Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Weekend of Randomness!

Note piggy-back 500mm lens!
Newlyweds Michael and Casey!
A few weeks ago was the 2017 edition of the Grand Canyon Star Party. I attended the first few days - I feel responsible since I'd started the thing way back in 1991, so had to keep an eye on "my baby"! I was in a nostalgic mood with this being the first one held after Melinda's death last Fall, and it seemed more than ever were asking me about the origins of the event - started at the honeymoon w/my first wife Vicki at the rim. So I was enveloped in a melancholy mood as the event started...

But the crowd wore on me - the tourists that stop and look thru our telescopes are always so enthusiastic that sadness was not long accepted. On the second night I had mounted my camera piggy-back on the scope so I could take and show a photo of what folks were looking at. Early in the evening I met Casey and Michael - they had just been married canyon-side the day before and were now honeymooning here! Someone down the line of telescopes had told them to come look me up and say hi. Well their story similar to mine certainly cheered me up and I asked them to come back when I didn't have 30 people in line looking at Jupiter, which they said they would.


Grand Canyon view of C/2015 V2 Johnson
Casey and Michael Johnson wedding photo!
My crowds eventually thinned and I'd all-but forgotten them. Left alone, it took me a while to find the "bright" comet Johnson in the evening sky. While bright enough to barely be seen in binoculars, it took a while to get it into the telescope, but the camera quickly confirmed its green coma and short tail that it was indeed Comet Johnson C/2015 V2. I've already told the story of how it was discovered as part of the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson by Jess Johnson in 2015, thus the name after the discoverer. About this time Casey and Michael appeared and they got to see the comet thru the eyepiece and in the back of the camera. I then offered to take them a few stacked exposures of the Triffid and Lagoon Nebulae as a wedding present, and showed them the pretty blue and red nebula in a short exposure. As the camera recorded the half dozen frames, I took their email contact from them. I was amazed that Casey and Michael's married name is Johnson - so had to go back and tell them the story of the Comet Johnson that they had just seen! And strangely enough too, many of you may know that Melinda's maiden name was Johnson! It was a set of circumstances way to weird to be random, and quickly had me tearing up...

Another of Casey and Michael's wedding shots!
My little wedding offering to them...
The other big event this summer is the solar eclipse coming up in August. I'm always loathe to make plans days or weeks in advance, let alone years or months. But in my talking to the folks in line looking through the Celestron at the Canyon, I met a family from Wyoming. When asked where they would be on the 21st of August, w/out hesitation they said "Watching the eclipse from our yard!" Of course, my immediate response was if they would mind if I brought up a dozen people to camp in their yard, with access to a shower and bathroom? They said yes! So now I have a destination for my group of Russian amateur astronomers and the group of friends that want to follow along. Our new friends in small-town Wyoming have even offered to cook for us, so it sounds like an adventure that will soon-enough appear here.

So randomness and circumstance are still at work in the universe! It has been said (perhaps by me!?) that if you sit along the rim of the Grand Canyon long enough, you will meet everyone in the world! It certainly worked wonders for me, raising me out of my funky mood, and also finding a home for the 21st of August! May the universe continue to be surprising!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

My Mediocre Fireworks photos!

I've photographed galaxies a hundred million light years away. I've shot moths that pollinate flowers IN PITCH BLACK NIGHT. I've shot planets thru a telescope that has an observatory as a pretty background. But evidently I'm incapable of shooting a decent image of a fireworks display! Co-worker Steve set the bar pretty high and did a lot of the preliminary work, taking a spectacular fireworks image 2 years ago. He told me all the hints he could but warned me that to get a background of Tucson's skyline (at least what there is of it), you had to expose a long time, risking way overexposing the fireworks. But I figured it was worth a try so even though the night before leaving for the Midwest, I went chasing fireworks!


I used the same venue he did - the top level of the parking ramp next to Parking and Transportation on 6th street on the south edge of UA campus. Even an hour ahead found cars claiming prime spots - it looks like it was gonna be a party! I set up camera and tripod and used my trusty 70-200 zoom lens. Steve used 70mm, and I figured with the full-size sensor of the 6D that I'd need something closer to 100-120, so the zoom was a great choice. My first shots, that still showed some twilight glow, showed that to get a properly exposed skyline, at least 10 to 15 seconds was needed. You can see at far left some of the "wildcat" fireworks in the neighborhoods showed up nice on this exposure.

