total combined exposure time of 3,840 seconds (64 minutes) between 8 sub exposures ranging from 2 to 15 minutes each, I’d say I delivered!
It helped that I shot all the subexposures when Orion was rising highest, but had not yet crossed meridian – the best time to shoot ANY object!
M41 and M47 being open clusters didn’t need to be exposed too long. I did try M46 but was met with the same “focus” problem I had with C12, but much worse.
The only reason I shot the pairing of M95 & 96 in Leo when it was lower was because I knew Vesta was “passing by” M96, and wanted to capture it before I called it a night.
Overall, a successful night, and an indicator that not only are my photo shooting skills getting better, but so is my understanding of the processing, and the need to shoot multiple long sub exposures to really make my images “kick ass” as my father would say.