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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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February 15th & 16th – 2014

The Death Valley, California.

-Ahmed

The Celestial Equator

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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