But at right, the problem can be seen! The Tucson display was held far after it got dark, not starting till about 9:15. This shot shows that even in the 4 second exposure, the fireworks were so bright that they are very overexposed and colors are blown out. I was able to stretch some of the skyline back, but you can't do much with the overexposed fireworks...

I did luck out and get some shots that were ALMOST acceptable. At left is another 4 second shot that captured some of the dimmer shots that didn't overexpose the sensor, yet, I was able to bring up the skyline a little.

At right is a 10 second exposure that again, did well on the cityscape, but the fireworks were again on the verge of being overexposed again... It is a very narrow line to balance background with the points of interest, but that is the goal! My buddy Ken who runs a "Picture a day" blog not only got a great shot, but ran it on the 4th of July! A former newspaper photographer, he is used to running on deadlines!


The party did develop! I ran into some very nice people there, mostly young student-types, some with kids. Some were interested in what I was capturing and were amazed at what a few seconds exposure would show - things they couldn't see with their eyes... The photo at left is a hand-held exposure with my spare camera showing some of the cars at a lower level watching the distant show.

You will note in almost all the shots above that the fireworks ignited a blaze on the lower slopes of "A Mountain" from where they were shot off. In fact, most refer to the local fireworks as the "traditional lighting of A Mountain! After the display ended, many stayed to watch the blaze grow before being extinguished. At right is a shot thru the longest focal length of the zoom (200mm). It was impressive to us and we couldn't even see the fire directly from our location!

So I'm not sure I'm gonna try this again anytime soon. It is too hard to get good results. Maybe I'm getting lazy in my old age, but you would think if you take 85 photos, you would have one or two "keepers" of which I don't feel I did. Back to photographing invisible things...

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Arizona Aflame!

All of you have likely seen the nightly news and the reports that the western US is suffering simultaneously record high temperatures and dozens of forest fires. Even in my last post here I talked about a fire detouring my trip to the Canyon, and a glimpse of the fire showed one of the ancient cinder cones as if the volcano had come back to life! We've had close to a dozen within a hundred miles of Tucson the last few months, but two in particular have attracted a lot of attention. 

Most recently, the Burro Fire started about a week ago. It's cause is not yet known, but wasn't lightning as it was a storm-free day when it started 30 June. It is in a popular area for "wildcat shooting", so that remains a possible cause. While on the east end of the Catalina range just north of Tucson, it is not directly endangering any houses, but is very near the only access road to Summerhaven atop Mount Lemmon, so as a precaution, the mountain has been evacuated. Yesterday (5 July), I flew to Chicago and was surprised when we took off to the west, and circled around, flying along the front range of the Catalinas. We were not near the main part of the fire, but what did become clearly visible were the slurry paths from the aerial tankers as they controlled the southern extent of the blaze.  Current estimates have it over 25,000 acres burned, and only 11% contained...

Another major fire that had attracted my attention several weeks ago was the Frye Fire atop Mount Graham. Now burning for a month, it was initially not actively fought as it was a lightning-caused fire, not near any structures in a remote part of the range. Ten days later it had exploded wildly and threatened the major observatory at the peak, as well as cabins at several locations.

Now I'm a little paternal when it comes to the telescopes up there, as I worked on making all three of them! While I was at the Canyon a couple weeks ago I was looking for news to see if the scopes survived. Thankfully they did! Troy Wells was with firefighters atop the LBT structure and took the following video. Interestingly, it is mis-identified as being in Utah, and it is also reversed left-to-right, but the video is no less amazing. As the fire bears down on the structure, the cavalry arrives in the form of a DC-10 with a load of slurry!



The Observatories there literally appeared to be saved by that drop. An inspection a couple days later by the director of the Vatican Telescope resulted in the following report...


