The Milky Way Over Redwoods

Elk Prairie Milky Way

Douglas-fir and coast redwood as the curtains, redwood forest as the stage.

Elk Prairie, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Redwood National and State Parks, California

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Here They Come!

Here They Come!

Perhaps you’ve been watching the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Cosmos television series? Last night, he touched on the fact that stars have long been used as a calendar, indicating when new seasons are around the bend [get planting, you!]. Certain constellations are tightly tied with seasons–such as Orion and Winter.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

This winter, I’d been fussing about how slowly Orion moves. He’d climb over the eastern mountains, dangle over the Golden Gate Bridge [from the Marin Headlands, of course], and all and all, be a slow poke about his waltz across the sky. My impatience, stemming from the fact that I don’t usually look at the winter night sky, kept growing. It’s so difficult to live in a place where the temperature is mild year round [Ha! But I don’t ever feel warm.]. We made several trips up to Kneeland, a patch of human-created prairie where the astronomy club meets, this winter to stand in a forest of telescopes and gawk with like-minded folks and only encountered nippy conditions, but no frostbite.  To me, looking at the stars says very loudly SUMMER! My brain, in that warm, wind-swept prairie of South Dakota-mode, wondered why long underwear was necessary, and why the stars weren’t as familiar. Sirius? Isn’t that some form of radio?? Aldebaran? Don’t you mean Altair? And who is this Orion fellow anyway? Hercules! Hercules! [In my defense, my star gazing occurs between the hours of 9 and 12 pm–no early morning viewings for me, hence the missing the “other” part of the sky.]

So last night, after what feels like a long winter [probably since there was hardly any rain–hardly a winter!], the Big Dipper pointed to two bright stars [and one planet] creeping over the eastern mountains–Arcturus and Spica [and Mars–that’s a story for another day]! Summer stars, the stars I’m most familiar with, were shining and climbing. Soon they will be directly overhead, crowning the night skies of summer. Good Bye Orion! Good Bye Stars of Winter!

Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo.  The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

Even with some light pollution but less-densely populated, we are lucky to live in such a dark area. Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo. The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

Friday Night Lights: Blue and Yellow

Friday Night Lights: Blue and Yellow

I know it’s not Friday, but it was when I took this shot, and I’ll be honest, I can’t wait until next Friday. I haven’t done a meme in a long time either, so maybe I’ll try this out for a while.

Here goes:

The Pleiades are the bright blue cluster to the left of the power pole. Seven [or eight] brighter stars can be seen, but the cluster as a whole has more than 1,000 stars in it. They are young, ~100 million years old, and currently passing through a ‘dust cloud’ that reflects their light.

Capella is a yellow star straight to the left of the Pleiades and the brightest star in this shot. While very similar to our Sun in color, this star is actually two [much more common in the universe than our single star] giant yellow stars that are nearing the end of their lives. They are older than the Pleiades at 400 million years, but only have about a tenth of the years compared to our Sun’s age.

Milky Way at Houda Point

Milky Way at Houda Point

It’s not too often, except for this summer it seems, that you can see the stars on the beach around here. The marine layer/stratus/ground fog/plain ol’ fog gets in the way most nights. Lucky for us, the haziness held off just long enough for the Milky Way to show. By the time we started to head back up the hillside, everything–including the dog, was covered in dew! Not good if you’re toting camera equipment around.

This is the Milky Way as you face south. Scorpius is to the right, including Antares, a red supergiant so large that, if it were our Sun, it would extend past Mars until almost Jupiter [in other words, we’d be toast!]. It is in the top 20 of brightest stars in our sky.

Frozen Boughs

We found ourselves in our oldest car, since our newer [read, not near two decades old] one has wheels that are too big for snow chains.  Pondering whether we could safely make it to Crater Lake, we settled on the idea that if we couldn’t, we’d just go as far as possible, maybe settling for Redding or Mt. Shasta.  Of course, I was really looking forward to seeing Crater Lake in the snow with a calm, reflective surface.

Snow was definitely around, but luckily by the time we hit Interstate 5, chain restrictions were dropped along our route. We went along Highway 97 up to Klamath Falls, dropped stuff off at the hotel, rented snowshoes [nowhere in town had any to sell!], and headed up to the lake.

By that description, it sounds like we rushed to get up there. According to Google Maps, we didn’t.  It was an all day excursion in which the scenery threatened to enchant and ensnare me before reaching our destination.

We arrived just in time for the tail end of sunset. It would be the only day we could clearly see the lake, so we braved the cold and hung around at the rim by the Lodge.

 

Surprisingly, there were a fair amount of people up there for the middle of winter.  Even a happy puppy ran around in the snow. Deciding to brave not only the cold, but the wind that was howling down into the caldera, we tried for some nightshots. Unfortunately, shielding the camera and tripod from the wind yielded no good results [nevermind the fact that I am not able to focus in the dark at times]. I still have a bit of a learning curve with the new camera as well.

You can see a plane in the photo above! There were so many flying over that night–the jetstream must have been just right.

I really like what the high thin clouds did to the stars in this shot. I’m not sure if that’s a plane, iridium flare, ISS, or meteor on the left.

The next day, when it was just a little lighter, we snowshoed a few miles out and back. It snowed as we traversed the rim, filling the previous passerthroughs’ tracks. It was as if we were the only ones there. On the return, ski-strapped folks and a few snowshoers headed out.

We ended up ON another lake the next day, since the weather repeated its gloomy self. We had a lucky break and found some sun, fog, and a nicely frozen lake. With such a short window to visit, being flexible with locations and weather worked out in our favor! Many more photos to share from this trip!