Two weeks ago this day I was driving across southern Kansas heading home from the star party. I miss the dark skies and friends, the dusty field full of people waiting for the night sky. It’s a whole different world there.
From my time under the stars in western Oklahoma I’ve composed this one astrophotograph, a dusty reflection nebula called LBN 534 straddling the border of the constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia. Click the thumbnail image for a bigger version.
LBN stands for Lynd’s Bright Nebula, a catalogue of objects compiled from examining the red and blue plates from the Palmer Sky Survey done in the late 1950s. This particular object is not bright, in fact its very dim. I attempted it before back in 2008 without success, I never had enough exposure time for a good picture then. This year I spent more than 12 hours time over three nights with a QSI 583 camera. I wish I’d spent even more time imaging this, the seeing was not particularly good on some of the nights and the area around LBN534 appears to be full of dust.
Astrophotography is not a hobby for the impatient. It took me three years to get the picture I wanted.
I spent many an hour just laying back and observing the stars at the Okie-Tex star party this year. And its amazing the difference a really dark sky makes for meteor observing. If you check the Clear Sky clock for Kenton Oklahoma you’ll find the light pollution is listed as class 1 on the Bortle scale. Hard to get much darker than this.
One gets lost when they first gaze on a sky this dark, the number of stars you can see is overwhelming. You can’t find familiar constellations! And if you patiently watch for awhile you’ll see a consistent stream of faint meteors. Most of these are sporadic in nature but occasionally you’ll get a member of a meteor shower.
Such was the case when I saw my first Draconid meteor Wednesday night. A bright one it slowly streaked across the NW sky. Not only did it come from the right spot it had the tell tale slow speed. Awesome. Despite the nearly full moon and poor timing I’ll be watching tonight for more Draconids. Suggestions are they could have an abnormal peak ZHR and these kinds of events are a bit unpredictable. Nobody knows what you’ll see but you have to go out and look.
Update: A Draconid outburst did occur just as predicted. Had one been in Europe or Asia it would have been a very nice show, even with the moon out! I also note that the actual peak is close to what Meteor Shower Guide calculated +/- 1 hour.
The 28th Okie-Tex star party ran from September 24th through October 1. I’ve attended twelve of those years at Camp Billy Joe and this year seemed the driest. Like all of Oklahoma the area has been in exceptional drought conditions. It looked and felt like it. Yet dry conditions are a good thing for astronomy, low moisture means clear skies.
The forecast prior to the event was very promising: clear every day. But an odd thing happened, we got stuck in a weird weather pattern being partly cloudy the first nights of the star party. Visual observing was possible but not astrophotography.
This picture from Sunday night shows clouds obscuring the milkyway (click to embiggen). I did find it interesting to watch the clouds cross the sky. They were black, something you only see where its truly dark. Fortunately that pattern changed.
Tuesday was our first night clear until the end of darkness. The morning Zodiacal light was an excellent sight. My last night, Friday, was the best night sky I saw all week.
Pictured on the left is my scope setup ready to go as the moon sets (click to enlarge). By the early morning hours, around 4:00am, we had the darkest of skies. But a few hours before that I had big trouble with my equipment. I stopped tracking, unbelievably my RA motor had malfunctioned. More amazing though is I had a spare motor with me and fixed everything inside 45 minutes. Talk about being prepared.
I’ve got many hours of imaging time invested in one target, LBN524. Just starting to process that data and I hope to have an image soon. This year I ended up in exactly the same spot camping as last year. Interestingly I had the exact same neighbors as last year. Good company, decent weather, dark skies, it was a good star party.