I took a Sunday visit to a friend living in Safford, just east of Mount Graham on 2 July. The fire was still very evident even if the danger to the Observatories and cabins have passed. At left is a view of the only access to the mountain - highway 366, Swift Trail. Smoke hangs heavy over the eastern slopes, and while not easily visible in this shot, there was a sheriff and a roadblock a kilometer down the road. I was heading home about sunset, driving south paralleling the mountain and suddenly noticed the lighting had changed! A glance towards the sunset showed the sun hanging low directly over the main column of smoke. That was certainly worth a stop for a photograph!



Now Mount Graham is another waypoint on the flight to Chicago - it normally is visible outside the left window as we jet to the northeast. I paid the extra fee to get a port side window and was rewarded with the following view at left! Normally the 3 telescopes are clearly visible as we pass, but the smoke from the fire totally obscured the entire mountaintop!

Interestingly, I had also packed my IR-modified camera. This camera has a filter that ONLY allows infrared light to the sensor, instead of being blocked out like most cameras. As a result of the longer wavelengths used, blue skies get darkened and the chlorophyll of healthy plants appear almost white. At right is the infrared view. Most interestingly, the smoke is all but invisible! Blackened burn scars are much more easily visible against the white of normal forest growth. They were taken only a few moments apart, so the only real differences are the wavelengths of observation... The current status of the Frye Fire is about 48,000 acres burned and is about 66% contained.

WARNING!  Anaglyphs ahead!
For those of you who are fond of my anaglyph 3D images (I know there are a few of you out there!), I've combined image pairs taken from the plane to make 3D images. At left is again the color shot at visible wavelengths. You will see the 3D image with using the red/blue glasses with the red filter on the left.

At right is similarly the infrared anaglyph. I am truly shocked at how well the longer IR wavelengths penetrate the smoke of the fire. The 3D effect also seems stronger too - perhaps because of the mostly black and white image and its effect on the tinted anaglyph.



And believe it or not, the LBT is visible through what is likely about the thickest part of the smoke in the IR shot. Check out this full-resolution shot at left of the above image. Just under the center of the cloud at the upper profile of the mountain, the silver box of the LBT can be spotted!

While fire season is hanging on as long as the summer rainy season is staying away, it won't be long till the rains and humidity will extinguish the AZ fires at least. Meanwhile, I'm happy to be back in the green Midwest for a few weeks. I'm even looking forward to some hot muggy days - can't be much worse than the 115 degree days we've survived in the desert!

ADDENDUM!
I'm editing this entry as I just finished a new anaglyph of the slurry lines at the Burro Fire, and it was too cool not to include! Shown at left, the 3D anaglyph shows how the slurry lines were laid down mostly along ridge lines to prevent the fire's spread. That is all - enjoy!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The June Tradition!

For over a quarter century now I've followed a tradition. Back in 1990, my first wife Vicki and I ran off to Vegas to get married. Pausing at the Canyon for a brief honeymoon before a road trip to the Midwest to meet my family, we noticed that a telescope set up at the rim to look within immediately gathered a crowd. We decided then that we'd invite a few friends to join us on our anniversary and have a star party. Thus was started the Grand Canyon Star Party, our anniversary in May of 1991 (4 telescopes over the week!) was butt-freezingly cold, so have held it dark-of-the-moon in June since the second interation in '92.

The early years the rangers seemed to tolerate us, and it took a decade to grow into the full partnership it is now between park and astronomer. I've managed to be the only attendee that has attended at least a night at every year's event, sometimes over the objections of my boss or my responsibilities of a care-giving spouse.

Today is the last day of this year's version, and I was able to attend the first 3 nights last weekend. It was a great time, and an affirmation of what I found the very first event in 1991 - the joy and appreciation in feedback from the tourists that may be seeing a dark sky for the first time is the highest payback that us as astronomers can receive in sharing the views through our telescopes! I ran the event for a generation (about 18 years), and it is nice to see it thriving under Jim O'Connor's and the Park Service's attentions. At left is a selfie I took in our parking lot at sunset with the venerable Celestron 14" - here with a piggy-backed 500mm lens for some late-night imaging...

This year's trip up was uneventful. An early-morning start of 6am got us through Phoenix before reaching the 115F+ temperatures that were expected. The road typically taken between Flagstaff and Canyon was closed because of a fire, so went west to Williams before north to the Canyon. Interestingly, the fire could be seen at one of the many cinder cones connected to the volcanic field with the San Francisco Mountains. The smoke from the fire made it look as though the ancient cinder cone was active again!

