Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Winter Milky Way

Time for what is becoming a quarterly tradition...a blog post!

In February, I made a trip to the dark skies of Portal, AZ with my good friends, "The League of Extraordinary Ordinary Observers" for our regular gathering of opinions, half-baked ideas, conspiracy theories, and of course telescopes.  We had our usual good time and saw some wonderful celestial sights.

I have posted pictures before of the summer milky way from Portal (see my previous post, for example...remember, quarterly tradition!), yet I do not believe I have ever captured a decent photo of the winter milky way.  One reason for this is that we tend to take our trips when it is warmer than February and the other is that the winter milky way is much fainter than the summer.  To explain quickly, in the summer night sky we are looking toward the central bulge of our galaxy in Sagittarius, and the center of our galaxy contains a much higher density of stars.  In the winter night sky, we are looking out away from the center of our galaxy and our view across the plane of the galaxy is not nearly as bright as when we look inward toward the center.

Below is an image of the winter milky way, that I captured in Portal.  It is a stack of 3 individual frames and is to me, quite striking.  Not only can you see detail and dust lanes in the plane of our galaxy that are invisible anywhere near a city or town, but you can also see several subtle (and I mean subtle) pink nebula such as The California Nebula, Barnard's loop, The Rosette Nebula, etc.  Be sure to click the image to enlarge.

These nebula would be more visible if my camera was astro-modified to be more sensitive in the red, however, I am impressed that the Canon 6D and Rokinon 14mm combination caught them at all.  The (distorted) bright star lower left is Sirius and the double cluster in Perseus is visible in the upper right, just to give you a sense of how wide this shot is.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the zodiacal light reaching from the lower left up through the Pleiades into the milky way.  The Zodiacal light is sunlight, scattered by dust in the plane of our solar system left over from the time of our solar system formation.  It is visible in dark skies after sunset and before sunrise, and is brightest in the spring and fall.

The other fun thing that occurred during the trip to Portal, is that I took a day to drive to Socorro, NM where I met a fellow amateur astronomer from whom I was purchasing a dobsonian telescope.  It is my first dob after all these years and it reminds me I need to update the equipment page of this blog as the only telescope that I currently have listed on that page is my TEC 140!  In any event, at left is the new scope and I hope to share some adventures with it soon...In case you are wondering, it is a 12.5" Obsession Dobsonian, with a mirror by OMI.