Astrophotographers hangout. Invite friends and notice chat bar on bottom.
LOL... well, maybe not, but it was a good spot, good friends and a good time!
A small group of us were at the corner of White River and Deschutes at a group camp site in the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation (I didn't realize the reservation extended that far). A nice little camp site in a Bortle 2 sky, although it was a bit bright for Bortle 2 because of moisture in the air. A clean bathroom (a decent forest service outhouse really), a rushing river, and a railroad track that seemed to service a 500 billion car train about every 15 minutes (or at least it seemed like it). Scott likes trains and enjoyed them when they went by. I don't, and found them a bit annoying. But hey, I'd trade some trains for clouds any day (or night!).
The forecast was "partly cloudy" for the entire weekend. My motto is: I'd rather be there and say, 'Yup, it was full of sucker holes', then stay home and hear about how awesome it turned out to be and how I really missed some great viewing! This weekend was no exception and I went out there after packing in the rain.
As soon as we crossed the mountain line, the sky went from white to blue. Things are looking up... woot!
The wind was blowing pretty good while we unpacked and setup the gear (which is growing to more and more stuff each year.. doh!). My wind blocker did an excellent job of shielding my setup from the wind though and I was happy I brought it.
As twilight set in the sky remained clear and stayed clear all night! Praise God, we're havin' us a star party!
A little moisture in the air kept the sky from being either as steady or as dark as it could have been, but it was dark and clear all the same. By far the best night of the year (for me at least).
The Observing Session
I had the 16" Lightbridge with me and was looking forward to excellent galaxy, star cluster and globular views with a few planetary nebulae here and there.
I stuck to using the 35mm Panoptic and the 22mm and 12mm Nagler's all night. No higher power was really usable, but that's fine as I wasn't observing really tiny objects.
The first object I pulled up was M66 and jinkies la'winkines it was AWESOME! For some reason I always look at the Leo Trio in a wide field eyepiece because I enjoy the multiple galaxy view. This time I had it in the 12mm and oh my... it was incredible. Contrasty, modeled, I could see the "6" shape of it with dust lanes and whatnot... it's going to be a great night! Moving to M65 I enjoyed the rich dust lane and oval shape knowing it's a tilted edge on galaxy.
I won't go through all of the observations, but suffice it to say that it's been since last August I had a session anywhere near this nice and it was a welcome experience.
West mentioned that I should observe the ISS as it goes by, so in honor of him, I did. It was great. Severely bright, but the distinct H shape with golden panels was easy to see. I wish I would have thrown a variable polarizer on first though.. doh!
The Imaging Session
Assuming I'd be imaging through sucker holes, I had only 2 targets in mind for this weekend - Leo Trio on the first night and and Markarian's Chain on the second. Because the sky was clear the entire night both nights, I had more time then I was even hoping for and I was able to not only shoot them for 3 hours each, but I also got 3 other images.
I started the night doing 2 things I've never really done before:
1) Drift aligning. My polar alignment technique is pretty good and I generally get close enough to guide nicely and take good long subs with having a manageable amount of drift. But I wanted to take my images to the next level and the easiest way I can do that with existing gear is to dial in my polar alignment better because as Tom Carrico says, "a mount that doesn't need correcting will produce better images". So I tried to set up the mount as absolutely best as I possibly could. I did the drift alignment using PHD and enabling the graph, but disabling the guide output so I could watch the drift. It worked perfectly and I was drift aligned within 40 minutes or so.
2) Focus, focus, focus. I feel that I generally have good focus as my focus routine works well. But... I thought I'd try to take it to the next level be getting close, then getting it closer. I did my initial focus on Arcturus with the Bahtinov mask, but then, I took long, guided 2 minute subs and checked the mask spikes on the little tiny stars to make sure they were good. Sure enough, even though Arcturus showed the spikes to be great looking, there was some indicators of focus issues on the little stars, so I got those perfect as well making TINY increments with the WalterLee Tech heliFocus (I love that thing!).
Since I had the time, I wanted to shoot varying types of targets so I shot:
1) Galaxy group with large galaxies (Leo Trio)
2) Galaxy group with small and more distant galaxies (Markarian's chain)
3) Globular Cluster (M3)
4) H II Region (Pelican Nebula)
5) Planetary Nebula (Dumbell Nebula)
The images are in this Photo Album: