Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More Mount Lemmon

In my last post about travelling up Mt Lemmon for the solar eclipse and more, I forgot to mention that the roads seems awfully crowded...  Certainly not for the eclipse - no need to climb a mountain road for that.  But the reason became more obvious the higher we climbed - Fall foliage!  At the 8,000+ elevation of the Catalina Mountains, the aspen trees were in full glory.  I recalled our local weather person had shown some foliage pictures during news the night before, and it obviously brought tourists! 

Around "Ski Valley", the southernmost recreational ski area in the US, the parking lots were near full with folks shooting the Fall colors.  Of course, I didn't need much excuse to join in.  Shown here are a couple shots both on the way up the mountain, and on the return trip the next day.  There aren't a lot of deciduous vegetation other than the aspen, so yellow dominates the palette.  At left is shown the yellow leaves piling up in the parking lot.  At right, even the pine branches were accumulating the leaves.

The eclipse took all our attention for the next hour or two, but as it wound down, I aimed the Celestron 5" towards the east and spotted the University of Arizona's Large Binocular Telescope atop Mount Graham about 58 air-miles to the northeast.  Two of the 3 telescopes are visible, of course, the huge LBT, and either the Sub-Millimeter Telescope or the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, or some blend of the two..  Also obvious are the fire scars from a decade ago that denuded the upper reaches of the mountain.

After the solar eclipse observing (BTW, blogging buddy and SkyCenter staffer Alan Strauss collected some GREAT eclipse pictures), my friend Bob and I were invited to join in on the Mt Lemmon SkyCenter's SkyNights StarGazing Program that would run until Bob got exclusive access to the Schulman 32" telescope..  These programs are very similar to those run at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  After enjoying the SkyCenter's programs 3 times now over the last few years and working part time at the National Observatory's programs, competitors seem such an ugly word in comparing these stargazing tours.  Both are very enjoyable and worth the effort and expense to join in.  After the eclipse we enjoyed a nice dinner with Adam Block, manager of the public outreach programs providing an orientation and scale of the universe demonstration.

As sunset approached, Adam and the other observers headed to the west overlook to watch, while I had other plans.   As the sun gets close to the horizon, the mountain's shadow is projected to the east, and it is really cool to see the conical shadow rise into the sky and merge into the Earth's shadow and the  Belt of Venus.  The evening was very clear and relatively haze-free, good conditions for trying a time lapse sequence of the rising shadow of the mountain.  I set up the XSi and telephoto, with the intervalometer set to take an image every 5 seconds.  I carefully monitored the histogram of the images and adjusted the exposure as the sky darkened to keep things as properly exposed as I could for the 14 minutes of imaging.  I've assembled the images, but am not happy with my freeware movie software, so that continues to be a work in progress.  Rest assured it will be presented here soon.  While one camera was recording the mountain shadow, I also wandered the 30 yards to a western view to see the sunset too, and also recorded the rosy glow of sunset on some of the domes in the University's compound at right.  Besides the telescope domes, the radome in the distance was a former Air Force installation and I believe is currently empty...

While the conical mountain shadow was spectacular, the view to the west was no slouch either!  Shortly after sunset, the distinctive profile of Picacho Peak (left edge) and Newman Peak to its north (right edge) were visible in the twilight glow.  If you click the image to load the full-size image, look just to the left of Newman Peak.  What looks like a linear set of lights is actually the twilight reflected off the water in the Central Arizona Project canal, bringing Colorado River water to the Tucson vicinity!  An hour later and the same view is transformed significantly - between the two mountains is the major travel corridor between Tucson and Phoenix on Interstate 10.  Shown at right, the headlights trace the interstate, the town of Arizona City at center, the bright lights of Eloy behind the curve of Newman Peak, and the outskirts of Casa Grande in the far distance.  Airplanes making the short hop between Tucson and Phoenix are visible, as are a few star trails - I believe the brightest star trail left of center is Arcturus.  This is a 30 second exposure with the 70-200 zoom set to 145mm focal length and F/3.5.

While I was shooting the lights to the west, I took the exposures to do a sizeable mosaic.  Ten frames were taken showing the lights from Phoenix down to Tangerine, the major E-W road through Marana and Oro Valley.  Catalina is at bottom center, with Rancho Vistoso development to its left, Saddlebrooke on the right side.  In the far distance, nearly 100 miles away, the radio towers above South Mountain can be spotted, with the lights of the southern suburbs of Phoenix visible.  Of course, our 9,200 foot elevation helps see that distance directly...  I'm limited to 1600 pixel wide images here, but the original image was nearly 10 times larger...  I need to find a home for those oversize images for you to see!

While I was having fun entertaining myself in the dark, the star gazing program inhabited the dome of the 32" telescope for some visual observing.  I joined them for an object or two - the view through a telescope that large is quite stunning for bright astronomical targets.  I shot a few exterior shots too in the early evening - this shot one of the few that didn't have plane or satellite trails through them.  The raw shot is shown at left, and a labeled version at right.  besides a few bright constellations, a few of the prominent deep-sky objects that show up in the 60 second exposure are labeled as well.  My 16mm Nikon fisheye lens was used on the Canon XSi for this exposure.

Still more to come - I had a camera running all night on a tracking mount, so a few more sets of images to stack and display.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Alan Strauss said...

Beautiful images Dean, I love the shadow of the mountain rising in the East! Thanks for the shout out.