Rather than make separate posts, this one lumps all the days together into one. This isn’t what I normally do, but because of a crucial mistake I made on the first day, it turned into a multi-day session!
July 12, 2021 – Cottonwood Campground, JTNP
While it was a couple days past new moon in July, the summer monsoon moisture that is typical this time of year over the eastern California deserts made any trip out there a gamble, and the forecasts that I looked over never looked promising until that Monday night.
So I did everything I usually do, and one would think having done this trip numerous times, especially now that it’s more frequent, that I would have the routine down and not forget anything…. well, this time when unpacking and getting ready to set up, I forgot to pack two critical pieces – the hand controller and power cable!
Though I didn’t say the Homer Simpson line out loud, instead I said THE word… the F dash dash dash word!… okay, I’m sure you get the Christmas Story reference…
I knew it as soon as it came time to get the power supplies ready, and I had no doubt that I forgot it. No telescope imaging tonight, nor any wide angle tracking shots… but at least I could do short high ISO exposures of the sky and constellations.
So rather than leave empty handed, I decided to do just that, figuring the presenters who run the show All Space Considered – Griffith Observatory’s monthly astronomy news and discussion show – would still be happy to use them.
And I decided to try an exposure I had never done before, a star trail image! Upon doing this, I learned that the max exposure time on the BULB setting for my Nikon D5300 was 30 minutes. Next time I attempt it, I’ll have a better idea on the aperture, ISO, and exposure settings, but hey, it isn’t bad for a first time doing it!
July 13, 2021 – Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
Doing my ongoing projects at the Observatory, I was on the roof during that evening, and spotted a very beautiful sunset, which I captured with my Nikkor 70-300mm telephoto lens.
Because the Observatory is only open to the public from Friday through Sunday for the time being, the public wasn’t allowed on the roof on this Wednesday night. But that didn’t stop people below from spotting me with my tripod and trying to get my attention?
“excuse me! Hey! Hello?!” A couple said, and once I looked down and noticed them, they asked, “hey, so what do you got to do to be allowed up there?”
I just said very proudly, “You have to work here!” And raised my badge. “Ohhhh…. I knew that…:” After that I told them when the building is open, and continued my work.
I took the chance to try and get some moon shots through the Zeiss telescope. Because it has a focal length of 5000 mm, that means by default in a telephoto magnification sense, it’s already set to about 200x.
These were just simple single frame exposures, which also show the chromatic aberration on the edges.
July 15-16, 2021 – Cottonwood Campground, JTNP
So finally, I came back out to the same spot on Friday, July 15, and was able to achieve moderate success.
This time, I wanted to try shooting at f/10, and with my f/5 Newtonian, that meant using a 2X Barlow Lens.
Before I went out to JTNP, I figured out that even with my Starshoot Autoguider Camera inserted into the 80mm ShortTube Refractor I use as a guide scope, I could simply use the PHD2 software on my laptop as a virtual finder scope! It also can help me get the object in question properly in frame, as it shows me the background stars and their orientation much easier than my DSLR live view – this will also be super helpful when I eventually get a CCD and won’t be constantly moving back and fourth to check on the camera view.
I may be late to the party on this one, but hey, anything to make setting up easier, am I right?! I can also add a smaller finder scope on top of the 80mm to help find, and remove it to reduce the weight.
While I could get decent shots of open clusters, all of my nebulae attempts were futile, as the desired shots of the Cocoon and Helix Nebulae required way too much light sensitivity and exposure time through an 8″ and f/10, and for whatever reason, my scope wouldn’t guide that well when on them.
Bonus – SCORPIONS!!!!
During the summer months, these creatures, which are not that aggressive nor as dangerous as other species, are nocturnal and are out feeding. This is another big reason why you don’t forget a UV flashlight – scorpions glow in the dark under UV light, and are thus easy to spot!