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Milk Way Chronicles: Oregon Wonderland

My Article from Charlie Warrens fantastic magazine Amateur Astronomy. A must read publication if you are an Astronut like me.

Oregon is a long way from Kansas. And by that, I mean more than just the miles and the hours driving. The Oregon coastline is something special. Strips of sand interspersed with rocky, lava strewn beaches with towering lush pines. Once there, it was obvious I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Let me tell you a story, about the journey of a Kansas boy wandering the Oregon coast in search of elusive photons.

It starts with my preparations to head out for the new moon in July 2017. The entirety of the Southwest was experiencing the monsoon season, and the skies had been covered with persistent and nearly complete cloud cover. Seeing how the Southwest region had been home for almost all my Milky Way landscapes, I was puzzled where I should go.

As the time to leave neared, I studied the cloud cover maps and found that the Northwest, by contrast, looked to be clear for weeks to come. Many of my followers had recommended Oregon previously to me, but the drive was staggeringly long. The Painted Hills in Eastern Oregon was 29 hours of driving. And the coast much further still.

Nature though had dictated that it was time to head to the Northwest. I started the journey with a stop at Devil’s Tower, then a night in Yellowstone, the Painted Hills, Crater Lake and finally the Oregon coast.

As I neared the Pacific Ocean, several people had suggestions of where to try the coast. South of Yachats seemed to be the consensus. So, as I headed there, a follower invited me to stop by for some help locating a spot to shoot. I stopped in to meet some of the most interesting and fun people on the planet. There was food, plenty of talk but then, at last, it was time to shoot.

I had scouted on my way up the coast, and it had surprised me how few locations were possible to shoot the coast, get any of the ocean in the image and still frame the Milky Way correctly. As I started to leave for my night of shooting, I invited one of my new friends to accompany me, watch and maybe they would get a tip or two on how to do this. With the offer accepted we headed out.

The trip to Cooks Chasm was relatively short. Maybe a half hour drive. At night, the area had acquired a new look. I could see the setting sun reflected in the ocean far to the west. The coming darkness shadowed everything making my other senses heighten as I walked down the pathway to the enormous slab of lava rock that waited below.

Much of this image is a visual extravaganza, but the missing aspect is the sound. The noise here was deafening. I stood maybe 2 feet from a 30-40 foot drop to the pounding ocean surf. This image is of Cook’s Chasm. Here the Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well put on fantastic shows (you might google them) and the ocean going up into this chasm is amazingly loud and powerful. Every thirty seconds or so there would be an incredible whomp that shook the ground.

I had done a panorama at Thor’s Well before this shot, but the tide was low enough and ocean calm enough (light wind and clear skies) that the Well was not going to cooperate with a fantastic gush of water. I think it will be a cool picture, but I was impressed after looking at the camera screen at the ethereal nature of the ocean splashing against the rocks in this shot.

The ground was encrusted with small black mussels here which crunched under foot as I walked over from Thor’s Well to do this shot, a distance of just a couple of hundred feet. There was a slight spray and mist in the air that made the cool sea air quite nippy while I setup and waited for the shot to finish. I drew my coat around me tighter and hoped my dew heater would keep the lens clear of water droplets. I decided to sit and observe the panorama taking place, vigilant for cars driving by on the distant roadway. I normally sit rather than stand on uneven ground in the dark. When I stand in the dark for long periods, it is often becomes quite disorienting and harder than you would think. The blackness causes one to start swaying, and the risk of falling becomes worrisome.

I stared down into the chasm and watched the brightening and darkening of the waters as they surged in and out, that coupled with the sound was completely mesmerizing. The slight smell of the ocean churning below me drifted up to my nostrils. The beach’s sensory assault was so elemental, so powerful I couldn’t help but be tranfixed. Primodial memories of oceans tugged at some portion of my brain, the seeming distant experiences of long forgotten ancestors.

The shot had ended, and I wasn’t even aware or thinking about it for a long period, watching the waves break. I sat spellbound by the sound and the visual spectacle.

At last, I stirred and realized the panorama had finished, gathered my gear, and retreated back to Jimmy to end a fantastic evening of extraordinary sensory delight.

