Perseids Journal 2013

journals header_simple

There are not many other meteor showers that can deliver a good show more than the Perseid meteor showers in my own humble experience. I’ve seen the shower for many years, and the year 2013 was no different.

It was the 1st time I get the chance to view it at one of my favorite sites, Santa Susana pass. The site is not the darkest by any mean, however, it has its own romance.

I drove there after 2 am from where I live, the San Fernando Valley, California.  I left my car at the empty parking lot while appreciating the solitude of the place. Most people who get up to view the event or spend the whole night awake with groups for it are in other much darker places than the one I went to.

A look up as I was ascending to my distention rocky peak revealed a rain of shooting stars. They were raining almost twice a minute from the moment I stepped out of my car. I wasn’t disappointed at all.

There were no noises from other nearby human observers as far as I know. I’m sure though the wild life was observing me carefully even at this hour. So I was careful not to step on any snake, frog, or a rabbit.

The Moon sets a couple of hours before midnight, a great condition for when the peak happen after 3 am in the morning until sunrise which is around 6 am at this time of the year, and location I was in.

Cassiopeia constellation was on the north east, and I can see clearly the Pleiades and Taurus on the rise. The peak of the event is near, and surprisingly, the night was dark enough to see a hint of the Milky Way galaxy band.

Faint meteor (shooting star) right under the constellation Taurus
Faint meteor (shooting star) right under the constellation Taurus.

This year, I had another advantage, I had the SLR camera with me, and since there was no one around, I didn’t have to deal with an angry observer for ruining their night vision with the light coming from the LCD camera screen.  So, with all those shooting stars falling down, I knew I will get lucky that night, and capture a meteor on camera.

It wasn’t easy. As if they had a brain of their own, the meteor shower was camera shy. They appeared exactly before taking the image, or right after the camera turn its shutter closed after a long exposure. It was frustrating, yet, I haven’t lost hope.

This didn’t make the experience any less enjoyable though. The shower was extremely strong, and I guessed it is even more beautiful in a darker site.

The shooting stars were falling constantly, it felt as if I was on the roof of a space ship and the meteors were hitting us and gliding across the transparent ceiling (the atmosphere) from its radiant center near the constellation Perseus in the east and converge to the west.

I got a faint one on camera, not a strong one, and for the untrained eye, the image of the meteor can be easily mistaken for an airplane light. I turned the camera toward the west, and I start taking some more, and suddenly, a very bright one light up the sky, while the camera shutter was open. After the brightness went away, I heard the shutter closing.

The bright meteor (shooting star) on the west direction.
The bright meteor (shooting star) on the west direction.

I did it!!! I finally I got one! I turned the camera off, no more pictures, I have to enjoy it now with my own eyes only, and when I saw the 1st light of dawn, I grabbed my camera and prepared to leave.

When I get back home, I right away posted the image in this site. The post can be viewed here.

It was a beautiful meteor shower. Later I read the world wide reports, and average number of shooting stars per hour wasn’t as strong as every year to my surprise. I got lucky then, because I saw about 2 meteors a minute, which average to 120 meteors an hour.

Santa Susana Pass, California

August – 12 – 2013

-Ahmed

Day & Night at the Death Valley

journals header_simple

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

Death Valley day-2

Death Valley day-3

Death Valley day-4

Death Valley day-5

Death Valley day-6

Death Valley day-7

Death Valley day-8

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.

Death Valley day-10

Death Valley day-11

Death Valley day-12

Death Valley day-13

Death Valley day-14

Death Valley day-15

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

Star Trail of the Sequoia

journals header_simple

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).

Sequoia National Forest-3

Sequoia National Forest-4

Sequoia National Forest-5

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.

Sequoia National Forest-6

Sequoia National Forest-7

Sequoia National Forest-8

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.

Sequoia National Forest-9

Sequoia National Forest-11

 

June 1st ~ 3rd 2012

Sequoia National Forest, California.

-Ahmed

Rock Mugu, Spring 2012

journals header_simple

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

Rock Mugu day-6

Rock Mugu day-7

 

Rock Mugu day-8

Rock Mugu day-9

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

Each night is unique

journals header_simple

Even if the events are reoccurring, each night of stargazing is a unique experience. On Monday April the 9th in 2012, I drove north on the Interstate 5 highway (The I-5) to a nearby location to Los Angles to an evening of celestial observation.

The location is famous among local Astronomers and Stargazers. It is near Castaic Lake. The site doesn’t feature the darkest night sky. Still, it is much darker than the sky in Los Angeles city, or the San Fernando Valley. I love this location for it relatively short thirty minutes commute time from where I live, compare to other locations that might take a little more than an hour drive to reach on the car.

The location usually is filled with a great number of people in meteor showers event, to the point where if an observer wants to find a spot to park the car, he or she needs to drive and get a place before sunset.

Tonight though, it is a normal night, in term of celestial events. There wasn’t anything special, nor there were anyone else, however, to me, each night is special, and each night is unique, so is the day, but the subject matter for now is the night sky.

ISS April2012-3

 

At this time of the year, the Pleiades were heading west to set, after the planet Jupiter did. The evening star, or called by the correct name, the planet Venus was extremely bright with its minus 4rth apparent magnitude in. (The smaller the number, the brightest the object is). Venus brightness outshines the star Aldebaran (magnitude of .85), which is usually a good naked eye bright star. Followed all that, the hunter Orion, and it companion, Canis Major.