A quick stop at the telescope field, a run to the campground to set up the tent, a bite of dinner and then back to set up the telescope for the night. It wasn't until about sunset that I had a chance to roam and meet up with friends from over the years. At right, Bernie Sanden at left had a trick played on him - Dennis Young at right had hidden Bernie's expensive Tele-Vue eyepiece and replaced it with a cheap substitute. Before too much anguish, Dennis 'fessed up, and Bernie managed a smile at being "scammed". That is Joe Bergeron, long time artwork contributor for our t-shirt designs in blue at left...

The first night was fantastic! I had an immediate crush of public as soon as we were able to get Jupiter in the eyepiece. I had 30 people in line at my scope most of the night, so was difficult to change objects without upsetting folks in line for a while. Managed some great views of Jupiter, Saturn and Messier 13 in Hercules. The seeing was near-perfect, and, of course, as soon as the crowd departed after about 10:30, I fine-tuned the collimation of the C-14 and was able to run the power on Saturn well in excess of 300X without any breakdown!

After a reasonable night's sleep in the cool temps, I made it to the rim after nearly 24 hours there! It looked about the same as last year! Looking for a nice shot of it, over near Yavapai Point (where the star party was held for decades!), took some shots from one of my special viewpoints from where I used to set up my binoculars for hours and days to attract people's attention to the star party. Here I took a pair of HDR (High Dynamic Range) images with both the standard camera (Canon 6D) and an IR-modified camera (an old converted 20D). While the color image looks nice, I always like the alien view of an IR image, whose longer wavelengths cut haze, darkens a clear sky and turns vegetation white. The HDR image uses 3 different exposures at differing exposures to compress the shadows and highlights to see all details in the single frames...

When I had arrived at Yavapai, I noticed a little something out-of-the-ordinary. As I left my parked van, I spotted an elk as it walked past me towards the rim with single-minded-purpose! With a quick pace, looking neither left nor right, it seemed to be late for a meeting... After my own stop at the bathroom and collecting camera gear, I headed rimside too. As I approached, I found the reason for his being there! Right at the rim was a water bottle filling station and there was the elk... He had managed to open the valve and there he was slurping water from the valve!

Now realize these are NOT pets, nor raised in captivity. They are wild creatures capable of dangerous behavior if started or if fawns were around. Yet there was a crowd of people gathered around, most turning their back to it to take a selfie. The three girls at right asked me to take their photo, but I declined saying I wanted to document their selfie because they looked so stupid! There has been a huge uptick in elk over the years and they were pretty much everywhere around the park, at all hours of the day and night, so whenever driving you had to keep an eye out!

On night 2 there was a little smoke coming up from the fire near Flagstaff, but it dissipated and cleared just after sunset, never really affecting the observing. Huge crowds again, and I met some amazing people, whose story I'll save for a subsequent post. The top photo shows the 500mm lens recently obtained mounted on the scope and I hoped when the crown thinned, to take some photos to better show people what we were looking at with a few seconds of exposure. About 10:30 again the crowds thinned and I went looking for Comet Johnson C/2015 V2. It was in a very sparse field and took me a while to locate it, but a brief exposure showed the characteristic green glow, caused mostly by the dissociation of carbon in the vacuum of space as it approaches the sun. The exposure at left is a stack of 6 exposures of 2 minutes each and show a short stumpy tail that we could only imagine visually in the 14" telescope...

Those who have seen my photos before know I'm a fan of dark nebulae - seen mostly by silhouette against more distant star clouds. For that reason I show the exposure of Saturn at right - extremely overexposed at center. It happens to be crossing the Summer Milky Way and a long-ish exposure shows many of these distant dust clouds in profile. For that reason alone this is a favorite exposure from the Canyon!