Len kept totally clear with the Dew Destroyer and Perfect focus with the Reveal focus filter both available at:

http://davelaneastrophotography.com

42 Shots clipped left a bit, 55mm, ISO 8000, F1.6

Milky Way Chronicles Tip of the issue: Winter is coming. Make sure if you are going to shoot pictures outdoors to have a dew removal system with you. It can be as simple as rubber banding a couple of handwarmers to your lens, or having the very light portable Dew Destroyer system, or having a large car battery, controller, and strap for a day’s long excursion.

Too many times I’ve had to cut shots short because of dew or frost. Handwarmers work well but only for an hour or so. So be ready to swap them or just stop shooting once the lens frosts over. Whatever you do don’t miss a great shot because of dew or frost, make sure you are ready when opportunity knocks.

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Centered on Cygnus

Centered on Deneb in Cygnus

 

I took this deep space astrophotography image of the maelstrom that is Cygnus, the scorched path of Phaethon’s disastrous ride. This image is centered on the star Deneb in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. 

In mythology Cycnus later Cygnus was a devoted friend of Phaethon, the mortal son of Helios, the charioteer of the Sun.  Phaethon was a bold and headstrong teenager, and like most teenagers, he thought he knew more than his “Old-Man.” 

One night his bold nature got the better of him, and despite the advice of his friend Cycnus, and the warnings of his father, Phaethon took out the family car for a bit of a joy ride.  The trouble was, the family car was the Sun Chariot and its horsepower was provided by real horses, Phaethon realized very quickly that his joy ride was a mistake, but it was too late.  The horses that pulled the Sun Chariot were strong and wild, and only the strength of Helios could control them.  Phaethon’s wild ride took him dangerously close to the vault of the heavens and threatened to singe the earth and destroy the inhabitants of both.  Cycnus pleaded with Jupiter to stop this destruction, and with all of the creation endangered, Jupiter sent a thunderbolt toward the rampaging chariot and its occupant.  With a terrible explosion, Phaethon was thrown from the chariot and the fiery steeds were stopped long enough for Helios to gain control and guide them back to their stables.  Phaethon, being mortal could not survive the force of a thunderbolt and fell to earth like a shooting star, his charred and lifeless remains landed in the river Eridanus.

Cycnus could not leave his friend to the creatures of the river to feed on and wanted to give Phaethon a proper burial.  Cycnus dove repeatedly into the river to gather the charred remains of his friend.  Jupiter, watching this selfless display of devotion was moved, and when Cycnus had completed his task of love and honor.  Jupiter decided to give Cycnus a gift of immortality and changed his name to Cygnus and him into a glorious swan.  This swan would be placed forever in the heavens amidst the scorched path of Phaethon’s disastrous ride, the Milky Way.

I got a new mount, and after the predictable violent storm that accompanies new equipment, I got a chance to try out my new iOptron CEM-60EC. After a bit of polar alignment with just a polar scope, I was able to get 3-minute unguided subs with just the tiniest bit of shift, maybe a pixel or two.

So 63 images a little over 3 hours of exposure, darks, bias, and flats applied. 85mm Zeiss Otus lens.

It’s darker than I normally do deep space stuff and a bit more vibrant. 

So what do you think? I want to hear from you guys, brighter or is this good?

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Steens Mountain: Freezing at the Desert

Steens Mountain looming over the Alvord Desert Area

 

 

 

Steen Mountains is just a few 100 yards from the Alvord Desert. But those few 100 yards involve a drop of 7-8,000 feet.  This panorama doesn’t show the vastness of the drop here, but the temperature of the desert below was over 95 degrees while on top of the mountain at night the temperature was in the 20’s.  There was a haze of smoke from distant fires that caused just enough mist in the valleys to shift the horizon blue.

Originally I had planned to shoot the desert and lake area which looks light tan (center right). But after driving to the top and scoping out the snow and the odd crags at the top, I thought this is my shot. 

I headed back down to go get lunch and saw a couple of the wild horses in the area and shot this one. (with a camera of course). When I came up later the mosquitoes were insane given the height and I had to soak myself in Deet and bundle up against the cold. I set the camera outside Jimmy after the shot was done and collected some great shots of the Milky Way from 10,000 feet.

