Archive | Journals

RSS feed for this section

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

Fall sky at the Sierra

journals header_simple

Sierra-1

I was on the road with 3 friends to Big pine town, California after 9 pm. The weather was cold as expected at this time of the year, which was November the 8th 2013. We made a stop halfway through to get more supplies to spend in the Sierra all weekend long. We were all carpooling in one car.  After getting what we needed, we filled the car with a full tank of gas, and our stomach with warm coffee.

The day started for most of us as early as 4:30 am. My friend and I met in the south bay area and headed to Perris airport to skydive all day long. We managed to jump nearly five jumps. After we finished, he suggested to me to join him on a trip with a couple of his friends to the Sierra Mountains. I remember telling him the best adventures I had are the one I didn’t planned in advance, so I agreed to do so and notified my Michelle on where I was going.

We reached our destination near Big pine around 3 am Saturday morning. Each one of us took their sleeping bag out, and slept in the open. Although it was cold, there were almost no winds at our location. So the sleeping bag provided enough warmth before Sunrise.

Of course, I was looking at the stars, and I couldn’t pass the low light pollution night sky, and stargazed for a couple of hours. I took few shots of the constellation Orin which lay toward the southern horizon. Then I went to sleep an hour before sunrise.

Sierra-3

After sleeping for 2 hours, we get up, and got ready for a day of activities. Two of our friends went to a nearby lake for a half day of fishing. I stayed with the rest of the group. The winds start to pick up. It wasn’t strong, but it was good enough for a short glide.  I got to see my friends and photograph them glide over the sierra, and enjoyed the views of the mountains as always. I wasn’t going to glide, so I helped driving the car back down after it took us to the top of the hill where the launch site was.

Sierra-5

 

Sierra-8

Sierra-30

Soon after around 1:30 pm (nearly an hour and half after it’s true rising time), the Moon starts to peak above the eastern hills with its half illuminated face which made it bright enough to be seen comfortably against the blue sky background in daytime. A view inspired many in all type of fiction and nonfiction work of humanity. The phase of the moon was ~46% and I concluded from its natural cycle, it will be with us until midnight.

Sierra-56

Sierra-57

No wonder the Sierra was and still is a location of many passions. Just that day alone, we got to stargaze, paraglide, fish, grill and later on rock climb and camp. As if the mountains surrounding the area is blocking the noise of the busy modern world and leave us alone to enjoy life as it is.

After we regrouped with our fishing friends, we headed down south to Lone pine town, a town very near to a famous mountain, Mount Whitney, a mountain in which I have good memories with.

We reached Lone pine, we rock climbed around a nearby area of Alabama hills. I set up my tent, knowing that I will head to sleep very soon, since I didn’t get to sleep as much the previews two nights. However, I couldn’t resist the night sky, and I ended up staying up.

Sierra-67

In term of planets, Venus was there as the poetic term evening star, and Jupiter later on with the Hunter constellation.

Sierra-69

Sierra-70

Sierra-71

Sierra-72

Sierra-73

Sierra-74

Although the moon was bright, it actually gave a good luminosity to the exotic beautiful rock formation. I took most of the photographs toward the east anyway. The Pleiades was rising. The Milky Way band was present comfortably to the naked eye even with the bright moon around from south to near north. To give a good sense of measure, the open cluster IC 4665 was also accessible to the eye even with this condition.

Near midnight, after the moon set, I set up the camera next to my tent to take long exposures to generate a star trail photo. I took one last photo of the Milky Way with no tracking mount with the absent of the Moon interference, and I lit up the rocks with a red flash light.

Sierra-79

I woke up with the Sunrise, and went to the camera, and changed its battery, and took few last shots of the long shadows of early morning.

Sierra-81

Sierra-86

Sierra-88

Sierra-89

Sierra-91

Sierra-93

We stayed a little more to enjoy the mountains, and head back to reach Los Angeles County by Sunday night.

November – 8th~10th – 2013

California

-Ahmed

 

Extra:

Here is the Star trail photo of this Weekend: Star Trail

Star Trails. Alabama Hills, CA.

journals header_simple

Alabama Hills Startrails website-1

One of the things that are common knowledge to the ancient, and not so common in now days, is the behavior of our night sky on the planet we live in. Our senses and intuition of the movement of the heaven above us is so distorted because of the way we live in society, and because of our growing technology that allow us to relay on conventional wisdom too much, and for the light pollution we leave behind among other many types of pollution.

Our senses is so distorted, that we think of the ancient monuments that left by our great ancestors seem so high tech, and hard to understand, when it is simply made with simple math and physics, and a little understanding of the night sky that they got, not from reading text books, or being held in a class room all their life, it is simply by the way they lived, and the dark night sky. The view is up there, and it is hard to miss, and no one needs to teach anyone how the heaven work on the surface level. Those monuments alignment show how great little understanding of the night sky was being part of their daily life, something always impresses me every time I see their engineering feats.

