A couple of rafts floating down the river

While returning to Flagstaff from a quick trip the other day, we stopped for a few minutes at the Navajo bridge across the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry. Lee’s Ferry is the launch location for boat trips down the Colorado River through Marble Canyon and Grand Canyon. These rafts had probably launched within the hour and were beginning a multi-day trip down the river.

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Heavy rains in recent days had deposited a large load of silt into the Paria River—which empties into the Colorado River just below the boat launch site. Stream flow increased from a baseline of about 8 cfs (cubic feet per second) to around 1000 cfs.

Stream flow on the Paria River near Lee's Ferry.
Stream flow on the Paria River near Lee’s Ferry.

These boaters may have been hoping for clear water for the initial portion of their river trip—but did not get it.

 

An attempt at car trails

The other day I had a chance to shoot with another photographer—and the subject was car trails. Now, I’ve done star trails many times before but I’ve done car trails only once and that was in the thick fog at the Grand Canyon.

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Okay, let’s give it a try. So we set up along the side of a major highway with construction warning lights in the evening twilight. Is this starting to sound like a bad idea? Well, it all worked out well and no cameras were harmed in the process but standing that close to the road you begin to realize how many drivers aren’t really paying attention to anything but their phone.

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This image is filled with blue light that was the result of a law enforcement vehicle traveling by with its lights flashing.

Oh, and the day after I shot these images I learned from another blog that car trails are a cliché. See, for example, Item #7 from this list.

Wait! I don’t think there are that many car trails with blue flashing lights in them. Does this mean this photo breaks away from the cliché? Maybe. Probably not.

A Sneak Preview at the Restored Clark Telescope

Several years ago, Lowell Observatory recognized that the 117-year old Clark Telescope was in need of restoration and began raising money for the necessary work. One of the ways in which they were able to raise the capital was to create a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. It was through this campaign that I made a contribution to the restoration.

Yesterday, May 16, 2015, Lowell Observatory held a Sneak Preview of the restored Clark Telescope for “special donors.” Honestly, I was surprised that my contribution made me a special donor but I gladly accepted the invitation.

The evening program began with a slide show of the dismantling, cleaning, and finally, the reassembly of the telescope. The primary objective lens, not unexpectedly, was quite dirty from over a century of use. This may partly explain why I was unimpressed when I looked through the Clark back in 1999 at the planet Mars. Here’s an excerpt from an email in May 1999:

Yesterday evening I went to the Lowell Observatory since they had an open
telescope viewing night. The local astronomy club was also there with their
telescopes. I got a very nice look at Mars and was able to vaguely see the
northern polar ice cap. Later, I viewed Mars again through their [Clark]
telescope but it wasn’t as nice as through the smaller amateur scope. Oh, well.

The highlight of the evening, of course, was viewing the restored telescope and dome. The telescope itself is not ready for astronomical viewing as the restoration crew continue to finalize their adjustments and alignment. Soon, soon…

Here are a few photographs of the telescope.

The "business end" of the Clark Telescope with dials and finder scopes for alignment.
The “business end” of the Clark Telescope with dials and finder scopes for alignment.
The Clark Telescope, pedestal, and newly renovated floors and dome.
The Clark Telescope, pedestal, and newly renovated floors and dome.
The Clark Telescope. Note the truck tires used for rotating the dome.
The Clark Telescope. Note the truck tires used for rotating the dome.

Education has replaced research as the primary use of the Clark Telescope with guests enjoying both daytime tours of the telescope and viewing celestial objects in the evening. I’m looking forward to getting another view through the newly restored Clark Telescope.

Dark skies and the Milky Way

With the moon well past full combined with very clear and dark skies it was time again to do some night sky astrophotography. On an earlier outing, I had taken a few “exploratory” images of potential targets. It was now time to take some longer exposures.

My first target was Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, a dark nebula of gas and dust that is close to the star ρ Ophiuchi of the constellation Ophiuchus (and located adjacent to the better known constellation Scorpius).

Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. The planet Saturn is in Scorpio and is located in the upper right of the image.
Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. The planet Saturn is in Scorpio and is located in the upper right of the image.

My tools for the night were a Nikon D700 DSLR (fairly old camera technology by today’s standards), a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens (a short telephoto lens that works well for astrophotography), a tripod, and an iOptron SkyTracker equatorial mount for tracking the stars on long exposures.

I took 10 exposures each of 4-minutes duration and then stacked them using the (free) Deep Sky Stacker application. The resulting image was post processed in Photoshop CS6 using Astronomy Tools v1.6.

The result isn’t bad considering I’m still pretty much an amateur at this astrophotography thing. For comparison, check out this amazing version of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex at the APOD site.

The next night was almost as clear so I returned again to my viewing location near Mormon Lake. This time, I used an ultra-wide angle lens (16mm). Here you can see the Milky Way rising in the east with Saturn in Scorpio and visible in the center right part of the image. The Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex is also visible to the right of the Milky Way. The glow in the lower right is from the city of Phoenix—located over 150 kilometers to the south.

Milky Way rising.
Milky Way rising.

While capturing these images I was treated to the yipping of coyotes, hooting of owls, and could hear a small herd of elk grazing in a nearby meadow.

Spring snow and apple blossoms

A late season storm brought a bit of snow to Flagstaff a few days ago. Our crab apple tree had just burst forth with blossoms earlier in the week. For just a few hours there was a delightful juxtaposition of colorful blossoms and new snow.

What? Wait! I’ve already written this! Last year, same time we had a late season snow that covered the blossoms on the crab apple tree.

Spring snow on crab apple blossoms.
Spring snow on crab apple blossoms.

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As I said in that previous post, “Such is spring in northern Arizona. Warm and sunny days with occasional reminders of the departing winter.”