 

 

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Toroweap Revisited.

 

 

Now some of you know, who have been following me for awhile that I have two places in the Southwest that I really enjoy going. Places that are pretty magical and pretty remote. Number one is White Pocket Arizona and the other is Toroweap sometimes called Tuweap. Now I think that both of these places are really swell and I always enjoy going to see them. As a matter of fact, if you haven’t been to either one of these, they need to go on the bucket list and you need to get a high road clearance 4×4 and get out there. Totally worth it.

I had been hanging out a couple of days in Kanab, Utah when I heard Colleen from Ravens Heart Gallery say that the river was running blue. The times I’d been before it had been more muddy colored. So I loaded up Jimy and we headed out on a fine June day. The journey was pretty uneventful and I even made it with an hour or so to spare. I tried to catch some shuteye at the campground without any luck and then headed down to the end of the road to get ready. June is my favorite month to image. Pretty much right after astronomical dark you can setup to capture the Milky Way and foregrounds.

I knew I was only going to get this one shot and was fine with that

 

 

Setting up this close to a 3,000-foot drop (I actually shot this again even closer to make sure I got the bottom) is nerve-wracking. It’s really hard to get an iPhone to focus in the dark with a headlamp by the way. 

I had to drop down about 5-6 feet from a ledge above this to get the shot I wanted. I had about 3 feet to play with from the edge to the wall behind me. It was a perfect night,  probably in the mid 70s, with just a very light breeze. The sky was crystal clear, the stars steady and without “winking” which is a great sign, the images should be impressive. I leaned back against the wall behind me as it is disorienting to stand in the dark this close to a massive drop. I leaned back then put my hands back on the rock to steady me and watched the camera gear do its thing. It was excessively quiet. I couldn’t even hear the water running swiftly below me. As I watched and waited suddenly I felt something large crawling on my hand.

Now I know the last thing you can do is panic on the edge of a cliff. So I flicked my hand and popped on my headlamp to quickly look what it was. It was a large fat Scorpion which was now stunned and a couple feet away from me. Prioritizing the situation I turned and paused the panorama and then turned my attention back to the scorpion. He was crawling back into a crevasse and I was in no mood to try to battle him and risk falling so I turned off my headlamp restarted the panorama and hoped for the best. This time I stood swaying a bit for the remaining 10 minutes of the shot. Sweet dreams are not made of these moments. 

I was really fortunate I got this shot because a few days later a huge fire broke out north of here and the whole area had a haze of smoke. As soon as this shot finished I got my gear and went up top to take the Milky Way images. I think I just shuddered remembering the encounter.

Pretty much normal pano specs for me, 42 images. I thought the airglow here was wild until I ran into a couple of nights in Yellowstone. Enjoy everyone!!

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Total Eclipse of my Mind.

    Total Solar Eclipse Gerald MissouriTotal Solar Eclipse Gerald Missouri

Here’s a real pro tip, never show up for a shoot doing something you have never done before. Oh, I wished I had listened to that advice 🙂

I decided to break out the 150-600mm Sigma Art lens with a 1.4x converter for this occasion (I forgot my nice Canon 300mm with a doubler).

While it’s a fantastic lens it is HEAVY! The ball head on my tracker kept slipping since I was aiming nearly straight up and instead of being smart and just swapping that out I switched to a standard tripod without tracking and used its heavier ball head since the eclipse was about to begin. 

I reset the center point of the tripod multiple times and as we entered totality the intervalometer decided to lock up once I removed the solar filter. 

Not sure what happened but had to turn the camera off, disconnect the intervalometer and then manual press shoot. I manually increased the ISO up and down to get the brighter and darker pics then plugged back in the intervalometer with the light from my cellphone and shot more. So I missed most of the eclipse visually but at least didn’t have an epic fail, just a fail.

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Unfortunate Glory.

Yellowstone Lake

Unfortunate Glory. The day at Yellowstone National Park had been an interesting mix of sun and clouds. As night approached large thunderheads filled with lightning passed overhead. Rumbles echoed throughout the park. The prediction was clearing at 7 pm.  As 8 o’clock approached the sky remained ominously dark and cloudy. 