There for, photographs of long exposure of the night sky is always fascinating to us, and shows us what really is happening, and what we are really missing. The earth is spinning, there for, it will spin around the relatively static starry night. A fact that we all know, but we don’t have it in our intuition. I say relatively, because compare to an individual life spam, the stars seems never changing, which is a beauty in itself, and comfort in an ever changing world.

This photograph was made in a long exposure that took from before midnight, to near sunrise, at the dates of 9th/10th of November 2013. The direction is north obviously, since the starry background is revolving around the North Star Polaris, and gives this beautiful shape of star trails. A group of friends and I were practicing rock climbing/paragliding around the Sierra in California, and we camped in Alabama Hills. A place near the highest peak in California, and in the Contiguous United States.

Sierra-68

Before this shot, I was having a great stargazing nights in a place where light pollution can only come from nearby town, Lone Pine.  The Milky Way looked great as always in good details to the naked eye. Even with the present of the Moon. The rocky landscape helped to give the illusion as if I was in another planet.

Sierra-84

So after stargazing, the camera was set up, to take this exposure, near my tent, which I set up under a hanging rock.

-Ahmed

 

December Snow

journals header_simple

Ten days ago, it was Friday, I submitted the last papers that were needed to complete my primary objective of my journey to California. I have finished all the work that is needed to inquiry a bachelor degree in Engineering by the educational system. It was December 2011-26th, mixed with Christmas memories of the last couple of days, spend with close college friends family, I was in a state of mind where I felt like I had no obligations, and finally, I can rest and close my eyes, and enjoy the holidays, even if it was for a short while.

The Milky Way

The Milky Way

Driving, I was roughly a hundred miles (160 Kilometer) north of down town Los Angeles. In Mountain Pinos, near a town called Frazer Park, the snow was in good amount, and it was still occasionally falling. I saw the snow covering some of the houses seasonal decorations and roof tops as I was passing by across the town, heading for the peak’s parking lot. The temperature was low as one might expect at this time of the year. The road to the main site I was heading for was blocked due to snow. The road called Cuddy Valley Rd. and it is famous between astronomers who live nearby. So I parked on the side of the road in one of the turn outs that have relatively a good western view, to see the last moments of the Moon and Venus setting on the horizon.  Around 8240 feet elevation (~2500 meter above sea level,) the stars start to show up clear and crisp.

Planet Venus & the Moon

Planet Venus & the Moon

The colors of the sky were of blue and orange stripes, the view always reminded of Sci-Fi themed Hollywood’s movies of the 1980s and 70s.

Venus and Moon close up.

Venus and Moon close up.

The view of the planet Venus near the moon is a beautiful sight that kept amazing my, and many other eyes and minds throughout our collective history and culture. Now that I’ve enjoyed the view, I start to check the location I am in and the state of the car.

Looking back at my car.

Looking back at my car.

The Pleiades were up in the sky, chased right after by an orange reddish colored star Aldebaran. Those stars and constellations were the same where ever I travel. They might shift their position in the sky, but they keep their shape nearly all the time. The stars fixed position give comfort to the observer. I remember when my brother Jassem and I start to recognize those stars and constellations well, from the roof tops of our temporary home back in early winter 2004, and he was saying something along the lines of how knowing their names and seeing them in after few consecutive nights made him feel like the night sky is welcoming and that those points of light became friends.

The Pleiades, the Bull, and the Hunter.

The Pleiades, the Bull, and the Hunter.

Back in early 2000s, my passion for Astronomy took a new turn. It wasn’t just stargazing with an unaided eye anymore, and more time had been spend on the practical side, the theory part and reading about it also increased. I didn’t know that it will take me to California, be scholar and study engineering. Along the way, I met so many interesting people and all sort of characters, and boost my passion to the night sky even further.

The thoughts and memories of Stargazing were getting together in my head the entire holidays season time. I was done with college and possibly spending last couple of months in California enjoying the landscape at day and the night sky, before I go back to two job offers in Middle East.

Orion the Hunter

Orion the Hunter

As I was thinking of what will happen in the near future, I set up my camera to capture the night sky and leave it work autonomously under live supervision. I took the binocular out from the trunk of the car and start mounting and pointing it to the Andromeda galaxy, Orion’s sword, and few star clusters among other objects. There was a slight light pollution in one single direction from a nearby town that usually at the top Mt Pinos won’t be obviousness at all, because it will be covered by the side of the mountain and the remain covered by the side trees, that wasn’t the case in my location. It wasn’t bad, I didn’t notice it really, and it added nice ambient background light to the pictures captured that night.

The temperature was really low, and it felt really cold. After all, the snow was on each side of the road, and around me. So I had to go inside the car to cover up and warm up every now and then, without turning the engine on. I can look through the window to see the stars, but it feels a little beside the point, when a good amount of driving time was spent to reach the location, even if the idea sounds convenient to just sit.

Three hours spend in stargazing and capturing the night sky on the side of a mountain road in somehow a wild natural place. It was a quiet place, with passes of few cars and airplanes. There was also many wild life sounds and braking tweaks sounds either by animals or snow fall, or my imagination. Speaking of imaginations, I spend about ten minutes checking pair of eyes seeing me back in the middle of the woods. It was the other road cat’s eye road signal. I checked.

