Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Pleasant Evening Under the Stars

Melinda's work mates display a sense of awe regarding our interest (more like obsession) with astronomy.  So she gets requests about going out to observe with us sometimes.  We had 2 couples interested in observing with us, as well as a tour of the Mirror Lab, so we set a time weeks ago and went out last weekend.  One of the couples had out of town guests, so only stayed for the Lab tour.  But Melissa and Dave were game for bundling up for cold weather and stopping at Bianchi's Pizza on the way to Timpa, the astronomy club's "close-in" observing spot out west of Saguaro National Park on the west side of town.

It was a very pleasant night (though cold - in the 40s), and it was also Christian's last night in Tucson.  he was to leave for home to Switzerland the next morning!  We set up the C-14 and also had an 8" for zooming around the sky.  Christian hunted down some more obscure objects, while Melinda located some showpieces for the neophytes.  I helped set up both, then set up a camera to take a snapshot of the spectacular Zodiacal Light meeting up with the Summer Milky Way in the western sky.  The Zodiacal Light is caused by sunlight shining off dust in the plane of the solar system.  It is brightest near the sun, and also has a subtle brightening near the anti-solar point as mentioned a couple posts ago.  Normally, the Zodiacal Light is most visible in the springtime sky when the ecliptic plane rises straight up from the horizon, but from the clear skies of Arizona, is visible almost all year long.  Here it meets up with the Milky Way making a big "V" right at the horizon.  The 4 stars just left of the caretaker's house lights are the 4 stars of the teapot asterism's handle located near the center part of our galaxy.

And of course, a fun evening such as this one required a group photo.  Using a flash to light up the participants (how often do you use a flash for astronomical imaging?), we stood still for the 1-minute exposure so the stars wouldn't make us transparent (if we had moved, stars would appear through our image).  From left are Dave, Melissa, Melinda, me and Christian.  Christian has now been back to Europe for a week and claims he has yet to see a star, our own sun included!


David A. Harvey said...

Sweet shot of the winter zodiacal light with the milky way Dean - what were your exposure/equipment details?

Dean said...

Dave- It was a single 45 second tripod shot with the XSi, 10-22 zoom set to about 10mm at F/3.5, iso 1600 downsized to 1000 pixels wide and kind of stretched to heck...