A Galaxy and a Dwarf Planet – Joshua Tree National Park | March 24-25, 2023

The “wet season” of 2022 into 2023 had an unusually HIGH amount of rain this time around, which meant more days of poor weather, making trips out to the deep sky hard to plan. This trip was during a break in the weather, as the “wet” season began transitioning into the “dry season” for Southern California.

Date: March 24-25, 2023
Location:Cottonwood Spring, Joshua Tree National Park
Time20:00-2:00 (UTC-7)
Weather clear with light breeze; 60°- 40° F
Bortle Scale3

Equipment Used

  • 8″ (203 mm) f/4.9 Newtonian Telescope
  • Atlas II EQ-G Mount
  • Orion 50mm Guide Scope w / Starshoot Autoguider
  • Nikon d5300

I was finally able to make a trip after another 6 months of poor weather and bad timing. While the ongoing goal is to complete my Messier Object catalog, with the remaining objects all being late summer-early fall targets, that means that will have to wait.

The waxing crescent moon didn’t set until near 11pm due to the late sunset. While it was up, it wasn’t interfering too much with the sky, but it DID shine a nice glow over the desert landscape.

This shoot was meant to either improve on objects I’ve previously done, or shoot targets that I haven’t done yet.

When it came to the Leo Triplet, if you compare it to my attempt from 2021, this time there is better color detail, and that’s saying something coming from a Newtonian and a non-modded DSLR.

With M44, the last time there was still some “red noise” left in the background, so this time I made sure that wasn’t the case.

With M100, when I used Stellarium to help with objects to plan on shooting, I saw that Ceres would appear next to the galaxy. That meant I HAD to capture that. Compare this to my older attempt, and the color is obvious – though If I remember correctly I probably kept the older attempt mostly in black and white because I wasn’t as good at processing color noise then. Ceres looks like a normal star due it’s small size and apparent brightness. When I processed each of the 5 minute sub exposures, the shift in each image was obvious.

By around 1:30am, Omega Centauri was near crossing the meridian line. Thankfully the seeing conditions had calmed down overnight and I was able to get a decent shot of the elusive object.

This was my first time imaging Centaurus A. I didn’t have to do much with noise reduction or other processing other than contrast and levels with each sub-exposure, and for the first time imaging this elusive object, I was definitely happy!

But after 2:30am or so, with the temperatures plummeting and the slight chilling with the breeze, I decided I was good, and focused on some constellation shots that my supervisor wanted for his sky reports.

Keep Looking Up!


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