Well no sooner than we returned from the AAVSO meeting and observatory tours in Las Cruces, NM, it was time to drive to Borrego Springs for the annual Nightfall star party. Nightfall is sponsored by the Riverside Astronomical Society and the event offers short courses and lectures during the daytime and dark skies at night. Thanks to all the RAS volunteers who helped make it possible!
Borrego Springs is a small desert community in the Anza-Borrego Desert and State Park. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from most parts of Orange County. You can take the northerly route through Corona and down through Palm Springs area or you can take the southernly route through Oceanside, passed Mt. Palomar and then then on to Borrego Springs. The southern route is the fastest, even though it has lots of stoplights and two lane traffic.
|Location of Borrego Springs as shown on iPhone map application|
Nightfall is held at Palm Canyon Resort and the hotel does a great job of switching out the normal outside lighting with red lights for the occasion. Borrego Springs itself is a model dark sky city and when the clouds are gone you have very dark skies while enjoying the creature comforts of a city environment. Spaces for dozens of scopes were available in a closed off area of the hotel parking lot as well as dozens more of scopes set up near RV's in the RV resort parking area. We liked being able to be back in our hotel room within a couple of minutes from where our camera and binoculars were set up. Here, in this photo, we enjoyed the view of nearby mountains as seen from the hotel bar/deck.
|Nice view of the nearby mountains as seen from the hotel deck in Borrego Springs (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
On the first morning of our stay in Borrego Springs, we woke up early and headed out to the scorpion and locust sculptures and moved our camera around to keep the bugs in the foreground and the sunrise in the background. I wasn't quite sure what would happen but we got this one photo, 10-18mm, 1/15 second exposure, anyway. I thought about hanging around until the sun peeked up over the horizon, but we elected to skip out and head for breakfast. Hmm, maybe I'm not cut out to be a photographer, after all I mostly try to make sciencey type measurements now rather than imaging!
|View of sunrise in Borrego Springs with metallic scorpion/locust sculptures in foreground (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
After breakfast, while we were planning our afternoon and evening observing schedule, the Nightfall staff made an announcement regarding the upcoming Transit of Mercury on November 11. Hmm, we better look up the details of this transit and get it on our observing calendar. It turns out for those of use on the West coast, the transit will already be in progress as the sun rises above the horizon and will be end completely by about 10:04 PST Ok, so if there are no clouds we will still have a chance to observe the transit on that Monday morning. So, put it on your schedules and get your solar filters ready!
Later on in the day, we went out exploring and Borrego Springs is well known for all of the metallic sculptures that are located all over the town. We always enjoy wandering through all of these artistic sculptures. You can take any of these pieces of art (shown below) home with you for only about $800-$1200, depending on the piece. My first childhood love in dinosaurs was not the tyrannosaurus, but the long necked Brontosaurus and I could have taken the one home for just $800, but where could we put it?
|Resident Astronomer Peggy makes her way through metallic sculptures in Borrego Springs (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
My second goal was to try photographing the sculptures at night with the Milky Way in the background. We were going to trying to do this earlier in the year, but the scheduled nightscape class in Borrego Springs conflicted with our travel along the Norwegian coast in search of the northern lights. But, Science Nerd and Theatre Impresario, Scott, was able to attend and he took some great images of the sculptures, with unfortunately clouds in the background, not the stars. You can check out that story and photos in our blog post of February 16, 2019.
Normally, the foreground is so dark that not much can be seen of it. Even with long exposures, 30-60 seconds to capture the Milky Way, the foreground does not always shown up. Some landscape astroimagers say that this is when it is good to have more of a moon out and about to illuminate the foreground or it is good when automobiles drive by on the roads and illuminate the foreground. In this case, there was one bright house light of some kind right in the wrong position and it light up the backside of the sculptures.
