Lake Hope and The Milky Way

The Milky Way and galactic center by Alan Studt.
Milky Way by Alan Studt

by Alan Studt, CAA Member

About a year and a half ago I ran across a guy in Grand Teton National Park who photographs the night sky using beautiful landscapes as the foregrounds for his “Nightscapes.” I was hooked and wanted to learn how to do that. When I got home to cloudy Ohio I took advantage of the rare clear nights and started learning how to go about it and also learning what it was I was seeing up there. At the time, all I really knew was the Big and Little Dippers, and that the Milky Way was our galaxy and that fuzzy streak you could see in really dark sky places.

My interest in photography has helped me learn about the constellations and other objects in the sky. I’ve shot areas of the sky not knowing what was there, then I’d study the photos and find the constellations by looking at charts. There is so much up there and I find it all fascinating.

On March 5-8 we spent some time in southern Ohio at Lake Hope State Park and also hiking around the various parks in Hocking Hills. It’s very dark out that way and we were fortunate enough to have two very clear nights and a clear early morning. Despite the very bright half-moon in the evenings you could see many things impossible to see in Parma.

I have an app on my iPod called “Star Walk” and I can see what position the stars will be in on any given date and time so I knew the Milky Way would be visible in the southeast a couple hours before sunrise. I woke up one morning around 4:15 AM, looked out the window of our cottage, and could see Cygnus very clearly. So, I packed up my stuff and headed down by the lake and got my best shots to date of the Galactic Center, and a few other nice shots as well.

Specs for the photo: Nikon D600, Nikkor AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR, 20 seconds, f/3.5, ISO 6400. Processed in Lightroom 5.3 for Windows.

Surprise aurora!

Northern Lights the Morning of June 1, 2013. Photo by Christopher Christie.
Northern Lights the Morning of June 1, 2013. Photo by Christopher Christie.

Actually, a pair of surprises gave night owl CAA member Christopher Christie a wonderful opportunity: a shot at the “northern lights.” A wonderful aurora spread across the Canadian border and descended into the United States as far south as Colorado and Nebraska.  The aurora was caused by the unexpected arrival of an interplanetary shock wave on May 31st and that stormy night held the added surprise of clearing skies!

“While it was thunder storming I noticed on one of the web sites I watch that the Bz component of the interplanetary magnetic field tipped sharply south to around a minus 20,” wrote Christie. “So I was keeping an eye on some other sites and the weather, saw the rain was about to let up and since it looked like there would be a good chance of having Aurora if the skies cleared, I decided to give it a try. It was still drizzling when I left but when I got to my spot it had stopped. The skies were still pretty cloudy and I couldn’t really see anything but I took a few pictures anyway, just in case. I noticed this one weird spot that wasn’t moving but kind of getting bigger as the clouds started to break up a little. It was just a green blob, nothing special and no real movement, waves or spikes, but you could see it even with the naked eye. After about an hour the clouds moved back in and it went away so I went home to look through my pics and was happy, wasn’t much but how often do we get Aurora here.” End of round one!

Christie kept monitoring the conditions, however. “So it was about 3 AM and I noticed that the Bz was still way south and it looked like something could happen again and it looked like some clearing was moving in. So of course I had to go back out and I’m glad I did. It was still partly cloudy and the skies never cleared all the way, but it was a great show, all kinds of colors, green, red, purple and white with some waves and spikes. It lasted till almost 5 AM when the sun started to brighten up the horizon and the clouds took back over.”

The image above is one of several Christie made that night and we have enhanced it a bit for display here.

Exposure information: Canon EOS Rebel T3 — ISO 3200, f/3.5, 8 sec., 18mm; June 1, 2013 at 4:08 AM.

Oh, Canada! Yes, we can see you from here!

Photo: Lights of Canada. Photo by Reynolds & Dills.
Lights of Canada, seen across Lake Erie from Ohio.

by Jay Reynolds

For years, Suzie Dills has told me about seeing lights across the lake when she walks her dog at night. I always joked that she was making it up (knowing full well that she wasn’t). It wasn’t long before we looked on the map and determined that they were lights from Canada (or Narnia).

Well, I’ve always told her to call me when they are happening, Sunday night (May 5) was the night.

When I arrived at Huntington Beach, I knew exactly where to look, but didn’t really see much. (I know what you may be thinking.) I saw a few lights but not the lights, cars, houses, and small children that she’d planted in my anticipation.

But when I raised my binoculars… “Ole Eagle-Eyes Suzie” was correct!

The horizon was littered with many, many red lights and the occasional building light as well. This easily spanned 30 degrees along the horizon. You could clearly make out the thermal boundary layer above the lights. Video would show the scintillation of the lights.

It was terrific to see this across the lake on such a grand scale!

Those of us old enough to remember antenna TV, Sunday night would have been great fun to pick up signals from Toledo, Detroit, and maybe even Erie, Penn. (only to learn they are watching the same “Lost in Space” I was watching).

Higher up, through the haze, you could see Procyon, Pollux, and Castor taking their final bow of the spring; farewell winter friends, we’ll see you soon enough.

