What’s In My Truck

Looking north my truck rapidly unloaded. Fields almost empty and Abby’s just happy to have arrived. Click for larger cropped version.

Almost everything is unloaded from my truck the evening I arrived at Okie-Tex. I took this picture because some people have asked why it takes me so long to get ready for the star party. It takes me a good week to collect, verify and pack everything in their cases or carriers.

I was inspired to post this after seeing Jerry’s  What’s in my Bag article. Seeing his spread of equipment I’m guessing he carries a bit more than I do. What I love about Jerry’s picture is you see whats in all the cases. That’s whats in my cases, except I don’t need jar openers 🙂  There are a lot of parts and pieces to being an astrophotographer.

This 2018 trip I was traveling pretty light, around 700lbs of gear. Ensuring you have everything needed for the trip and carefully packing it away takes time. The last thing you want being far from home is finding your missing a special cable or adapter.

Dark Horse Jumps the Star Party

Peak star party: a field full of amateur astronomers, deep sky observers, astrophotographers and simply lovers of the night sky. Several hundred people.

This was Monday night, October 18th, our first all night clear sky for the 2017 Okie-Tex star party. Just before darkness I got into position.  During the day I chose a spot to get the entire star party field. About the start of astronomical darkness I started a series of photos to build the panorama above. Click the image for a bigger version.

Technically it was our third night of the star party. Really it was the first good night as Saturday was cut short with clouds and most people are tired from traveling that day. Sunday night we got smacked with rain, hail and wind after watching a tremendous display of cloud to cloud lightning to our NNW. So as darkness fell Monday night you  could feel the excitement for a good clear night on the field.

Surprisingly (to me) this is my first nightscape panorama.  Its made from two rows of six exposures each 30 seconds long, landscape orientation with a 14mm lens. I didn’t get the coverage exactly right, lost track of my count on the second row. So the top very right corner I had to fill in. I should have taken a few more shots to ensure proper overlap,  need to execute a bit better.  This image isn’t perfect, likely I’ll tweak it a bit but overall I’m pretty happy with it.

False Dawn

A beam of light intensifies before the sun rises: morning Zodiacal light. My favorite image from a series of photos I took Friday morning just before the end of astronomical darkness. A few clouds drifting over the area enhanced the color of the bright star Sirius (middle right) and added a bit more color on the horizon. Click picture for a larger version.

It wasn’t but 15 minutes earlier that the sky was completely clear as captured in the picture below, taken with a different angle that captured the Pleiades .

There were active imagers and observers scattered throughout the field. Click image for a larger version. Both of these photographs were 1 minute long exposures using a Skytracker to follow the stars.

The steady brightening of the Zodiacal light was a pleasure to experience this year. Starting about an hour before the end of astronomical darkness the cone of light slowly grows in intensity until a moment is reached where it is brightest and the sky is still dark. Then it fades, the sky begins to lighten as the sun creeps closer to the horizon and the Zodiacal light is washed out with the approaching dawn.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

OTSP 2015-09-15

The Okie Tex star party field glows red under the milky way and stars (click for larger image). Photograph is looking South West as astronomical darkness begins Wednesday night, September 15th. I was trying to capture the feel of the star party as everyone starts observing and imaging.

This 90 second 1/2 speed tracked photograph reveals the night sky is not fully dark yet but it looked dark to your eyes. This is not the entire observing field, it extends a bit further north (to the right). Brightest red spot on left side is the midnight cafe. Nothing like having a fresh grilled cheeseburger at midnight out in the middle of no mans land.

 

 

Summer Meteors

 

The Perseid meteor shower peaked on Thursday morning August 14th and with nearly ideal conditions this year it was a must see event. Jeff, Phil and I met out in the Flint Hills and the weather turned out pretty good. With the odd weather patterns we’ve had in NE Kansas this summer I feel fortunate.

Pictured above is 37 seconds of the night sky looking north around 2:00am Thursday morning (click for larger version). A long dead Osage Orange tree in the foreground has likely seen thousands of nights like this. The camera captures the colors your eyes can’t make out, the green airglow in the bottom left, the yellow tint of light pollution from Emporia some 30 miles to the north.

Two meteors frame the double cluster. Neither of these meteors is a Perseid! The top one is a Kappa Cygnid (KCG). I was pleasantly surprised how many KCGs I saw, far more than the 3 meteor per hour rate would suggest. These meteors were distinctly different than the Perseid being much slower.

