Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 Canyon, Day 2 And Wrapup

In the last post, I covered the trip up to the 2015 Grand Canyon Star Party and day 1. I'd planned to sleep in the rear bench seat of the van at the campsite, but it didn't turn out so well. The seat is a little short and narrow to get very comfortable, so found myself moving to one of the captain's chairs at 4am, which was much better when reclined fully (nearly flat). But still, sleep didn't come easily - a couple hours at most.

It was easy to catch an early date for breakfast I'd learned about the night before. Bernie had seen our long-term ranger liaison, Chuck Wahler and he had invited him and me to join them at El Tovar at 8:30. You don't turn down a chance to eat at the grande dame of Canyon hotels, so was there when Chuck and his son Jake arrived. I'd first met Jake when he was 5, and he was now in his final training for ranger law enforcement and about to move to Shenandoah National Part. And of course it was great to see Chuck and hear that their daughter Erin was also doing well. Food was great, service was exquisite - expectations met!

After everyone had parted, I lingered near the rim. Not knowing if I would find parking, I had taken the bus to El Tovar, so for the first time this trip, took some stereo pairs - my latest craze. While most stereo images are of nearby objects, with an imaging baseline approximating the eye separation, I'm a fan of "hyperstero", where much larger baselines reveal depth at great distances. The canyon is a perfect testbed with ridges and valleys off to a dozen or more miles distant. These require an image baseline distance of 100 meters or more. For viewing these, you will need the red/bluish glasses to view these anaglyph images, but the results are quite amazing. These 2 images of the Isis Temple formation had a baseline between images of about 150 yards. While both of these are the same field, the right one is with the IR camera and offers superior haze penetration and sharpness.

Of course, for not-quite-so-distant fields, the baseline separation doesn't need to be so large. At left, Lookout Studio's precarious perch is revealed with a baseline of just a few yards. Visible in the background is where the West Rim Drive follows the Canyon rim, and also, the Bright Angel Trail can be seen switch-backing down the canyon wall below. When examined too closely, some ghosting can be seen because it took several seconds between exposures, so hikers and anything that moves do not line up correctly. But the net affect of the 3D is pretty powerful. The shot at right is of the western edge of Bright Angel Canyon, again, with a moderate baseline of 10-15 yards.

And while we're on the 3D, lets finish it out with these shots nearer to sunset from Yavapai Point. Shooting north towards the north rim up Bright Angel Canyon, the baseline for both of these was about 100 yards. Of course, I don't have a strong favorite of these, though I like the sharpness of the IR shot a little better. But likely some prefer the color image. An interesting effect visible in these is that the shadows were long enough nearing sunset to cause visible changes in the 3 minutes between the exposures. If you look at the full-size images out near the long shadow tips, some weirdnesses can be seen in the 3D image. It is probably easier to see in the higher-contrast IR image. Ok, enough for the 3D for now - but do let me know if you enjoy them and want to see more!

The highlight of the final day of the star party is usually the get-together picnic. This year, as last, the overlook at Shoshone Point was reserved for our use. It is closed to the public, so very nice to have use of the pavilion and grills for our own use. I'd been there decades ago when I jumped the gate and biked to the end, but missed last year's event, so it was a first for me! The idea of cooking didn't appeal to much for me, so brought a deli sandwich and some sides. Because of the heat and limited parking requiring car pooling, only about 25 attended, but it was a lot of fun. Shoshone Point is about 6 miles east of where I had taken the above pictures near El Tovar. Just right of center in the IR picture at left is Isis Temple, which was the center of the first 3D shots above. The view from the east here looks significantly different especially at it's tip. At right in another IR image, Bernie was taking a portrait of Mae Smith and her kilted son Carter.

In the image at left, our junior astronomer Robert has been attending with mom and dad, Lynn Ann and Brian since he was born, though I suspect he isn't allowed near the Nagler eyepieces with Cheetos dust on his fingers! After the requisite feasting, Jim O'Connor and Marker Marshall covered some details of the star party, revealed the dates for next year (4-11 June, 2016), and looked for feedback to improve the event from the attendees. Having been away from the organization of it for what, 6 years or so, I'm gratified the star party is improving and gaining more park support every year. It continues to grow and improve, mostly thanks to the volunteers with the telescopes and these two people at right.

This year the local elk population has seemed to explode! In my normal wanderings, seeing a dozen or more per day was not unusual, much more than even recent years. While no large antlered males were spotted, there were lots of cows and youngsters, and this fawn was seen hiding behind mom as we returned to to camp from our cookout.

Finally the last evening of the star party approached. I finally stepped up and set up my Celestron 14", going to the site early to get it installed well before the 7pm Otterpops meeting. Tonight I was joined by buddy Chuck Schroll! We had texted the night before - he had flown his plane down to the Bryce Canyon National Park's astronomy event for the weekend (Chuck has been spending the summer at Badlands National Park as their Summer astronomer). I offered to pick him up if he flew over the Canyon and he accepted! So we worked together to handle the big rush of crowds that started as soon as we picked up our first object - the moon. It didn't slow down for hours, so was great to have a partner to get a break once in a while.

My little experiment of the night was accidental. I used my 70-200 zoom to shoot a pic of the moon and planets in the west, then happened to do it again about 80 minutes later. I got the idea once home to use the stars in the frame to align them to show the moon's motion in that time. It worked great, as shown at right. The moon moves it's diameter about every hour, warping the triangle it made with Venus and Jupiter noticeably as time passed in the twilight. Interestingly, Jupiter wasn't detected to have moved, though Venus has a double image too . Thinking about it later, Jupiter is mostly moving with the stars, but Venus is still moving to maintain a nearly constant distance from the sun (for now), so is moving strongly towards Jupiter. They will have a very close conjunction next week...

We worked hard until well after 11, and finally got the scope loaded and headed towards camp about Midnight. Chuck had a long flight back to South Dakota, and I wanted to get to Tucson before it got too hot, so we agreed to leave about 6am. We made that schedule and I dropped him off at the GC airport on my way out. 6 hours later I pulled into the driveway in Tucson, tired and ready for about 2 days of sleep, but glad I made it to the star party. Not only did I maintain my 25-year streak of attendance, don't forget I was also there for the zeroth, since Vicki and I originally started it on our 1st anniversary and I was there for the honeymoon! So my streak is actually 26 years! Anyway, the event continues to be great fun - it is amazingly entertaining to impress people with the view through even a smallish telescope from a dark sky, and I hope it continues for a long time! See you there next year!

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