It’s always a plus when your monthly stargazing trips to the California Desert also coincide with a meteor shower. While I did not go on the actual peak night due to poor weather – going the night after a Perseid shower was still an added bonus for those who stayed and observed all night.
|Date:||August 12-13, 2021|
|Location:||Cottonwood Spring, Joshua Tree National Park, CA|
|Time||22:00 – 4:00 (UTC-7)|
|Weather||clear/calm ; 85°-70° F (29°-21°C)|
- 8″ (203 mm) f/4.9 Newtonian Telescope
- Atlas II EQ-G Mount
- Starshoot Autoguider
- Nikon d5300
What Made The Cut?
What Did I Shoot?
|Object||Common Name||Constellation||Frames |
|M 17||Omega Cluster||Sagittarius||6||35 min|
|C !4||Double Cluster||Perseus||5||30 min|
|M 38||Starfish Cluster||Auriga||3||20 min|
With Summer Monsoons ongoing as per usual during this time of year, the eastern California deserts are often prone to poor weather forecasts on the nights I’d want to go stargaze. Because the cloud forecasts didn’t seem promising over the locations I usually like to go to for the night of August 11-12 during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, I was totally fine with just going the night after when the observing conditions would be better.
Having seen plenty of Perseid showers in my lifetime, I wasn’t too heartbroken for missing the peak – and nothing was going to top the 2016 outburst experience when the Perseid shower was double.
Weather wise, the sky was clear. But throughout the night, it was evident there were thunder cells in the distance, far enough away out of view, but still close enough for their lightning flashes to be seen.
The campgrounds nearby were of course still full with people interested in checking out the shower remnants, and while the parking lot at the Spring was empty at sundown, it eventually did see more cars driving in at various times later in the night.
Despite the many groups of people who came in later, only ONE group actually stayed out late enough to watch the shower when the hours were optimal. The rest of them got up and left BEFORE 2am when our vantage point on Earth was actually facing into the dust debris trail left behind Comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle. It’s one thing to begin your skywatching session at sundown and leave a couple hours later, but If you’re going to arrive long after sunset in the middle of the night, then you may as well stay out a few more hours until sunrise!
While working on the Omega Nebula, I noticed in one of the sub exposures a white streak. I initially thought I had captured a tiny Perseid, but upon later inspection, I realized it was just an iridium flare – caused by a certain type of satellite with sunlight reflections that appear to “flare up.” I still kept it in the final composite for added character.
After imaging the Omega Nebula, I tried going for the Cocoon Nebula, but as my telescope slewed towards it, one of the cables that operated my Autoguider got caught where the hand controller was, and thus the accuracy was gone.
Unfortunately, it took me much longer than I wanted to get the telescope setup and properly polar aligned with the Atlas II’s software. Despite my polar scope showing me I was near dead on, the software kept telling me I was off each time I tried running a 3-star alignment and correcting the polar alignment…
In hindsight, I realized that in my agitated state, I didn’t bother to recalibrate the smaller finder on top of the 80mm refractor I use as a guide scope, and while performing a 3-star alignment, the number of commands I use to center the stars in the crosshairs (and bullseye on PHD2 when using it as a virtual finderscope) were causing the computer to give me the wrong readings.
I decided to “take the L” and switch the setup to just try to capture a meteor or two. I focused on the section of the sky with the Andromeda Galaxy centered in the frame, and out of over a hundred 30 second exposure attempts, I ended up with a whopping three bright enough meteors for the camera sensor to capture. The rest of them were of course either off frame, or not bright enough.
While attempting to capture meteors, I noticed a nearby group of people enjoying the shower, introduced myself, did my usual presentations that I often do as a Telescope Demonstrator, helped one of them point their Celestron Powerseeker to Jupiter, and just overall aided their enjoyment of their night.
At around 3:00am, I decided to try my telescope again and start all the way from the beginning. Instead of the agonizing hour or two it took me to fix the alignment, this time, within a few minutes the Atlas software was telling me I was dead on.
And just like that, I was able to get good shots of the Double Cluster, and two out of the 3 open clusters in Auriga. I would have gone for M37 as well had the Perseids not kept reminding me of their presence, and upon seeing Taurus, Auriga and Orion rising, I switched it back again to “wide sky mode” with just my camera and camera lens mounted on the Atlas.
At first, I didn’t see any meteors show up in the raw shots, but a week later, I inspected each individual shot, and saw that I managed five of them over a span of 30 minutes (two 30 second exposures per minute)! So of course, I made the composite exposure to have all of them in one image rather than separate shots.