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A recent observing session, Walker Pass California

Started by Mike Ratcliff, 08/07/2006 10:53PM
Posted 08/07/2006 10:53PM | Edited 08/09/2006 03:40AM Opening Post
Warren Bitters mentioned a lack of reports. Here is one during a recent heat wave a few weeks ago.

Walker Pass campground is north of Mojave at about 5000 ft elevation. It is a small campground. Only 2 spots for full size campers to park, several other tight parking spots as well. While traveling up there I was worried about not having any room, but turns out I was the only one there! I wouldn't recommend it for photography because there is a highway nearby and traffic lights sometimes intrude into the area.

It is pretty hot in the daytime. Was 91F at 7:30pm at arrival. (106F in the desert below).

This was going to be a short night with twighlight ending about 9:00 pm and moonlight starting around 11:30.

The place is Dark, showing as dark gray on the light pollution maps, (Clear Dark Sky web site). Not quite the darkest possible but close. I didn't bother looking for the limiting magnitude. Every time I do that it is always less than other peoples' estimates. I could see a slight light dome toward Ridgeway (edit: that should be Ridgecrest), otherwise no light whatsoever. There were a few smoke clouds in the area from some fires about 100 miles away, but evidently were not a serious problem in most parts of the sky. Very dry skies. The seeing was not good though.

With so little time and skies so dark, this was a Kid-in-the-candystore type of night, trying to see favorite objects in a new light, and some challenges as best as possible.

I'll just describe some highlights. It was a memorable night with some "personal best" views of M4, M24, the Veil Nebula, North American Nebula, Cocoon Nebula.

M4 is usually on the dim side but not tonight. Has an unusual bar structure that I had not seen before, plus a partial loop of stars along the outer edges that joined at one end of the bar.

M24, I've seen the dark nebula in the area before but not as well as tonight. Plus there were so many stars visible. You can also tell that there are a lot of uncharted dark nebula intermixed with the stars besides the 2 or 3 larger ones on SA2000. This was where the well-corrected wide field eyepieces (Nagler 20mm T2 in this case) really shine compared to my less expensive plossls.

Realizing this was a great night for transparency, I went for the nebulas in Cygnus.

Well, the first view of the Veil near the star 52 Cygnus with an OIII filter just about knocked me to the ground. I've seen this a dozen times but not this well. The rest of Veil was great too. Other sections had been my previous favorite, but this area with the double strands and nebulosity between was great. Think of a DNA molecule that has been untwisted. Again I had seen this structure before but not as cleanly.

North American nebula, again seen numerous times but this was the best and brightest. Pelican nebula too.

Remembering some recent cursing by me of the Cocoon Nebula and the Caldwell Catalog, I tried for the Cocoon again, and Success! There was no doubt this time and no doubt that this is a dim object! Circular in shape, not that small. I used no filters. Supposedly the H-beta helps but I don't have one. I memorized some of the foreground stars and confirmed against pictures this morning, there is no doubt. The nearby dark nebula lane was actually best seen in the finder scope.

A first-time view was Planetary Nebula 6781 in Aquila. Pretty large with a circular shape, reminded me of the Owl Nebula. Some mottling or darker areas within. Brightness was good, but being large this one may need dark skies to see well. Also found for the first time nearby Planetary 6804 but with seeing bad didn't look long. Looked for Planetary 6803 also but did not see, it is small. I saw some suspiciously bloated stars but did not pursue farther with the bad seeing. (PS one week later still did not fine 6803).

Another highlight, the Pipe Nebula in the Milky Way above Scorpio and Sagittarius was visible naked eye. As was the dimmer sections of the Milky Way going down towards the center of Scorpio.

A funny observation, when the moonlight was increasing before actual moonrise, I considered the sky "ruined" for the night. But actually the Milky Way was still very evident. It occurred to me that if I were home I would be ecstatic with these conditions, but here I was giving up and putting my stuff away. Dark skies will spoil you!

Mike Ratcliff

16" f/4.9 dob
6" f/8 dob
Posted 08/07/2006 11:12PM #1
Thats a good report. Keep it up.

John R
Posted 08/08/2006 02:13AM | Edited 08/08/2006 02:14AM #2
Nice report, Mike.
Sounds like a great night. grin
Do you recall the date? I'm going to guess July 21.
I was up at Mono Lake that night.
I haven't tried Walker Pass yet, but it sounds like a good spot.
I go to Red Rocks a lot, when I'm trying to stay "close to home".
Posted 08/08/2006 06:37AM #3
Good report, Mike,

I fully agree that you easily get spoiled by dark skies. Observing under excellent conditions with a smaller scope gives a better feeling than observing under poor conditions with a bigger scope, even if you can see the same.

Nice that you mentioned M4. I observed this cluster for the first time this spring, and found it very beautiful (a bit surprising after reading some reports claiming that it was rather poor and dim). Although many clobulars are much richer, the stars of M4 are bright enough to show some colour with a scope with moderate aperture. I enjoyed it very much.

Inge S
Posted 08/08/2006 10:31AM #4
Very nice report, Mike!

M24, I've seen the dark nebula in the area before but not as well as tonight. Plus there were so many stars visible. You can also tell that there are a lot of uncharted dark nebula intermixed with the stars besides the 2 or 3 larger ones on SA2000.

So, I didn't dream it up!

Posted 08/08/2006 07:20PM #5
It sounds like you had a very good session! Could you post a pic of the site?



Ed Moran
Equipment Forum Moderator - Two of Five
Posted 08/09/2006 02:33AM | Edited 08/09/2006 02:34AM #6
Walker Pass is one of our local sites here in Bakersfield. It is not used that often though, because the drive up the canyon is long and twisting. The sky is dark and some nights the seeing can be quite good. There is a little light dome from Ridgecrest, but not too bad. The campground is small, but usually not full of people. It is better than Red Rock Canyon in some ways, but both suffer from upper air turbulence a lot of the time. This is true for many of the areas near there, like Fossil Falls or Lone Pine area where there are many open areas where you can get away from the towns. The tall mountains can cause a lot of rotor up at 15,000' or more.
But it is still a nice place to go and is rarely crowded.
Thanks for posting your adventure, I enjoyed reading it. smile

[SIZE="Large"][/SIZE][COLOR="Blue"][/COLOR] Floyd Blue grin
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