Suggestions for stargazing while camping

Discussion in 'Astronomy / Star Gazing' started by Douggro, Jul 30, 2017.

  1. Douggro

    Douggro Active Member

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    One of the great things about camping is that you're generally away from the major cities and the night sky opens up for you to enjoy. I've been an amateur astronomer for the past 20 years and now serve as one of the Directors for the Table Mountain Star Party here in WA. I thought I'd share a few of my ideas and suggestions for those interested in learning and/or enjoying the wonder that can be the night sky.

    First, a telescope not required. In fact, unless you're an avid stargazer like me or your camping trip is specifically for doing astronomy, I'd suggest not buying/taking one with you. You already have a decent set of observing tools with you: your eyes. Take a chair, find a spot away from any lights that you can get away from with a clear view of the sky, sit back and look up. Let your eyes adapt to the darkness; your night vision improves dramatically away from white lights after 20 minutes or so. If you live near any major urban area, I promise that you're going to see many more stars than you've ever seen at home.

    Start learning the night sky. You don't need to be an expert - unless you want to be. Just learning some of the major constellations, where they are and what time of the year you can see them will add to your enjoyment. A simple planisphere can be a great aid for this; they're inexpensive, easy to use and fit in a drawer. Or you could use one of the many phone apps to guide you through what you're seeing when you look up. (tip: turn the brightness down on your phone screen to save your night vision.)

    I am of the opinion that if you're going to use a viewing aid while camping, a pair of binoculars is about as good as you can get. Most everyone has a pair lying around, and even a pair of modest 7x35's will add to the enjoyment. They take up very little space and have other uses ("No uni-taskers!", according to Alton Brown). If you've brought your chair, you have a more stable base to hold the binos and get better looks at those fuzzy patches you may spot. If you want to expand your binocular viewing knowledge, I highly recommend the book Binocular Highlights by Gary Seronik. My wife is a binocular observer exclusively, and this is one of her go-to books for using her binoculars (10x50's, 15x80's and giant 25x100's).

    Take someone with you - the spouse, SO, kids, friends.. Not only is it safer, but it's more fun when you're sharing the experience! The night sky is something we all share. It's part of our history, full of lore and inspiration, and best shared with those around you.

    If you want more information about getting out and enjoying the night sky, contact your local astronomy club; most are affiliated with the Astronomical League.

    Enjoy!
     
  2. f5moab

    f5moab Retired from the Federal Government

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    Mean like this?:D
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    A program like SKY MAP for android is pretty good too!
     
  3. Douggro

    Douggro Active Member

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    Yeah, like that! Nice pics; DSLR on a a barn door mount?
    Top pic: Milky Way with the Summer Triangle (Vega, Deneb and Altair) showing the Great Rift down to Saggitarius.
    Bottom pic: Cassiopea, Andromeda and Pegasus with a little aurora activity thrown in.
     
  4. f5moab

    f5moab Retired from the Federal Government

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    I'd have to look but it is either a Nikon D700 or D800 depending on the photo and the lens setup. Gitzo tripod, carbon fiber with Markins Ball Head with Really Right Stuff mounting plates. Using NIKKOR AF-S 24-70 F/2.8G EDIF ZOOM (bottom), the other NIKKOR AF-S 70-200 F/2.8D EDIF VR ZOOM (top).

    Top photo taken in Canyonlands NP on the White Rim Trail (supposed to be one of the darkest spots in the USA); bottom photo take off Dome Plateau east of Moab.

    No barn door mount needed. Used a short focal length with the fast lenses, a high ISO and quite a few 20-25 second exposures. Then in a program called Deep Sky Tracker the photos are aligned and blended together. (In fact the top photo shows some star trails starting to show. From what I have read star trails start at around 25-30 seconds. I took those photos (about 50 for each shot) a few years ago, and just got around to processing them a few weeks ago when I go the DST software and figured out how to use it. Takes a while since I do not have a new super laptop computer.

    I do not take star photos often, in fact hardly at all. Preferring landscapes in full daylight, but not taking much of anything anymore; no longer that interested in photography anymore. But when camping in the middle of the desert it can get boring and those damn coyotes keep me awake with their howling and yapping. So I get up, take some photos and join in with the howling and in the case of the dome plateau, fired off a few rounds to move them out and shut them up.

    As for what they are; thanks, I really had no idea, just that it looked cool. Just figured it was stars and the Milky Way.

    If I was younger, I might be interested in an astronomy club. But Idaho Falls is a good hour away and too old to learn.
     
  5. Douggro

    Douggro Active Member

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    Nice work for someone not into astrophotgraphy!
    In your Moab shot, look at the trail of six bright stars that start above the bluff on the left and follow them up on a slight diagonal to the right; from the second star in the row, go up to that fuzzy blob: that's the Andromeda galaxy, our closest neighbor (aside from our satellite galaxies) in the Local Group - a meager 2 million light years away.
     
  6. f5moab

    f5moab Retired from the Federal Government

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    Internet. You can find detail instructions on how to take a photo of anything. I read how to do it one time and eventually got around to trying it out. Just like fireworks, only took firework photos one time per instructions from the internet and have no desire to do it again.
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