Similarly, not far away, I tried the same thing on one of the coolest sights in the sky, Messier 22. A globular cluster, it contains the mass of about 300,000 solar masses, and is quite spectacular with the rich star fields in the background. In the full field at left, you can see the thin wisps of dark clouds in projection against the star clouds near the galactic center. While the 500mm is nice for showing extended clouds like this, it isn't optimum for showing details of objects like this cluster. A full resolution crop is shown at right and starts to show some details of the star cluster. It also has a lil' buddy to the upper right - what looks like an extended bright star is actually another globular NGC 6642. This smaller cluster is also nearly 3 times farther away (26,000 light years, vs 10,000) than M22, making it look diminutive.

Also nearby is a pretty pair of objects if you do wide-field imaging like this with the 500mm. You might have spotted them here before because M20 and M8 (Triffid and Lagoon Nebulae) are a common target of mine. Both glow with the characteristic red tint of hydrogen emission, as these star-formation clouds are predominantly hydrogen. The Triffid Nebula at top is so-named because it is split into 3 pieces by narrow dark clouds. It also sports a striking blue shade on top - the result of the dust and gas reflecting light from a nearby blue star.


Finally as I was considering closing down for the night, I noticed that the Andromeds Galaxy was getting high in the northeast. The 500mm is a perfect lens for the object as it barely fits in oriented diagonally. Messier 32 is the nearest bright galaxy to the Milky Way at about 2.5 million light years. It is also the farthest you can see with the naked eye if you have a dark enough sky!

Tuesday brought something rare - clouds! There was even thunder and lightning scattered around the Canyon. I spent some time along the Canyon edge. Shown here is an interesting sight - a single condor attracting a LOT of attention, not unlike a Hollywood starlet and a gaggle of press corps!

I ended up heading home after dinner, avoiding the 120+ degree heat of Phoenix by traversing it at Midnight! So I got my dose of the star party - glad I made it, always wanting more, but sometimes life gets in the way!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Another Momentous Day...

Today marks yet another milestone date - the 9th anniversary of Melinda and my wedding in 2008! It also starts the inception of this blog, but back then we didn't do a lot of photos on the blog, so some of these might not have been well-circulated. Since it was the second marriage of each, we took the easy route - took advantage of the Riverwoods Camp grounds to hold the wedding, and held the reception in their outdoor pavilion. Melinda's sister Susan funded the pig roast, and we decided on a Hawaiian-themed event. Melinda happened to have a surfboard (rare in Illinois!), which sister Maj painted to reflect our anniversary date. It was a spectacular event and we were married 50 yards from our house, circled by friends and family on a warm sunny June day. We were even married by the minister that oversaw operations at Riverwoods - Tony Danhelka! That is Tony with the bride and groom at right. Seems like we kept all details "in the family"!

But as we all know, life is anything but predictable, and Melinda left us last year. Eight years of marriage wasn't nearly enough, and sometimes I dwell on the what-ifs, but if anything, I'm grateful for the time we did have together, as do you all who knew and loved her like me. So I mark another date with tears and smiles, as I encourage you all to do the same if you knew her, or have lost your own "love of your life". "Gone, but not forgotten" is an oft-used phrase, but appropriate when remembering her smile lighting up every room she entered. Happy anniversary, my love!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Out And About!

After a month in the Midwest and a brief taste of dark skies on the CAC bus trip the weekend before, the draw of dark skies on the long Memorial Day holiday was enough to get me out to look at the stars! On Friday, after feeding the kitties, I headed out towards Kitt Peak and set up on a favorite pullout along the access road. Unfortunately it had been a windy day and the winds failed to drop like they were supposed to. I was way underdressed for the gale winds and cool temps at elevation - fortunately the snow mobile suit I keep in the van was still there and made the night's observing possible! The wind also limited the scopes I could use - I stayed with the 500mm Canon lens and the 70-200 zoom for some wider-field imaging.

The highlight of this time of year is always the rising Summer Milky Way! How can I avoid shooting my favorite area of the sky yet again - the area around the orange supergiant star Antares in Scorpius? At left is a spectacular 2-frame mosaic with the 500mm lens. Antares is the orange star very near the center - its light scattering off the dust cloud through the center of the frame. Right of Antares is the huge globular star cluster Messier 4, while between them and a little above is another globular - NGC 6144, located more than 4X the 7,200 light years of Messier 4. I love this field of view because of the complicated mix of dark, reflection and emission nebulae.