I thought that this was the last time I am going to stargaze in this mountain for a long time. So the trip was my way to say goodbye to Mt. Pinos in a sense.  I was wrong. As I was driving down, I stopped by the local Denny’s restaurant before I hit the I-5 highway. I got a meal and hot coco, and review the pictures on my camera, and reached to the conclusion of what to do in the next two years. I have an opportunity to continue using my scholarship to get a master degree. I thought, if I use it, then I can spend more time walking the landscape and the mountains around me, and Stargaze more.

A very cheerful young “nerd” tall blonde waitress brought the check for me and told me randomly that she likes my smile and how cheerful I am, and I should stay here and not go. She was being nice and showing gust hospitality. As if it was a sign, I thought everything is welcoming. I should stay the next two years post graduation time in California.

Another reason that encouraged me to choose to stay longer in the state is to finish a new sky related activity course program that involved jumping from flying vehicles and land softly and safely twenty five times.  I only did it twice as I was reaching my final conclusion to stay in this stargazing trip. Little did I knew, that it will have a great impact on my sky obsession.

December – 26th – 2011

-Ahmed

Elsinore Footer site_002

Observing Ison before the perihelion.

journals header_simple

Comet Ison is a comet full of surprises, and was discovered and observed since September 2012. It was named the Comet of the century for showing a lot of potential according to sources such as NASA and scientific media such as Astronomy and Sky and Telescope magazine, and many blogs and website around the globe.

Ison, November-15-2013 in the early morning before Sunrise.

Ison, November-15-2013 in the early morning before Sunrise.

Many amateur Astronomers with scopes no less than 8 inches (~20 cm) of aperture power got images as early as October. The comet was 1st spotted on June after it disappearing for few months.

The comet didn’t brighten at the same rate as it was expected. Even when it closer to the Sun, and was in the inner part of the solar system as of early October, which is the rocky planets part. It was a small let down. Still, a new comet in the sky is eventful.

Comet Ison was 1st logged in my logbook on November the 2nd 2013. It was early in the morning before Sunrise a couple miles away from the highway that took me away from the city.  It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, I even didn’t use gloves this time and didn’t go inside the car for a warm break.

Ison when 1st spotted on November the 2nd 2013.

Ison when 1st spotted on November the 2nd 2013.

The Comet was dim, and I couldn’t see it with the naked eye. However, I took view pictures of the location where I thought the comets would be in the field of view of the frame.

The comet was comfortably 10 degree above the horizon and bright enough to be capture with my camera lens.

I start to go every morning in week days before sunrise to a location near Castaic Lake. The observation of the weekend from the 9th to 11th November morning took place in the Sierra part of California. Then went back to near Castaic Lake and Rocky peak.

The weather wasn’t helpful though, and most of nights were cloudy. Beside, the locations I was observing from had a cloudy eastern horizon normally. Even in a clear morning, there are always few patches of clouds floating.

Nov-24th-2013

Nov-24th-2013

Nov-24th-2013

Nov-24th-2013

 

Nov-24th-2013

Nov-24th-2013

Most of the nights I spend stargazing and trying to hunt for the Comet end up with observing clouds instead and their behavior in the location I was in.  At some night, the light pollution from the city Lancaster which is at the Eastern horizon usually colors the clouds above it in beautiful colors. The colors are not as beautiful as the colors of the Sunrise and Sunset, but it has its own magic.

Before Sunrise Nov-24th-2013

Before Sunrise Nov-24th-2013

Clouds blocking the comet observation Nov-24th-2013

Clouds blocking the comet observation Nov-24th-2013

The planets were bright enough to peak through thin clouds, and this year, in this few months, all five planets that can be observed with the naked eye were present. Venues is relatively high in the sky right after Sunset and Jupiter dominate most of the night, and Mars in the early morning in the Eastern Horizon before Arcturus and Spica. Mercury and Saturn rise up before Sunrise.

Jupiter Nov-17th-2013

Jupiter Nov-17th-2013

Jupiter and its moons. Nov-18th-2013

Jupiter and its moons. Nov-18th-2013

The perihelion, the closest distance in which the comet will be to the Sun, and where the observation of the Comet is most difficult from the ground due the brightness of the Sun, was scheduled to be on the 28th of November – 2013. This happens to be on the American holiday day Thanksgiving.

At Thanksgiving Day, around Noon, the comet was pronounced dead by NASA officials and many media because the space NASA/ESA spacecraft SOHO could not see after it passes.

The next day, the Comet brightens up in the other side, and shining again, dimmer, but still shining. The tail is ejecting heavy material and lack of the light particles in the tail, according to early reports from sources such as NASA, and Astronomy magazine, and news media.

Comet Ison is full of curveballs, and I can’t wait to observe its comeback from the perihelion in the next few weeks if it can survive that long, and I can’t wait for the 26th when the comet closest approach to Earth given it survived..

The Comet trajectory will make the observation accessible at dawn toward the Eastern horizon even after passing the perihelion.

Clear skies

Nov/Dec 2013, California.

-Ahmed

cloudnights-10

cloudnights-7