Day & Night at the Death Valley

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The Death Valley is a great place to stargaze. Many Astronomical events take place there. I am aware of several events that took place around New Year time usually, and got invitations few time to attend star parties (Stargazers and Astronomers meet up events).

A little journal entry were written earlier in this Log Book of the weekend of February the 15th and the 16th of 2013, right after the Chelyabinsk meteor event, or more accurately, the Chelyabinsk meteoroids event since the debris from the meteor has reached the surface of the planet Earth.

The journal entry was about the road to the Death Valley, and the night in which the Star Trails photo was taken. The journal entry can be viewed here.

Death Valley 1st night -1

 

The night of observation on the 15th near my yellow tent was beautiful, with little light pollution which is something expected in this national park.

The night featured the planet Jupiter next to the star Aldebaran of the constellation Taurus, the bull, following the beautiful young Pleiades. The observation was made with the aid of 100 mm binoculars that gave me splendid view of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Death Valley 1st night -3

 

This view always remind me of the Arabic old mythology version of the night sky where the star Aldebaran is an old shepherd man following the teenager Pleiades and trying to merry her by giving her his sheep. The sheep represented in the story as the star cluster Hyades. The exact translation of the word Aldebaran from Arabic is not really the follower, but more like the planer, the person who plan a strategy that no one else know about, and in the story, the strategy is following the Pleiades. The word stalker is better used as a translation than the follower since stalker plans his strategy, and makes sure no one know the plan, until they capture what they stalk.

Death Valley 1st night -2

 

Which in other topic, the Sun might be part of this cluster Hyades due to the proximity of the cluster distance and star composition to the Sun, and the share of the motion trajectory in space. Although the mythology was created, or borrowed long time ago, the story is not much different from today understanding, at least in term of age. Aldebaran is an old star that used up most of its hydrogen fuel and starts to burn Helium. The Pleiades is young star cluster that might not even be bright enough to see when the dinosaurs were around.

The hunter, Orion Constellation and his dog, Canis Major constellation are following the stars mentioned earlier making this typical winter night sky view.

Death Valley 1st night -4

 

The next day was spent hiking around the geological featured of the Death Valley such as Red Cathedral which featured beautiful red rocks, Zabriskie Point with its black peak in the middle of yellow golden hills that feature the Golden Canyon trail, and the lake which called Bad Water.

Death Valley day-1

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Death Valley day-9

 

The lake is mostly dry, and has considerable amount of salt, and happens to be the lowest known surface in North America.

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Death Valley day-16

Death Valley day-17

 

 

At the end of the day, I was so dehydrated, even when I drank about 3 liters of water. Yes it was winter, and there were clouds, but it was still hot, and the air near the surface is very dry.

Before I went back to Los Angeles, I took a moment to visit the sign of the national park, and observed again the Andromeda Galaxy and took a photo with them all in the same frame.

Death Valley 2nd night -1

 

Some of the clouds survived the mountain range from the west and were heading to the east. Their shape showed the effect of the low pressure and temperature of the mountain peak, where they moist into clouds, and going back to the lower elevation where they start to dissipate. I framed this with a photograph that included my car.

Death Valley 2nd night -2

Death Valley 2nd night -4

Death Valley 2nd night -3

 

February 15th & 16th – 2014

The Death Valley, California.

-Ahmed

Camelopardalids Meteor Shower

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It was predicted by Astronomers around the world of a new meteor shower on May 23rd/24th -2014 that will radiant from the north part of the sky from the constellation Camelopardalids.

The predilections estimated a strong meteor shower of 200 shooting star per hour and possible a meteor shower storm that could reach easily more than a thousand shooting stars per hour.

The meteor would not be as active normally, however, this year, Earth would pass the path of a faint dim comet (magnitude 12 at best) where it left some of its debris. The inclination of the comet is nearly 20 degree according the calculation made by the observatories that were observing the comet with the massive equipment that can reveal faint comets.

The comet was 1st discovered autonomously in February 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project (LINEAR), and was given the title 209P/LINEAR. It was confirmed to be a comet a month after by human eye.

There were controversy in the prediction, and few astronomers disagree with it, and thought the dates that the meteor shower might be active would be 2019 instead of 2014.