But I knew there would be another visitor as well! I recently saw a finder map for comet 71P/Clark. It is not particularly bright, but visible as a small greenish smudge not far from the left edge. The right image shows it a little better, complete with a little tail trailing off to the upper right! Comets that display any color usually show some green - caused by the sunlight breaking up carbon molecules that will glow green in the vacuum of space.


Another target on Friday was an emission nebula in Scorpius. I was shooting with 2 cameras - a recently-obtained T5i that has been modified for increasing red wavelengths to better record the red nebulosity of ionized hydrogen clouds. My other "new" camera (now over a year old) is the full 35mm format Canon 6D which also seems to excel at recording red nebulosity. I headed for what is called the "Cat's Paw Nebula", NGC 6334. At left is a wide field with the Canon T5i and 70-200 lens working at 175mm focal length. The two bright stars at lower left are the "stinger" stars of Scorpius, so this field is quite low in the sky. But right in the center is the "Cat's Paw" - looking like a red-ink print of the paw of a cat. The red coloration, of course, is caused by the ionization of hydrogen by ultraviolet light from hot stars in the cloud of gas. At right is the view with the 500mm and 6D, and again, has good red sensitivity for these hydrogen clouds. Both are relatively short exposures - the wide field at left is 12 minutes total exposure, the right is only 10 minutes! I've still got some exposures from Friday to look at, but these are gonna be my favorites!

On Saturday, I decided to head out to the Chiricahua Astronomy Complex (CAC) of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA). Even though I had just been out the weekend before, with the 40" scope as a potential viewing instrument, and the dark skies there is a powerful draw making up for the 2 hour drive... I got there just before sunset and set up my mount and the same setup as the night before on Kitt Peak. However, this time there was no wind and it was much more pleasant! At left Carter Smith is at right with his trainee John Meade, getting the 40" telescope ready for the evening. While it looks like a shot taken about sunset, it was considerably darker, but thanks to the "magic" high speed of the 6D, 1/3 second at ISO 8000 makes it no problem! Returning to the pads where my gear was set up, the same shot reveals the hubbub of observers preparing for the night...



My main goal for the night was a "bright" comet - C/2015 V2 Johnson! When it comes to comets, most anything visible in a small telescope or binoculars is considered bright, and unfortunately, this one will not quite be visible to the naked eye. Some of you know that Melinda's maiden name was Johnson, and as far as I know, the discoverer of Comet Johnson is not a relative! He is Jess Johnson, and works for the Catalina Sky Survey right here in Tucson. This comet was discovered as a faint smudge in November of 2015, and is just now at its closest point to the sun and the earth. We'll be able to show it as part of the Grand Canyon Star Party this June, after which, it will slowly be leaving the solar system - its hyperbolic orbit means it will not return to our part of the solar system again. With the 500mm lens, I got 10 frames of 2 minutes each and used the "Nebulosity" program to stack the images on the slowly-moving comet image. The result is at left. The bright star at right is Epsilon Bootes, and the comet is slowly moving almost due south.
What is interesting about the comet is that when zooming in, a sun-ward pointing spike appears!  This usually indicates that the earth is passing through the orbital plane of the comet.  At right is a cropped, stretched version perhaps showing it more clearly.  These sunward spikes are illusions and are actually well beyond the comet.  The solar wind pushes released gas and dust away from the sun to make the tail, and as we pass the plane of its motion, long-ago releases material can appear to point towards the sun.
 
That was the highlight of my Saturday at CAC. I tried some similar low Milky Way objects, but ran into some of the light dome off of Douglas 20 miles south of the observing site. Best to stay higher in the sky! I'm spoiled by the black high-elevation skies of Kitt Peak... Oh, and I did get a glimpse thru the 40"! While my camera was shooting comet Johnson, I ambled up and was just in time to view the huge globular cluster Omega Centauri. With it so low, no stepstool was needed, so extremely comfortable to observe. The cluster looked for all the world like a swarm of fireflies as the long path thru the atmosphere made the stars dance wildly! It was a sight not easily forgotten!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

CAC Dedication!

