An Evening On The Lake

On Saturday evening, June 16, some of us traveled to North South Lake for the regular dark sky trip there (my first time there, some of you might be surprised to know).

I cannot remember the names of everyone I saw, but I definitely saw Gowri Lakshminarayanan, Ed Rojas, and Peter Tagatac (welcome to astrophotography, Peter), along with Mike and Evan Brorby, Jeff Williams, Preston Stahly, Laura Mitchell, Ivan Gonzalez, and one more person and three members of a family whose names I am too sleepy to remember. (Sorry if I missed anyone — I have not slept much since waking up on Wednesday morning.) Peter Tagatac later added that the family of three were Lewis Fink, Jaimie Schwartz, and their son, Graham.  Also, the gentleman with the parallelogram mounted binoculars was John Kim, and that Preston’s wife, Linda, was there.

The skies were clear as we went into the nearby town of Haines Falls, and the few scattered clouds that we saw cleared up soon after. The moon shone brilliantly as it set over the lake, and we basked in the glory of its earthshine. Jupiter stared brightly at us soon enough.

After the sun set and the stars began to populate the sky, like alien ships forming up to attack an unsuspecting planet, there was just one patch of sky that was a hole in our starfield — the area around the Moon. Soon after the Moon set, however, we were delighted to the sight of stars being reflected on the lake.

The Milky Way popped up like a trail of smoke streaming over the mountain (or was it a hill), and it got more prominent soon. Saturn, that butterscotch flavored ice cream in the sky, was ‘surrounded’ (yeah, I’m being very lose with my words) by a few nebulae, and Mars rose up bright and red, just begging to be seen through a telescope, while knowing that we would be disappointed at not seeing any features on it in a small, 80mm aperture telescope.

Throughout the night bats flew for the insects (or so I heard), and owls hooted over and over, and some birds chirped; but the bird that I was looking for, Cygnus the Swan, did not join our party until much later, so it may still be many weeks before we can show Albireo during our outreach programs.

As some of us imaged, and yours truly stared blindingly wide eyed into the sky, the dome of the sky moved, like clockwork, albeit at a much slower pace than is shown at the Hayden Planetarium.

Soon Cassiopeia rose up into the sky, ‘dragging’ the Andromeda Galaxy in tow. There were bits of light pollution, of course, especially over the lake (towards the west-south-west), and to the east (towards Cassiopeia), and that latter bit obscured a bit of the arm of the Milky Way that stretched into the direction of Cassiopeia. Other than that, we had a mostly unobstructed night.  Very few low clouds appeared around early morning, along with some haze, but that also cleared up, although later we had some dew.

The Big Dipper set, heralding the start of a new day, and the beginning of the end of our star filled sky, but we were a dedicated bunch, not veering from our path until we faced certain light pollution from the Sun.

Some of us brought in binoculars: Peter, Jeff, John–with a delightfully large tripod mounted pair of binocs–and myself, if not more.  But it seemed that the almost everyone in the group (if not actually everybody) was there for astrophotography.

There were numerous setups with tracking systems, but a smaller number were untracked. Most of the imagers were DSLRs (full and cropped frames), and in the darkness I might have not noticed observers with actual telescopes. Some of the shooting was for time lapses, some of it was for specific targets (deep sky objects), while some more were for single frame long exposures without tracking.

It’s amazing how when I joined the club in 2016 I thought that DSLRs were only good for wide field landscape and starscape photography, and that telescopes were the only solution to photographing deep sky objects.  Here on my first trip to North South Lake I was seeing DSLRs with long focal length lenses being used to image deep sky objects.  And all the techniques that I had heard about in the days from when I was too intimidated to even approach an astronomy club (stacking, etc.) are being applied to imaging using DSLRs.

Anyway, I only shot a few untracked long exposures through my Canon SL1. Jeff, thanks for the batteries for my red light, for lending me Canon battery. Gowri, thanks for shining a light when my leg fell off — I mean my tripod’s leg fell off.