I had driven by this smallish lake earlier in the day and noticed its excellent alignment with the Milky Way. As I got out to check I was accosted by mosquitoes down by the shoreline, enough to drive me back to the car. After exploring the park further, I returned as night began to creep in. The clouds had begun to retreat from the east to the west (overhead). The bad news was now the wind had kicked up to 20-30 mph. The surface of the lake which had been a mirror earlier in the day now was opaque other than brief moments of stillness. I went to the water’s edge where the wind was much calmer and 50 or so feet below the top edge. 

Again I was driven back by a swarm of mosquitos. I decided to retreat to this spot and shoot instead where the wind would be an ally in keeping mosquitoes off of me.  As an added bonus there were tons of little blue flowers to cheer me on. I setup my equipment to shoot the ground and retreated to the car. There were still a few minor wisps of clouds up high and some got reflected in the edge of the water where being more shallow the reflections were much better. Looking at the camera I could see the tinge of color from the sky reflected in the water. Wow was it really that strong?

The answer was yes, another amazing night of airglow color at Yellowstone after storms. I think it has to be related. 

This photo was proof of something, the wind had dismayed me and I almost got back in Jimmy and departed, due to the wind messing with the reflections, but sometimes the best shots can be those you think least likely to succeed.

Anyway, the sky was enough to make me literally do a little dance of joy and yell out a couple of expletives that were apparently heard by a nearby wolf, just across the road behind me. There were no answers to his cry so I howled back my pleasure loaded my car and departed.

42 images, (some replacement of blurred areas with extra flowers), ISO 8000, f1.6, 55mm

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Shooting Oregon at Night with a Sony and a ROAR!

Cooks Chasm Oregon with a Sony and the Milky Way at night
Cooks Chasm Oregon at night

I really like this picture taken with my Sony camera. Maybe my favorite, at least at the moment. While much of this is a visual extravaganza the really missing aspect is the sound. The noise here was deafening. I stood maybe 2 feet from a 30-40 foot drop to the pounding ocean. This is Cook’s Chasm. Here the Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well put on fantastic shows (you might google them) and the ocean going up into this chasm is amazingly loud and powerful. Every thirty seconds or so there would be an incredible whomp that literally shook the ground I stood on. 

I had done a panorama at Thor’s Well before this shot, but the tide was low enough and ocean calm enough (light wind and clear skies) that the Well was not going to cooperate. I think it will be a cool picture but I was impressed after looking at the camera with the ethereal nature of the ocean splashing against the rocks in this shot. 

The ground was encrusted with small black mussels here which crunched underfoot as I walked over to do this shot. There was a slight spray and mist in the air that made the shot quite nippy while I waited for the shot to finish. I drew my coat around me tighter and hoped the dew heater would keep the lens clear of water droplets. Sitting this close to the edge, I normally sit as standing on the uneven ground in the dark for long periods, because it is way harder than it sounds. I stared into the chasm and watched the brightening and darkening of the waters as they surged in coupled with the sound, it was almost mesmerizing. The shot ended and I wasn’t even thinking about it for a period of time watching the waves break. 

At last, I stirred and realized I was done and retreated back to Jimmy to end a fantastic evening of sensory delight.

Lens kept totally clear with the Dew Destroyer and Perfect focus with the Reveal focus filter both available at:

Great Milky Way Images And Astro Products

42 Shots Sony A7RII, clipped left a bit, ISO 8000, F1.6, overexposed clouds added back properly

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Antares Rho Ophiuchi Region

antares region

 

The clouds surrounding the star system Rho Ophiuchi compose one of the closest star forming regions. Rho Ophiuchi itself is a binary star system visible in the light-colored region on the image right. The star system, located only 400 light years away, is distinguished by itscolorful surroundings, which include a red emission nebula and numerous light and dark brown dust lanes. Near the upper right of the Rho Ophiuchi molecular cloud system is the yellow star Antares, while a distant but coincidently-superposed globular cluster of stars, M4, is visible between Antares and the red emission nebula