Camelopardalids Meteor Shower -1

 

I went to observe the meteor shower on darker location than where I live, so I head north near Castaic lake. The dark site normally has no big crowed, and sometime I see and meet few other astronomers or stargazer near me, but nothing like what I saw that night on May 2014. I arrived to the scene a couple of hours before midnight, and yet, I couldn’t find a place to park my car. The place was filled with people who gathered to check the event. They were well prepared with food and picnic chairs. The place usually is very quiet, yet, that night, it felt like musical concert was going to play its music any minute.

I was happy and shocked at the same time to see the number of people that showed up. I am glad to see much enthusiasm. So I parked a little further than the crowds where I still can hear them, but far enough not to disturb each other.

Camelopardalids Meteor Shower -3

 

After setting up the camera and the chairs for my fiancé and I, I tried to locate the Camelopardalids constellation. The constellation is very dim, and its brightest star is nearly of  4th magnitude. Camelopardalids locate between Ursa Major and the constellation Cassiopeia and opposite of Draco if the North Star was used as a center point of reference.  The constellation was low in the horizon and was covered by the dark hills in front of me. This won’t stop the observation, since the constellation serves as an indicator where the meteor will radiate from.

The constellation Camelopardalids (Giraffe) or Cameloparous was well known to the ancient Chinese astronomers, and was start to grab attention of the western world in 1614 where it was given its name by the astronomer Bartschius. In his words, the constellation reminded him of the camel that carried Rebecca to Isaac.

On the nights of the 23rd and 24th, I only saw two small dim shooting star. The highlight event however, was a bright long lasting fire ball that crossed the sky from the North Star to the big dipper leaving a long trail of smoke. It was my fiancé 1st fireball observation.

Camelopardalids Meteor Shower -5

 

Nothing else was observed after. It was fewer meteors than a normal night where I normally see at least one meteor an hour. That wasn’t the case that night where I spend more than 4 hours. Few patchs of clouds might covered some. The marine layer was present from the nearby lake and covered much of the light pollution of the area where I actually can see dimmer stars than I normally do in that particular location.

Camelopardalids Meteor Shower -4

Camelopardalids Meteor Shower -2

 

The observation reports from across the world were posted after in the internet with big disappointments. This is normal to have a disappointment like this for any sky related activity. It is hard to predict with so many direct and indirect variable in hands. My fiancé and I personally were happy with the fireball.

Castiac Lake, CA.

May 23rd/24th -2014

-Ahmed

 

 

Star Trail of the Sequoia

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Flat grounds are always recommended to observe the night sky, where one can find the heavenly bodies’ easily due to lack of obstacles such as trees, building, or landscape such as hills or mountains. I did not get this luxury when I camped in the Sequoia National Forest, California. In return, I gained other advantages that helped me in my stargazing, backpacking weekend. There was no heavy light pollution for being away from major cities or towns, and whatever light pollution there was, it was blocked by the giants trees. Another advantage was the elevation of 5000 ft (~ a kilometer and half) above sea level.

On Friday June 1st, I arrived after passing a beautiful lake goes by the name Lake Success near Porterville, Springville towns. I met and joined a group of backpackers that I was going to spend the weekend with. We camped near our trailhead in place called Coy Flat campground.

I woke up with few dears passing my tent, and got ready to hit the trail. We passed few creeks that were part of the Tulare River and small human made, and natural made bridges (falling trees).

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Sequoia National Forest-4

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Sequoia National Forest-2

 

We reached our distention. After, I checked the surrounding, with admiration to the massive size trees. I picked up my tent location to be away from the rest so I can have my night of astrophotography without disturbing.

Sequoia National Forest-1

 

Then I got to trek and take a look at the sequoia, fir, and pine trees. The place I was in wasn’t at the heart of the forest, nor the densest, yet, the trees were still so big, that many of them had to be cut open to make way for the passers. Another feature that was notable on the tallest trees was burning marking. I heard from the locals that the seeds of the trees need to be burn in order for them to be able to come out of their shells and grow.  The obvious explanation for the cause of the fire is lightning strikes.  It’s beautiful how the constant occurring of natural phenomena for many years can shape life.

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This forest considered to being one of the richest consternation of the endangered sequoia trees in the world. This thought gave a little more romance to the experience I was having of stargazing by relating the giant trees to the giant objects of the night sky and their great distances.

The night curtains start to cover the day, and the brightest summer stars start to twinkle against the dark blue background, above the campfire.  We exchange stories in many subjects of life. We talked about the forest, the bears, and history of paper and newspaper.

