Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hooray, success in capturing the Zodiacal light; Further analysis of all collected images found one in the right direction and long enough exposure to see the light!

 Greetings from Palmia Observatory

Well, this time we do have some happy news and can celebrate the photographic capture of the Zodiacal light.  This happy news comes just after our earlier post describing our failure to actually capture the light, but now after reviewing all of the images for our recent road trip trip, we have a successful image!

Readers of this blog will recall in how the previous blog post of April 12 we reported on our road trip through parts of southern Utah and Arizona and Nevada to visit relatives and just get out of the burrow and how we tried to photograph the Zodiacal light during our dark sky nights there.  Well, we did not recognize it at the time, but the image taken outside of Kingman, AZ, included a dim glimmer of light that went from the horizon up to the Pleiades, so that could have been the light, but we didn't take any longer exposures to verify it.  This time, with the images taken south of Laughlin, we definitely can see that we were successful this time.  So now, after reviewing all of the images and comparing the location of the light with the location of the ecliptic, we can say that we were successful.  Hooray!

For the back story of our nearly 1,100 mile road trip, and other images and how this Resident Astronomer discovered Las Vegas over the horizon, check out the blog post of April 12 at: http://www.palmiaobservatory.com/2021/04/unpacking-from-local-road-trip-and.html

Now this photo taken on April 10, at about 8:30 pm, just about 20 miles south of Laughlin, NV definitely shows what appears to be the Zodiacal light.  The photo was taken with the DSLR on flimsy tripod, with settings of 18mm focal length, ISO800, 26 second exposure.  You can see most of Orion in the upper left side and the Pleiades, just mid center.  The Zodiacal light is thought to be the pinnacle shaped diffuse light from the horizon up to the Pleiades.  A key lesson learned here is identify the location of the ecliptic in the night sky and use that location to find the Zodiacal light.  So, as many long time sky watchers and photographers already know, seeing the light is not that significant, but at least now I can cross it off my observing list.

Zodiacal light from Laughlin, NV with DSLR, 18mm, 26 sec exposure (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Zodiacal light from Laughlin, NV with DSLR, 18mm, 26 sec exposure (Source: Palmia Observatory)

Where should we look to find the Zodiacal light?  Well, the light is just reflected sunlight that shines off of dust that is in the Ecliptic plane.  Previous posts reviewed how the current thinking is that the dust in the ecliptic plane is thought to be continuously replenished by dust from Mars.  At any rate, we want to look for the light at this time of year to the west, just after sundown.  We can use the location of the ecliptic on the sky as where to look.  Check out the following Sky Safari Pro screenshot which shows the location of the ecliptic as would be seen from Laughlin, NV.  In this screenshot, the field of view has been adjusted to be close to that of the DSLR 18mm lens setting field of view.  We can see here Orion and the Pleiades, just like we can in the actual photo.  The ecliptic is indicated by the yellow line.  Mars was supposedly visible at the same time, but we were "blinded" by all the other bright stars in the dark skies and didn't notice Mars.  We did see the Big Dipper which we have not seen for quite some time now.

Sky Safari Pro screenshot for location of ecliptic for Laughlin, NV (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Sky Safari Pro screenshot for location of ecliptic for Laughlin, NV (Source: Palmia Observatory)

The actual nighttime viewing location was selected during our daytime travel south of Laughlin. This location differs a little from the location used in Sky Safari Pro to calculate the location of the ecliptic, but this is not going to affect anything about this set of measurements.   Resident Astronomer Peggy saved the selected location on her iPhone so that later in the evening we could navigate back to the exact same location.  Thanks for that, Peggy!

One lesson learned about selecting the observing location is that there is still traffic on the highway and since we didn't find a safer place a bit further off the highway, then at least we should have set up on the other side of the highway to minimize light from passing autos.

Actual viewing location set on iPhone during daytime search (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Actual viewing location set on iPhone during daytime search (Source: Palmia Observatory)

So, this event ends with success, unlike the first set of analyses in the earlier blog post.  At that time, the blog post ended with a photo of the Resident Astronomer frowning  (primarily because the martini was served in a plastic cup, rather than a real martini glass).  Here, the Resident Astronomer is smiling with a delicious Mango Margarita.  We stopped on the road back to OC at the Los Domingos Mexican Restaurant in Barstow, CA.  So this time, the happy image refers to our new finding that we captured the Zodiacal light.  If you ever find yourself in need of refreshment on your way through Barstow, this place has great food, great service and reasonably low prices for sit down service.  Thanks to all of the staff at Los Domingos for a great deal and here is to all the astronomer wannabes out there to keep observing and have fun; Cheers!

Relaxing a bit at Los Domingos Restaurant in Barstow, CA (Source: Palmia Observatory)

Until next time, here from our burrow, stay safe, as we recover more of our freedom,

Resident Astronomer George

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