Monday, April 25, 2016

A Visit, an Outing, Repeat...

Last week Melinda Jo's buddy Sally Jo (both of them nee Johnson!) came down for a few day's visit. Sharing a middle and last name through nursing school and Delnor Hospital, how could you not learn to be great friends? Everyone who knew their names assumed they were related, but nowadays, they only act like sisters! They spent a good three days gabbing like crazy for 12 hours/day. Sally's only request was to go out observing one night since she had never had an opportunity to look through a telescope. Well, how can I turn down a request like that?!

We had a couple partly cloudy evenings, so finally went out Wednesday, the last evening Sally was in town. Even though only a day short of Full Moon, we drove the hour up to Geology vista. In case views of the heavens fell short of expectations, there were always the pretty lights of the Tucson Valley to entertain!

The atmospheric seeing was quite good! After plopping down the TEC140 down on its mount, I first went over to Mercury, low in the west. A couple weeks short of its transit across the face of the Sun on Monday, 9 May, it showed a nice, if not colorful (from atmospheric dispersion) crescent as it passes between us and the Sun. The planet Jupiter passing high overhead was just stunning, with the moons showing their disks. We could identify Ganymede merely from showing the largest disk!

I didn't take many pictures as running the telescope took most of my attention. But I did take a shot of the Pima County Fair, the center of attention on the southeast side of Tucson. Shown at left it is the bright collection of lights under the profile of the Santa Rita Mountains, about 45 miles distant. Pointing the scope at the fairground midway (about 25 miles distant), Sally was amazed at the amount of details visible.

I had noticed an array of red lights blinking in unison to the east looking out past the local hills. Shown at right is a shot, both of these taken with my 100mm macro, which was what was on the camera... They looked to be pretty distant - clicking on the picture shows the most distant peak to be Dos Cabesos over 60 miles away past Willcox. My comment to the crew was that the only time I've seen red lights flashing in unison like this was for a windmill farm, though I was unaware of any in Arizona. The view in the camera and in the telescope revealed nothing - at least they didn't appear to be moving, so UFOs were out of the question, but their source remained a mystery.

Heading towards home, I talked the girls into pausing at "Bad Dog" (actually Babad Do'ag - the native American name of the mountain).  I was thinking with the full moon it might be possible to record the domes of Kitt Peak over the lights of Tucson.  I dug out the 300mm lens from it's case in the back of the van and took a few shots.  It was a tough get - expose too long and the lights of Tucson were way overexposed.  But much less and the feeble light of the moon off the 60 mile distant domes through the haze might not be recorded.  I took 4 frames and stacked them once home to reduce noise - the domes are there, but took a bit of image manipulation to pull them out.  Click on the image to see them at all - above the red cell tower towards the left side of the image!

So while we had a good outing, it gnawed at me to figure out what the lights were. In addition there were a couple other targets that I would have taken in had the chance permitted. On Sunday I went up again, this time before sunset, to chase down some of them. As soon as the scope was plopped down this time, I went straight for the source of the lights to the east - windmills! Shown at left is a 5-frame panorama taken with the TEC140 for maximum details. I had not been aware of any, but seeing is believing, as they say. Then I remembered some pictures I'd taken as we flew back to Tucson last June. I hadn't seen any windmills, but had seen a solar photovoltaic "farm" in the area. Shown at right is the image I took flying over the area. Looking on the Google today, I found the complex is called "Red Horse 2" and combines 650 acres of photo-voltaics and 16 windmill turbines, generating 71 megawatts of power. Located on the western slopes of the Winchester Mountains, it is located midway between Willcox and Cascabel. I've never noticed it from I-10 driving east, but will have to look for it now...

A couple other targets seen in daylight... There are many mountaintop observatories seen in and around Southern Arizona. Among them are Kitt Peak, Mount Hopkins, several atop Mount Lemmon and Mount Bigelow and of course, Mount Graham. Few know about the one south of the border near Cananea, Sonora. The Guillermo Haro Astrophysical Observatory is located about 20 miles south of the US border and 8 miles NE of Cananea, a copper-mining town in Sonora. I took a series of images of likely mountaintops with the TEC140, waiting till I got home to find the correct one after goosing contrast in Photoshop. Shown at left, it is about 100 miles distant from Geology Vista... Mentioned above, Mount Bigelow is home to some UA scopes, hidden among the trees, but from my vantage point, a nice array of TV transmitters for Tucson was visible from about 3.25 miles distance. It makes a nice resolution target - here cropped slightly from the Meade 80mm F/6 (480mm focal length).

Finally, as the sun set and it started darkening, I swung down towards the fairgrounds and took a few frames of the county fair midway. No great shakes with 25 miles of air between us, but the stripes of the big U.S. flag flying over the midway are easily resolved - still fun stuff nonetheless.

By the way, whenever I shoot through a telescope with this long of a focal length, there are a couple tricks to follow. Since vibration during even a short exposure can blur the image, I tend to always make sure "mirror lockup" on the camera is enabled, along with a 2-second (or more!) delay. That way, the vibration caused by the moving mass of the DSLR mirror has passed before the much lighter shutter vanes makes the exposure. This always helps get the sharpest images when shooting with focal lengths of 1,000mm or more.

It is always fun to spend time with telescope and camera, especially from a high location, just to see what you can see. Generally more than you think you can!

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