My intention was to use my flashlight to illuminate the foreground sculptures while the camera shutter was open. Before I got around to doing that I noticed that there seemed to be a comet like object, that was not visible to the naked eye, but showed up with the long exposure. You can just barely make it out, up and to the right of the bright light, just above the background hills. What is that?
|Unlit view of metallic scorpion/locust sculptures with Milky Way, 60 seconds, 18mm (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
I didn't know what it was at the time, but wondered if it were a comet. Later, I looked at the sky location using Sky Safari Pro and didn't find any indicated comets in that location. Then I expanded the view and took a closer look and the bright green blob sort of looked like a comet at first, but now it appears to be nothing but some sort of lens flare associated with the bright light. What do the rest of you think that image shows?
|Cropped photo of metallic scorpion sculpture with "false" comet in background (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Anyway, I took another 60 second exposure and this time I used my flashlight in an attempt to paint the foreground sculptures with light. Hey, this sort of worked. The foreground sculptures can be easily seen now and yet the background Milky Way also still shows up. Pretty neat! You can also see some meteorite trails or aircraft or similar tracks across the sky. Yep, the blue comet like image is still there and shows up in images taken several minutes apart.
|Landscape photo, lit up with flashlight, with Milky Way in background, 18mm, 60 seconds (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Ok, so we are here in Borrego Springs because of the usual warm temperatures and clear night skies, but there is plenty of things to do during the daytime too. We drove about an hour outside the city for a park sponsored nature hike. This time we took a little two hour nature hike from the Morteros trailhead, where the area was once inhabited by native American Kumeyaay Indians, with stops and visits at prehistoric rock art and rock shelters and food preparation mortars carved into the available granite boulders. I don't know, but the desert environment looks pretty dry and harsh and yet the early people could gather acorns and agave stalks and edible flowers and cook them and grind them up in these mortars. Hmm, I'm glad we can just make agave tequila!
|Volunteer State Parks docent, Sam Webb, explains prehistoric mortars on our two hour hike (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Back at the hotel for more Nightfall events, while Resident Astronomer Peggy was scanning the night sky with her binoculars, I tried to get some more shots of the Milky Way with the DSLR. The Milky Way was bright enough to be seen with your naked eyes and it is such a treat to see it and I always enjoy the view. In this 30 second exposure you can also see at least one instance of aircraft moving through the frame.
|Milky Way in Borrego Springs, DSLR, 10-18mm, 30 seconds (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Another DSLR image, this time the 60 second exposure image time shows some of the scopes setup at Nightfall in the foreground
|Looking out over some Nightfall scopes at Palm Canyon Resort, with Milky Way overhead (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
One of my other targets during the nighttime observing session was to look for Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The photo below was taken with DSLR with 10-18mm lens on a tracking mount. My plan was to switch to 300mm telephoto lens and get some more M31 detail, but didn't get to it. My observing schedule was interrupted by the Nightfall ice cream social, which was a planned event, and after traipsing around in the desert, I was ready for some cool ice cream, with caramel sauce. So, the photo below is the only one I got of M31. Ok, orry, maybe more detail next time I can practice a bit more and get some more images!
|Yep, you can get the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) in a DSLR, 18mm, 30 seconds (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
This year there was hardly a cloud in the sky for our nighttime observing sessions, unlike last year, where the clouds came in early and blocked out a big portion of the sky. Now, while we were just leaving Borrego Springs, after two great nights of clear skies, we spotted this strange cloud formation in the sky. Hmm, that seems to have a lot of circular motion in this iPhone image, which is neat, but we are leaving town now that the cloud seem to be coming.
|Strange circular cloud pattern in the morning as we leave Borrego Springs (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
One our favorite places for good food and Carlee's legendary martinis is, well, Carlee's. Here Resident Astronomer is letting me know where to go. While in Borrego Springs we also enjoyed Kendell's and Red Octillo restaurants and normally we also get to Carmelita's, but couldn't get there this trip.
|Carlee's is one of our favorite stops for food and great martinis in Borrego Springs (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Finally, on a sad note we have to finish with the news of the passing of Engineer, Husband, Father, Grandfather, and Marine, Kurt. We met Kurt over 25 years ago, first as neighbors, which then turned into friends. We all got accustomed to our parents passing, as hard as that was, but now it was our friends, our contemporaries, who were passing on. Resident Astronomer and I always enjoyed our chats with Kurt and I always enjoyed in sharing his love of martinis. Sad to see you go, Kurt and we will miss you! I imagine you now enjoying a whole flight of martinis. Goodbye to our friend, Kurt Parfitt!
|Kurt, as I remember him, with positive attitude and a martini (Source: Donna Parfitt)|