I don't set out to only post every 3 weeks or so - it just happens to work out that way! Last night the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) threw a party! Over the last couple years the club has developed a relationship with a benefactor that funded a warm/meeting room along with a pair of ginormous telescopes! Last night was the dedication of the Reynolds-Mitchell Observatory at the TAAA's Chiricahua Astronomy Complex (CAC). Bob Reynolds has generously contributed to a large roll-off roof observatory, but the star of last night's show was dedication of a 40" telescope! The TAAA wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to attend could make it, so went to the trouble of leasing a big tour bus for hauling members on the 90 mile drive from the TTT truck stop at I-10 and Craycroft. Who could turn down a free bus trip, box dinner included, highlighted with viewing with a 40" telescope?! Not me! At left, our travelling hostess Mae makes sure we all have what we need!

I can't recall riding a big tour bus since our Senior Class Trip to Washington DC 45 years ago, so it was a fun time. Our seats were higher than the truckers in the big semis that we passed, so was a nice view of the passing scenery. Of course, some might claim there isn't much scenery in Southern Arizona except brown-colored desert, but Texas Canyon, shown at left is always amazing, especially if you don' have to pay attention driving! And, of course, once you've made it to Texas Canyon, you've already passed about a million of the signs at right - "The Thing" is a tourist destination just east of Texas Canyon, and is actually kind of a cool-kitschy stop worth a visit - especially if you need a rest room or a Dairy Queen stop! As mentioned, the TAAA also sprang for meals - boxed dinners from a local deli, with 4 choices of sandwich - pretty high living!


The trip seemed to fly by, and we got there a bit before sunset. There was quite an agenda on the night's program and after a rush to the bathroom (twin flush toilets!), the facility tour started. First up, former TAAA president and site manager John Kalas gave a guided tour of the site from the ramada. That's him at left, taken in a 4-frame mosaic taking in the sweep of members present (nearly 100 I'd guess), ramada and the new scope/warm room at right.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, I skipped the treasurer's tour of further development plans, instead staying and documenting some of my friends that I recognize from my travels up and down the Sulphur Springs Valley. From CAC, as from down to not-to-distant Whitewater Draw to the south (sandhill crane site) views of "Cochise's Head" as well as the 60-mile-distant Mount Graham topped by the LBT telescope showed up as familiar friends!


A few minutes later and it was time for more speeches! Former TAAA president Tim Hunter and owner of the Grassland Observatory reviewed the club's search for a dark-sky observing site, culminating in CAC. In the photo at left, Tim is shown at left, and Carter Smith (Chief Telescope Operator) prepares the 40" for use as John Kalas introduces our benefactor. At right, Bob Reynolds says a few words before handing off the sissors to his wife to cut the ribbon opening the warm room and telescope!







All too slowly, it got dark and the scope operators did an alignment to get the giant 40" telescope pointing and tracking and finally ready for use. The first object - a stunning view of Globular Cluster Messier 13. This view is taken with the Canon 6D with Nikon 16mm fisheye lens wide open at F.2.8. The 20 second exposure (ISO 5,000) shows stars and objects much fainter than the naked eye can see, including Omega Centauri just upper left from light dome from Douglas at right. Messier 13 can be spotted at upper left if you can make out the keystone of Hercules. At the upper edge is Jupiter, and between it and Scorpio rising at bottom center, a faint section of the zodiacal band can be seen!

A bit later and the scope was turned to Messier 82 in Ursa Major. The edge-on galaxy, 12 million light years distant displayed very nice dust lanes crossing the luminous band. In the photo at right (exposure details same as above), besides the scope, dominating the sky is the bright glow of Zodiacal light in the west - the Beehive Cluster (Messier 44) can be spotted in the midst of it! While both photos seem to show the area was brightly lit, the exposures seem to amplify the amount of ambient red light about. It certainly didn't look brightly lit to eye!

Before we knew it, 9:30 had arrived and we needed to board the bus for the return trip to Tucson. By the time we disembarked, loaded up the small amount of gear into the van and dropped off passengers, we walked into the house right at Midnight. A very special night of observing "in the can"! All I can say is that an observing trip down to CAC with the 40" is a rare treat - about to become less rare!