When the sky turns completely dark, the fire was put out, and everyone went to their tent for a good night sleep. The Moon was nearly full, so it was present for most of the night and light up my way to my tent.

Sequoia National Forest-10

 

The trees were so high, they swallowed and cover up the moon even when it was 35 degree above the horizon. I can see Vega clearly, and Arcturus (not so clearly), and the planets Saturn and Mars. Then, the camera were set up, and left alone around 10 pm, to capture the twinkle.

00The view above my tent. 7 hours of shooting (June - 2nd3rd - 2012). Sequoia National Forest, CA.

 

Inside my tent, the temperature was warm. There was no need for rain cover. I turned off any light source and enjoyed the view from my tent ceiling.

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June 1st ~ 3rd 2012

Sequoia National Forest, California.

-Ahmed

Nature will be Nature.

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The go by many names, most used is wildfire. They appear and disappear in their habitat, part of nature, part of life cycle. They bring new life in their distraction, and clean up unwanted grow.

The smoke can extend for long distances, and reach towns nearby many kilometers or miles away. The 1st time I saw any hint in person for this phenomena was yellow smoky skies and the smell of grill cooking fire, in early afternoon back in 2006. When I was leaving the campus science building back then. I thought it was late in the day and sunset lights are already in the horizon. It wasn’t, and no one was grilling. It was the smoke from the wildfire, covering the sky and dimming the daylight. Another student who was passing by notices my gaze on them, and told me randomly, crazy isn’t it as he was walking by.

It was fascinating how fast they spread and how unexpectedly they show up and change direction. I thought to myself they must be too far away from any residential area, and they are relatively safe, but then I relies that this is not the case. A whole state might devote all their resources to put it out, and many people sometime have to evacuate their homes, and even lost their houses in the fire. One of my friends once couldn’t make it to the class physics exam because they were evacuating.

Nature will be nature - WildFire

 

Several times a year these phenomena can occur. The less rainy the season is, the more abundance they become obviously. There are signs at the gate in many states and national parks that indicate the state of the fire hazard. They range from safe, to mild hazard, to extreme.

I learned to cope with them, and enjoy observing them from a safe distance. I even start to noticing them while flying.

This painting was inspired by observing them from mountain peaks at sunset while getting ready for my stargazing session. Their view at night is splendid. The fire keeps moving at the bottom of my views with its warm colors, while the stars move peacefully against the background during the night above them with their cold colors.

 

July-23-2014

Los Angeles County, California.

-Ahmed

Rock Mugu, Spring 2012

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Leaving the city behind on a Friday afternoon with my trusty yellow tent and my camera, heading for the coast line, with a huge doze of enthusiasm, I was going to spend the weekend camping along the side of the Pacific Ocean.

After driving in the Santa Monica Mountains roads between its ranches and small tunnels, I reached the Pacific Highway Ocean, where the ocean laid on my left side view for the rest of the journey to Point Mugu.

The drive along the coast line has always been favorable choice of mine even if there was a shorter rout that was away from it. I love the mountains more than the Sea, yet, driving is always more beautiful and romantic along the side of body of water, salt or fresh.

I reached my destination at La Jolla Campsite around 5 p.m. shortly after passing the locally famous restaurant Neptune, a very appropriate name indeed given its location.

It was spring, late Mars, so I had an hour before Sunset, which gave me time to greet the group I was going to spend the weekend with, and set up my tent. To my advantage, there was no marine layer covering the sky. However, few thin clouds were on the horizon which later in the evening, they dimmed some of the planets brightness.

It didn’t take a lot of time to secure my location and my tent. Unlike the mountains where I usually camp in California, there were no bears to worry about. Shortly after, I walked to the beach with few friends, and set up the camera on a rocky surface, and capture few pictures of the famous rock Mugu along the side of the planet Venus, the Pleiades, the bull constellation Taurus, and Orion the hunter.

Rock Mugu night-1

 

The haze and humidity of the beach gave the bright stars of the constellations Orion and Canes Major a small halo that made them bigger and rounder to the eye and the camera, which enhanced their color.

Rock Mugu night-2

 

The marine layer than rolled over and the temperature dropped significantly, where I had to wear my winter jacket. We went to our campsite around the campfire to seek warmth. Later on I could see Mars peaking through the clouds. I got to see the Big Dipper high above the North Pole star Polaris.

