Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Scouting Trip

courtesy NOAO/AURA/NSF 
courtesy NOAO/AURA/NSF
Some friends are contemplating a trip with me to Kitt Peak National Observatory for an evening of sky shooting, perhaps some "Milky Way over domes" and the like.  Hey, it doesn't take much of an excuse to get me under some dark skies, so the other night I did a little advance work to look for some shooting locations.  With the rising Milky Way this time of the year, there are limited viewpoints since the skyglow of Tucson is to the east as well.  Also, the largest scopes at the observatory has effectively no spaces to their west.  So my efforts concentrated on the classic 2.1 meter telescope, which ironically, has been in the news lately!  With the continuing budget concerns, NOAO is divesting itself of this beautiful scope, and is actively in search of potential partners in taking over its operation.  Proposals are due in September, so start digging for that spare change under the couch cushions!

The scope is beautiful - a classic fork equatorial mount with a Ritchey-Chrétien optical design (one of the earliest large scopes of that prescription).  I loved working on the telescope back when I was a tech on the mountain, and it will be sad to see it pass to another institution...  Interestingly, when searching for images of the telescope on the NOAO website, besides finding the recent photo at left showing the IR instrument Phoenix, I located the photo at right - which I took!  More accurately, while still a tech on the mountain, I set up the shot, opened the dome of the 2.1 meter scope plus rolled back the enclosure of the Coude' Feed Telescope and directed Agnes Paulson, my assistant atop the Solar Telescope to push the button.  In fact, I'm in the picture with the 2 astronomers on the 2.1 that night - I'm the one pointing to Sirius, likely almost exactly 30 years ago!

Anyway, getting back to the original story, I was looking for viewpoints with domes and Milky Way.  Since I've acquired the newer Canon T3 with its higher ISO range, I've been practicing Milky Way Panoramas.  Our galaxy is just too large to fit in a single shot, so combining several shots seems the standard lately.  Here at left is a 4-frame shot of our galaxy arcing over the view of the 2.1 meter telescope from the west.  The individual frames were taken with a Nikon 16mm fisheye at F/2.8 (30 seconds exposure!), and assembled with photomerge in Photoshop.  Some warping was required to re-square the image, but it gives a nice resemblance to what the eye sees from a very dark site!  At left is the residual glow from Tucson, and a little glow from Nogales, Sonora can be seen center, next to a bit of greenish airglow.  But the beautiful arc of the Milky Way is always the center of attention!

cross-eyed view
straight view
Not many seem to enjoy my stereo pairs more than I do, so I've got to include my latest attempt starring the tree seen at the center of the above image.  With an exposure of only 30 seconds, I lined up and took one exposure, then shifted the tripod/camera a few inches, and repeated it.  Combining it here, you get a 3D effect in the trees and bush, but the Milky Way and sky is flat out at infinity.  Also, as I've been doing lately, I'm including the cross-eyed version here at left, and the straight view at right.  Go review some of my old 3D posts for hints for viewing...

After tending to a camera working automatically in the parking lot, shooting some Milky Way fields, I finally took another shot from the same location showing the 2.1 meter in the distance past the closer 1.3 meter.  Nothing magical about it, but whenever you can get a nice scenic shot with such a spectacular background, you are doing well!  Hope you enjoy, and get out under a dark sky if you can!

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