13 March 2021 Imaging Session – Joshua Tree National Park

Date:March 13-14, 2021
Location: Cottonwood Spring, Joshua Tree National Park
Observing Time: 21:00 – 4:00 ( UTC – 8 / UTC -7)
Daylight Savings Time Began 3/14 at 2:00 am
Weather: Clear, occasional breeze, Slightly humid, Seeing – 3/5
Temperature:60°- 34° F (15° – 1° C)
Bortle Scale: 3

ObjectConstellationFrames LayeredCombined Exposure
M 105Leo521 min
M 104 (Sombrero Galaxy)Virgo421 min
M 83 (Southern Pinwheel Galaxy)Hydra528 min
M53 Coma Berenices313 min


Even with a system of rare winter storms over Southern California, which usually means just rain unless you live high enough for it to snow, March 13 was the only night during March’s new moon season that it would be cloudy over the metros but clear above the deserts.

At sundown, I spotted these vultures resting on a nearby cliff, and was able to capture them with my telephoto lens before they flew away.

Being a Saturday night, the area was packed with hikers and campers alike with the campsites being full, as well as the Cottonwood Spring parking lot, where I chose to set up. Plenty of people of course saw my telescope and approached out of curiosity, and the reason why this night’s photography production run may feel lacking is simply because I spent a good amount of time presenting constellations to strangers, answering their questions, and letting them look at great visual targets like the Orion Nebula, Pleiades, and the paring of M81 and M82. At one point, I had a line of people waiting – it felt like a Telescope Demonstrator shift back at Griffith Observatory!

Another group of hikers were lounging around after dark… I don’t know if they could see my telescope setup or if the cars between us were blocking their view, but I could still hear them quite well. I overheard them ask each other, “which one is the North Star? Does anyone know?” Which I of course spoke up and used my lasers to point it out. A few minutes later, I heard one of them talk amongst their group, “I’d really like to know what constellations are up right now.” And again, I spoke up and said “I can hear you guys! I’ll gladly show you!” So I gave them a presentation as well.

Just as I said to a mother who brought her daughter to see the dark sky for the first time, “Even if it may take time away from me imaging, I’ll gladly present to people because I don’t want to turn people off from the cosmos. We do what we do at the Observatory to get people excited and generate interest in space, not make it seem like we’re all part of a snobby clique.”

an example of what happens when passing car’s headlights manage to get into the exposure. Because it was a Saturday at a popular spot, this happened more times than I wanted to!

After successful f/5 pictures, I also tried shooting at f/10 with my 2″ 2X Barlow for 2000mm focal length of because, why not? Well, surely that was a mistake and waste of time – which is another reason why the finished pictures are lacking…. f/10 Shots of Vega, M13, and M57 just did not pan out well at all. Maybe next time I should try rebalancing, or just seriously think about getting an 8″ or 9.25″ f/10 SCT and an off-axis guider. Eventually I’m going to run out of all the large targets to shoot!

I am still overall happy with the shots that are featured. I’m especially happy with the wide angle rising Milky Way shots, especially for the Summer Triangle – I fell there’s a lot of character with that one. The funny thing about this particular shot is that my hands started freezing when trying to take it, and I remember wondering “huh? I thought the lows were going to stay in the mid 40s;” Only to get in my car for the drive home, and seeing the outside temperature reading 34° F (1° C). “Oh, that’s why!”

All in all, a decent night, and for those who met me, or happened to run into me, it was nice chatting with you!


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