Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Road Trip!

I've got some friends visiting from back east - both professional photographers and amateur astronomers, so I scheduled a road trip to some astronomical sites! What better location than the Mecca of astronomy in Arizona but the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) atop Mount Graham! It is an engineering marvel and should be the top of anyone's list to visit, were it not for an arduous 3 to 4 hour trip with ending with 29 miles of rather harsh mountain roads...

But the adventurers that we are, we set out yesterday morning, heading east on Interstate 10. Believe it or not, about the best view-from-a-distance is from Willcox, nearly 30 miles away! The shot at left is with the 300mm lens, and shows the towering box-like structure of the LBT enclosure, and the bright spot to its left is the sun reflecting off the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.

After a bite of lunch and caching away some snack supplies for later, we continued another 25 miles and turned north towards Safford.  We approached town early enough that I decided we had time to drop in and visit Paul and Jackie at the Discovery Park Campus of Eastern Arizona College - a great little local science center. They had helped us a lot with our Russian visitors a few years back, and for these newcomers, it was a great short visit. One of the highlights for us science-types was the "camera Obscura", which is a large lens system, projecting a distant view on a projection screen. Shown here at right is our group shot under the inverted image of Mount Graham, which we were about to go visit.

The trip up the mountain was interesting if not challenging, but we made it in fine shape, arriving close to 5pm. We found an engineer waiting to give us a guided tour, and what a tour it was! We went nearly everywhere, and he was very patient in trying to answer our barrage of questions and letting the 4 of us photographers take gigabytes of images! Eventually, as sunset approached, we ended up on the telescope floor as they opened the dome for the evening. At left is shown a 3-frame mosaic with fisheye lens to fit everything in!

We had an amazing evening - we got to go pretty much wherever we wanted to go to image. I'm keeping this post short because we've got more adventures today. But I'll close with an image taken from the LBT "patio" with a great southern and western view. Shown at right is a wide-angle shot to the west showing Orion, Winter Milky Way and Moon and Venus setting with part of the LBT structure to the right. The two yellow glows are the light domes of Tucson (to left) and Phoenix at right.  Yes, there were some high thin clouds, but it didn't seem to bother the astronomers much (they were taking spectra of star-formation areas in galaxies), and the clouds make our exposures more interesting as well.

Much more coming up, and I suspect today's adventure will generate more posts.  Stay tuned!

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