I also got to share all this, and enjoyed explaining it to the other campers around the camp fire. Not all of them knew that I am an Astronomer, and it was a pleasant surprise to them and a pleasant experience to me as always. It seems no matter where I go, there is no lack of interest to the night sky.

The morning after, I woke up at 5 a.m. for an arranged early hike with one of campers that I met yesterday. The marine layer was denser, and covered the sunrise well.  The view of the ocean though did not get any less beautiful. The marine layer start to break up after the sun was high in sky.

Rock Mugu day-1

The day was spent walking between beautiful hills and cliffs of the sea with the sounds of seagulls. The sights along the hike weren’t that alien to me, later on, I knew that the location was used in many Hollywood production movies. So this uncovered the mystery of why the place seems so familiar. I also got to visit Rock Mugu up close in the late afternoon and saw some of the leftover holes made by past rock climbing activity, before the authorities shat down the place for climbers. The rock was surrounded by fishermen both happy and grumpy ones.

Rock Mugu day-2

Rock Mugu day-3

 

Rock Mugu day-4

Later on, I left my friends to find a good place where I can try to hunt for the green flash at sunset. I picked up my location, and many seagulls were flying around me, on the horizon, and resting along the beach.

There were far away clouds along the distance horizon, so I knew right away that my chances of capturing the green flash are very low. I didn’t capture the green that sunset, but I got many gorgeous sunset shots.

Rock Mugu day-5

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The marine layer that night was very present, so no further observations of the night sky were made. I just enjoyed eating warm S’more around the campfire, in a very cold night. Although I knew what it was, it was the 1st time I actually tried it.

I woke up on Sunday morning at the sound of the rain drops hitting my tent, a beautiful way to wake up. We prepare breakfast on the wet tables of the campsite, and left before noon. It wasn’t the 1st time or the last time I was in this place, but it was the 1st to spend two nights on raw so near the Pacific Ocean. It was a beautiful weekend.

Mars – 23rd to 25th – 2012

Point Mugu, California

-Ahmed

July’s Moon, Venus, and Mercury.

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On July the 12, the US National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard issued a weather prediction of a surge of monsoonal moisture that will be present in Southern California for the coming three days. People didn’t expect to see lots of clouds in July, even if this is expected by the metrologies.

In this time of the year, it is expected for mid July to have short thunderstorms days around the mountain region, which happened on the 13th/14th and reached the suburban area too.

From Los Angeles and Ventura counties perspective, the weather had following consequences on sky observation. The Full moon nights rose between partial clouds, or haze. After, on the 13th of July from Santa Clarita, the moon rose in a mostly clear night sky, with few clouds which made a spectacular view.

Moon Rising. Picture Location Santa Clarita, CA.
Moon Rising. Picture Location Santa Clarita, CA.
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July clouds 2014-3

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The 14th was nearly overcast, which prevent observation of the Moon, and the passing of the International Space Station.

The 15th had partially cloudy nights. The clouds direction was from east to west from Santa Susana pass and the winds were blowing from the San Fernando Valley to Simi Valley for most of the night until nearly 5 am, where the clouds start to break up and change direction. The eastern horizon starts to be filled with far away mountain clouds and covered the passing of the ISS which was expected to have a brightness of magnitude -2.9. The space Station could not be resolved.

Pleiades rising
Pleiades rising
Before dawn
Before dawn
Venus rising
Venus rising
Toward south
Toward south
Venus, and dim Mercury
Venus, and dim Mercury
San Fernando Valley Before Sunrise.
San Fernando Valley Before Sunrise.
Eastern Horizon
Eastern Horizon
Sunrise
Sunrise
Sunrise
Sunrise
The clouds start to form in the east noticeably before Sunrise and Venus was covered for most of the time and affected its real magnitude brightness and made it dimmer. The planet Mercury couldn’t be resolved until later when it hit a higher altitude. The Sunrise time was very near, and the sky was already bright.

The Haze start to take over.
The Haze start to take over.
The wind start to blow from the south, and according to the US National Weather Service Los Angeles data that was taken from the measurement of Bob Hope Airport Burbank, it continue to do so for most of the day.

The night of the 16th was overcast, and no observation could have been done during the night.

Los Angeles County

July 12th/16th 2014

-Ahmed