The warmer air temperatures had led us to this optical refraction across Lake Erie the previous two nights. This happens in the spring and autumn when the lake water temperature is radically different than the air temperature! Cold lake temps (43 degrees) and warm air temps (65 degrees) set up a trap/ducting which bends/refracts the light over the horizon. The effect is somewhat similar to a hot summer day when blacktop has that mirror/mirage look to it. The pavement is very hot, the air is much cooler.

The measured distance from Bay Village to Canada is approximately 50 miles. Because of the curvature of the Earth, we are usually limited to approximately 16-20 miles line-of-sight.

Bottom line, science is fun, nature can fool us into thinking “a bridge to Canada would be half the cost we thought,” and Suzie has binocular eyes after all!

Jay Reynolds is the CAA’s Observatory Director, astronomy instructor at CSU, and well-known as a NASA Solar System Ambassador.

Photo: Stars through thin clouds. Photo by Reynolds & Dills.
Stars above, Canada’s lights below.

Photos: Jay Reynolds & Suzie Dills: Canon 400 (Xti) Single shot, 10 sec, ISO 1600, Processing MaxIm D/L

“Awesome” PANSTARRS viewed and photographed

Photo: Comet & Moon, by Christopher Christie.
Moon & PANSTARRS by Christopher Christie, March 13, 2013, from Rocky River, Ohio.
Canon EOS Rebel T3: ISO 400, f/4.5, 2.5 sec.

Mid-March saw a good bit of interest in Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS). As it approached perihelion the comet put on a good show for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. It was known PANSTARRS would, after its close passage to the Sun, become an object for Northerners to admire, perhaps naked-eye, and excitement grew.

Photo: Comet PANSTARRS by Matt Franduto.
Two Trails: Comet PANSTARRS and Airplane, by Matt Franduto.
Sony A500: ISO 400, f/4.5, 4 seconds. March 14, 2013. Brunswick, Ohio.

After its March 10 perihelion, die-hard comet-spotters looked to the west every evening, hoping for an opening in the clouds. Most tries were met with disappointment. Sometimes an opening would appear and the comet would glow forth in the dimming twilight. Then, after the sunset of March 14, it seemed the weather would cooperate. Mostly-clear skies greeted observers and crowds gathered in several places affording views of a distant horizon. One such place was Mapleside Farms, an orchard and restaurant in Brunswick, Ohio. The view from their parking lot is splendid, with the terrain dropping away rapidly to lowland orchards and a miles-wide valley. Astronomer-folk, including a group of CAA members, and the curious stood transfixed watching the western horizon, waiting for the sunset to fade, hoping distant clouds would remain far off.

Comet PANSTARRS by David Nuti.
PANSTARRS over Avon, Ohio, by David Nuti. Nikon D5000: ISO 1600, f/5.6, 4 sec., March 14, 2013.

Eventually, around 8:30 PM, observers began to pick out the comet from Earthly twilight, cloud-streaks, and jet contrails. “Does the comet blink?” someone asked, apparently seeing a far-away aircraft. I don’t know if they were serious. The first to spot and the only viewers to see PANSTARRS did so through binoculars and/or digital cameras. For us, the little comet was just a notch too dim to pick out with the unaided eye. Through binoculars, PANSTARRS had a small and well-defined nucleus and a lovely, cone-shaped, feathered tail. Overall, because of its low elevation, the comet had a golden coloration. Observing time in Brunswick was brief. Not long after first sightings, PANSTARRS began fading in and out as thin bands of clouds floated over the area. “I expected the comet to move faster,” commented one gentleman. Finally, just before 9:00, after only 20 to 30 minutes of visibility, it was gone. Casual visitors who did see PANSTARRS seemed excited. It was probably the first comet they had ever seen and was proclaimed as “awesome!”

Photo: Comet PANSTARRS, by Jay Reynolds.
PANSTARRS over Avon by Jay Reynolds. Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi: ISO 800, f/2.8, 1 sec., March 14, 2013.
Photo: PANSTARRS & Mars, by Jay Reynolds.
‘STARRS & Mars by Jay Reynolds. The faint dot of the Red Planet may be seen
in some of the photos by other CAA members.
Photo: PANSTARRS by Bruce Lane.
In Dark Skies, Comet PANSTARRS over Avon, by Bruce Lane.
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT: ISO 800, f/6.3, 1.6 sec., March 14, 2013.
Photo: PANSTARRS by Joe Hamlin.
Comet PANSTARRS over Huntington Park, Bay Village, by Joe Hamlin, March 15, 2013.

Image: Pan-STARRS LogoComet PANSTARRS images shown here were created and shared by CAA members. In many cases we have modified their original efforts a bit to present via this Web site. As a matter of style, we have settled on an all-caps, non-hyphenated form for the name. PANSTARRS is a non-periodic comet discovered in June 2011 using the Pan-STARRS telescope located near the summit of Haleakala, on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Pan-STARRS stands for: Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. Because Pan-STARRS is used in cometary discovery, other comets also bear the program moniker. Wikipedia on Pan-STARRS.