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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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.

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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.

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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

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

Fall sky at the Sierra

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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