ISS April2012-4

 

The planet Mars on the south east was of apparent magnitude -.08, which is near its average overall brightness. And Saturn was on the rise in the eastern horizon next to the star Arcturus. This night had all the naked eye planets except for Mercury.

ISS April2012-2

 

At the beginning of the night, while I was setting my camera and equipment next to my car, another car parked in the same turn out of the road I was in, and two older men got out of it, and one of them shouted to me right away: Hello pal, I am Hal, and this (his friend name, which I think was Bob). You are our friend and buddy. Then he said something along the lines of:  because you are an astronomer, for that I see your Astronomy equipment, and you are here in this remote place. What is your name? So I told him my name with a big smile.  Then he said, now we introduced each other, we are friends for a long time, can you help me set up my telescope. It is Televue brand and very expensive, and you are still young and have better eyes than mine, and can manage it with better care.

ISS April2012-5

 

ISS April2012-6

I don’t know why he just trust me just like that, so I went and helped him. His telescope is one of the best instrument the money can buy in term of quality for the size. I didn’t mind operating this piece of equipment at all, and it was pleasure to observe the heaven through it.

ISS April2012-7

 

Hal was the one who kept talking, and kept us entertained, his friend, who I still can’t remember his name, kept quiet, and just enjoyed our conversation and looking through the eye pieces, with a usual old man mix of grumpy face, and a smiling one.

I told him about the passing International space Station, of course, he knew what I was talking about. We both knew that the brightness of the ISS wasn’t exceptional that night, for its apparent magnitude will be of 1.5, and maximum altitude of approximately just above 53 degree of the horizon, which is not that much, toward the north east direction. None the less, it was an  enjoyable experience as always, and I got it on camera.

ISS April2012-1

 

After we both witness the events, we took a picture of us all next to the telescope, and exchange emails to send the pictures. We both left the site early, and after sharing many stories.

Later on, before midnight, I sent them the pictures, and Hal was delighted, and express his joy of the photos and the night, and wished me a wonderful life.

ISS April2012-8

 

It was another great night, under the starry canvas.

 

April-9th-2012

Castaic Lake Area

-Ahmed

The Celestial Equator

journals header_simple

The Death Valley in California is a region famous for several extremes. It is one of the driest places in North America, and the hottest in term of temperature. I got the opportunity to find a campground reservation February the 15th. The timing of the year is great, to avoid those extreme temperature.  It also meant a lot of people will be present.

Before I left, I did a quick research on what to expect. I knew the planet Jupiter will be present for most of the night, and Saturn will rise roughly 2 hours after midnight, where the Moon will set near midnight with it 33% illumination (Phase.33). Mercury was also a target and possibly, there would be a chance of catching Mars before setting if a clear horizon was available with good seeing. I couldn’t wait to get there to see the unpolluted night sky in this famous valley.

deathvalley-1

I packed my equipment, and lots of water, and went headed to the valley. The road to the Death Valley was certainly drier than most of the trips I took in the past few years in California. However, before I reached the red rocks hills which located a little earlier than half way through the trip. I made a pit stop to fill gas to the car, and made sure I am not lacking any more supplies. I made a small conversation with the sales man at the gas station, and asked him if he heard about the Chelyabinsk meteor. An event that happened less than 24 hours from the time I asked my question. He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about, but he was deeply interested. And he was shocked how such a big event didn’t reach the public news. I explained to him that a meteor struck Earth above Russia, and it evaporated mostly, however, it shattered a lot of glass in a huge area with great shock pressure.

At the time of the Chelyabinsk event, it wasn’t certain if pieces of the meteor had survived, so I told him that, and how little do we know yet of the whole situation. I was sure there will be a lot of miss information due to that fact the event was extremely recent.

After I finished with him, I relies that not a lot of people know about it yet. My sources were from Astronomy related website from the web.

The trip continued, and I admired the rock formation as always of California geology, and the industrial factories I came across. I even made few stops to walk around the rock formations to examine them up close.

A little more than half way through, I saw an old man on the side of the road with what seems a non functional vehicle. I stopped and I asked him if he needs help, or water. I also noticed his wife was in the passenger seat. He smiled, thanked me, and told me he is OK, and waiting for expected help to come. I moved on to the road.

When I got close to the Death Valley, I saw the welcoming sign and followed the road to campground and ascend the valley in unusual path. The car seemed to move in a roller coaster like waves up and down to the point where if I didn’t slow down, the car would had jumped up of the road, which was not good to the car, but entertaining none the less.

deathvalley-2

Before I reached the top, I stopped in one of the turn out, and took a picture back of the bottom of the valley from near the top. I continued then, to reach to the campground, and ate at the local restaurant with what seem to be homemade chicken strips and french fries, and went to the campground to do the paper work, and set up my tent and the camera.

deathvalley-3

deathvalley-4

The temperature was warm, even at this time of the year, and I didn’t have to cover up my tent until later the night. I did my observations, and then, when everyone at the campground went to sleep, I set up the camera to take a star trail photo. I wanted to shoot the eastern and capture the celestial equator, however, late campers showed up, and they were in the shot. So I had to discard the 4 hours attempt, and choose the western horizon, and hoped people won’t pass by the camera.

deathvalley Star Trail-1

 

Luckily, no one passed, and the images turn out to be clear. I had to get more sleep, to walk among the trail, and stargaze once again the night after.

 

 

February -15th- 2013

The Death Valley, California.

-Ahmed