Back in late summer, I had a chance to capture multiple long-exposure images of a portion of the Milky Way that is rich in star clusters, nebulae, and dust clouds. I had seen some online images of the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and was certain that it was bright and large enough to capture with a DSLR camera and small telephoto lens.
The image above is a stack of 11 photographs. Why stack multiple images? Single exposures of the faint details in the night sky will usually have a lot of noise. Stacking multiple exposures will help eliminate random noise in the image and improves the overall signal-to-noise ratio. Even Hubble Space Telescope stacks images!
These images were shot at ISO 800, 60 second exposure, and f/2.8 aperture. The lens is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G. The camera was mounted on an iOptron SkyTracker. Image stacking was done using Deep Sky Stacker. The stacked image was then post-processed in Photoshop using the Astronomy Tools Action Set.
The weather has been pretty dry across northern Arizona this fall and, as a result, we have done all of our mountain biking in Flagstaff.
But the good and dry weather finally ended and we have found ourselves down in Sedona riding several times since Thanksgiving week. The rain that fell in late November resulted in the trails being in great condition. The dry and dusty trails are now perfectly damp and tacky providing great traction and grip (“gription”). Some folks call it Hero dirt.
It’s October and time to head to southwest Utah for some autumn mountain biking.
We managed to get out of Flagstaff at the “early” hour of 8 a.m. and arrived at Gooseberry Mesa shortly after noon. After a quick lunch we were off on Windmill Trail. A short distance from the trailhead brings you to the north edge of the mesa with amazing views.
The past several weeks have presented opportunities to photograph objects in the night sky. Exceptionally clear skies and dark nights allowed me to capture some long exposures of portions of the Milky Way. Other nights had interesting alignments of the moon with one of more planets.
Early in September, Venus and Jupiter aligned with the Moon in a nearly straight line in the western sky just after sunset. Compare this with an image taken a month earlier. In the course of a month, Mercury has dropped below the horizon while Venus and Jupiter have switched locations with Venus rising higher in the sky as Jupiter dips lower.
It was finally time to begin the long drive back home but we had a few more places we wanted to visit on the return. Our first set of stops was in eastern Washington. I had heard of the Palouse before and we decided to drive the long way through this region. I’m certain that taking a guided photography tour of this region will result in hitting all the right places at the right time but we had just a few hours so it was pretty much whatever we happened to see.
It was finally time to move to another area in the North Cascades and we decided that Mount Baker would provide some interesting hikes.
We departed the Cascades Pass Road and returned to Marblemount NPS Ranger Station to refill our water bottles. Unfortunately, their water system had problems and was not safe to drink. It’s interesting that all the campsites and campgrounds we visited either had no water or had water problems. Luckily, we carried a 5-gallon jug of water and still had enough for a few more days.
We stopped at the USFS Ranger station on our way to Mount Baker to get water…and it was closed for scheduled maintenance. But there was water available outside so we finally had a chance to refill.
We thought that we were almost there and that it would only be a short trip from the Columbia River Gorge to the Northern Cascade mountains. Wrong, again. There’s a lot of terrain to cover between these two locations. So we drove east on I-84 until we could cross the river on Highway 97 then north to Yakima, Washington. We stopped to load up on current maps (our highway maps of this area are old!). The good folks at the Visitor Center recommended a visit to Leavenworth—a Bavarian-style city. So we did. It was…um….interesting.
And, still, we had a long ways to drive.
We stopped in Winthrop—which had a nice grocery store—to stock up on food supplies for the next several days. Heading west we encountered several campgrounds—all full to capacity. It’s the beginning of the weekend so we weren’t too surprised. We finally drove down a Forest Service road to a trail head and decided this would be our camping spot for the night.
We’re finally in the Cascades. Dang—that took a long time to get here!
The first portion of our trip was well planned. We had permits for backpacking in specific areas and dates. We were going to meet our friends at an agreed upon time and location. The rest of the trip? We didn’t have a plan at all. So where to go next? After tossing around several ideas we decided on the North Cascades in Washington. With a destination selected, it was time to head to the Cascades—but not by the shortest or most direct route. We would make an intermediate stop at the Columbia Gorge.
Oh, it was worth it. The waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge are many and very beautiful. We arrived in late afternoon and stayed well into the evening. Watching the setting sun light up the upper portion of Multnomah Falls made it all worthwhile.