Guess where I went again? And this time I brought my tripod. One aspect of my job that I very much appreciate (one aspect among many) is how I am able to return to the same place more than once. With some assignments it's not the greatest, but getting to return to Napa Valley, Death Valley or Kitt Peak on multiple occasions way more than makes up for multiple Nowhere, Indiana or the occasional Harrisburg, PA types of assignments. I like going some places many times because each time I go, I notice something different or have a new experience, and I get to know that place a bit better. Also, when I am somewhat familiar with where I'm going, I can make more adequate preparations.
Several things about my second visit to Kitt Peak totally ruled. As I said, a) this time I was prepared and brought my tripod, b) it was a much clearer night than on my previous visit, with no clouds or moon out, which makes the stars extremely bright and multitudinous and c) it was less windy and a bit warmer (though still quite desert-at-night chilly) and so they opened up a different telescope for us to use this time. So all around it was a totally different experience than before. The telescope we used this time was more or less the same as the other one (pictured above), except this one was housed a bit further up the hill in a flattop observatory rather than a domed one. The flattop style would have been quite dreadful on a windier night, open to the elements as it is, you see.
That flat part to the left, hanging over the red light, is the roof; it's been rolled back from the cylindrical observatory on the right. We got to see some really awesome stuff this time around. The middle star in Orion's sword stands out in my memory mainly because while it looks like a single star to the naked eye, it's actually four newborn stars surrounded by clouds of gas and dust cast off from their birth. It was quite lovely. You can see Orion in the next picture. That really bright star just above the roof-line of the Observatory is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and only 8 light years away, and Orion is just above it, the next brightest stars in the picture being his sword. It looks like I also caught a faint shooting star, between Sirius and the telescope. Or maybe that's an airplane, who knows. I bet Astronomers really hate airplanes.
I also got to see something that is apparently very difficult to see in most places due to light pollution. Kitt Peak is far away and high enough from any major city that the night sky just pops, more so than I've ever seen but less so than people could see from anywhere only 100 years ago. I know that last picture rather looks light polluted from the ground, but that's mostly just a quirk of shutter exposure. At any rate, what we were able to see was the Zodiacal Plane. It's the plane in which all of the planets orbit the sun, and the reason it's see-able is that the millions of leftover particles and gases that are trapped in the same orbit from which all of the planets emerged reflect a faint light. The really bright star just above the robot-looking weather sensor thingy is actually Jupiter, and you can see how the sky is brighter just around it.
I also got to see the double star Almach, The Eskimo Nebula, the star cluster M44 with hundreds of tiny blue stars, the cigar galaxy M82, and our docent even showed us how to find the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye. And of course, the only other thing which my camera is actually capable of taking a picture of, the Milky Way.
Although I did get this picture of Jupiter early on just around sunset. I was just playing with settings on my camera when I took it, and it's totally dull and would never make the cut in a million years except I just happened to shake my camera in just the right way to give the planet its self-referential initial.
Hee hee. Anyway, one thing I didn't mention in my first Kitt Peak post was that at the end of the evening, around 10pm, they have to lead us in a caravan down the mountain because you're not allowed to turn your headlights on as they would interfere with the Astronomers doing real work at the observatory. Parking and taillights are fine because they are not luminous enough to have an effect on the telescopes. So as they were gathering us up to go this time, I realized that I'd forgotten my tripod bag back in the flattop observatory. So while everybody else drove down the mountain, I got to wait behind for the docent to come back so he could let me in to get my bag. While I was waiting, I got a nice shot of the parking lot and everyone's taillights as they queued up and drove off. Now I'm not saying that I forgot my bag on purpose, I'm just saying that it worked out rather well for me.
So another awesome night at Kitt Peak all around. I really hope I get to go at least one more time because aside from all of the astronomical learning, I figured out a thing or two about taking night sky pictures which I didn't know before and I'd like the chance to try them out further. At any rate I'll leave you with my final picture of the night; when I got all the way down to the bottom of Kitt Peak I stopped to take a final shot which I thought was poetic, and sad.