The Perseid meteors put on a good show with many bright ones. One really nice fireball lit up the sky early in the morning. I didn’t count all night, I spent most of Wednesday night just enjoying the beauty of the dark night sky. It had been a year since I was in the Flint Hills! Pity as the KCGs seemed particularly strong early in the night. These are the numbers I did record:

1:00 - 1:22 14 Per, 1 KCG, 1 sporadic
1:35 - 2:00 19 Per, 8 spo
2:13 - 2:32 9 Per, 1 spo
3:05 - 3:35 21 Per, 4 spo
4:00 - 4:15 15 Per, 4 spo
4:35 - 5:00 17 Per, ? spo (didn't write anything down)

Altogether I counted 95 Perseids but during breaks saw even more, in total well over 120 Perseids and dozens of Kappa Cygnids not to mention all the sporadics and ANT meteors.

Our crew was up all night, I took hundreds of images but didn’t capture many notable Perseids. They travel so fast that the camera fails to record all but the brightest parts. Next time I will rethink my camera lens / ISO settings. Really wide images with f2.8 or f4.0 lenses fail to record much of meteors trail. Which leads me to wonder how many images I’ve seen posted from the Perseids are actually Perseid meteors (instead of say the KCGs or ANT).

Now that I got a good night out under the stars I’m really ready for the Okie-Tex Star Party in a few weeks!

 

The Gegenschein

The Gegenschein is a faint glow in the night sky 180 degrees opposite the sun. It just so happens the Okie-Tex star party is held when the Gegneschein is in a favorable position. But that’s not enough. The sky has to be transparent and dark for it to be noticeable. This year around 1am I captured my best photo of the Gegenschein so far, click the image below for a larger version.

I think presenting in black and whitehighlights it better. The rich Milky Way running along the top of the picture can be so distracting. This is also more of how your own eyes would see it.

There are times at night when all the right ingredients come together for a perfect viewing experience. Most of the world has no idea this happens anymore. Their view is cloaked, hidden by the glow of man made light polluting the sky. This is why many of us travel so far away from city lights. Out under a dark sky full of stars one never knows what wonders you will see.

One night at Okie-Tex, I think it was 2008, Chris Lamar and I were talking under crystal clear skies. This was his first trip to the star party. Like all of us on our first visit to a truly dark site he spent the night awed and overwhelmed by the beauty of the sky above. He was pointing out the Gegenschein to me and I was dumbfounded. I argued that it couldn’t be that. The band of light was just too bright to be what I understood it should look like. I was wrong. That hour of that night maybe the best I have ever seen the Gegenschein.

The Color in a Dark Sky

Under the dark sky of far western Oklahoma the 31st Okie-Tex star party started September 20th. As a speaker I was granted early arrival permission and setup Friday evening. Overhead the sky was spectacular that night. Even though it started to cloud over around 1:00am (Saturday morning) those few hours of dark clear sky, free from any man made light, is why I drive nearly 500 miles.

Unfortunately the next few nights were not very clear. As expected a storm system moved by us. It wasn’t until Tuesday night (9/23) we would have a good night. That night I wandered around taking pictures using a 5D Mark II on a iOptron Skytracker. This was the first time I’d used the SkyTracker in the field and of course I made a few user errors but the tracker worked good. I’ll post a review later.

One of my better shots of the milky way over the star party is below. Click it for a larger version and I will soon post an even larger version in my gallery. This picture is what the camera sees in the sky. A 3 minute tracked exposure, ISO 1600 using in camera noise reduction Lightly processed yes, to even out the serious vignetting of the Samyang 14mm lens at f2.8 and to sharpen and highlight the details. No gradient removal or masking was done at all. Note the wide variety of colors in the picture:

[ Milk way over the 2014 Okie-Tex star party ]
Looking north over the west observing field the photo is from ground level to nearly the zenith. Overhead the night sky was clear, the background dark. The dark spot above Cygnus was very distinct. Far to the north a few clouds pass by, just black spots. Around the horizon things got a bit murky. While the human eye sees shades of gray in the sky, especially near the horizon, its really full of color.

Across the top of the picture note the various red emission nebula spots, the detail and color of the Milky way. Going down the picture we see bands of green air glow and some hints of gravity waves in the atmosphere. On the ground red light abounds from the many astronomy enthusiasts awake. Busy observing or imaging.

This was a typical ‘good’ night for the star party, not great, just good. A great night at Okie-Tex requires a number of conditions coming together. Its not rare but difficult. For one you need the air mass above the Kenton area to be dry, really dry. For hundreds of miles in every direction. We were not in that situation when I took the above picture, note the NOAA water vapor image for that time frame below.

Far away from the glow of made made lighting the night sky is dazzling. Yet the natural night sky is not a uniform black or a shade of gray. Its a subtle, ever changing color. From moisture, air glow and the energy off the Earths magnetic field.