WHAT AN AWESOME WEEKEND!!!
About midafternoon on Friday, 4/17, the group met up and headed out on our journey up Palomar Mountain to the Observatory Campground. Upon arrival, we set up our tents and camping gear. With time left to spare we thought we would try our luck and see if we could go up to visit the Observatory. The public entrance was closed, but the "Authorized Personal Only" gate was wide open...Hmmmm. LETS GO FOR IT! So we drove in. We parked right next to the observatory and did the tourist thing, snap lots of photos. The building was closed, but it was great just being next to it and seeing just how big it was!
After a while we drove back to camp, got the fire started and cooked up some food and hot beverages all the while chatting and laughing. Finally darkness took over as the Sun set. Our first night of photography was centered on Widefield, Star Circles, Milky Way and Milky Way Time Lapse imaging. After thoroughly going over the processes involved in taking night images with a DSLR, we began shooting!
We made a tweak here and an adjustment there until images were coming out just right. As it got later and later it got colder and colder. Weather forecasts said it would be in the high 40's. It felt like the high 30's. But the night sky was SO clear! Not a cloud in the sky and no humidity, perfect for imaging. Finally 2 AM rolled around and we were greeted with a spectacular view of an arm of the Milky Way Galaxy! We framed our shots and began imaging. It looked like a small robot army of cameras shooting up. All cameras were hooked to Intervalometers and shooting away on their own for the rest of the night.
The following morning we slept in a bit, waking up at about 8:30. We slowly got our bearing and reviewed our images with childlike enthusiasm! We shared our images with each other and congratulated one another on a night of successful imaging.
Next on the plan of events was to attend a tour being held later in the day of the inside of the Palomar Observatory. A few of us drove up, this time through the public access entry, headed to the gift shop and purchased the tickets. We spent a few minutes afterwards walking around taking pictures and marveling at the size of the pine trees there! They had to have been as tall as the observatory itself...One really big Christmas tree!
We drove back down to camp, met with everyone and confirmed the time of the tour. The plan was to hike 2.2 miles and up 700 feet of elevation by way of the Observatory Trail from the campsite to the Palomar Observatory. A few decided to meet us there while the rest packed up and began the hike! It was a beautiful hike filled with great views of the mountainside, interesting tree formations, local wildlife - including a Red Fluffy Spider - haha, and of course the company of a great group of people.
We met up with the rest of the group at the Observatory just as the tour was about to start. The docents were all very well informed and happy to answer questions. We entered the observatory through the basement and from there moved up to the main room. The size of the 200" Hale Telescope was nothing short of Amazing! Looking at the photos of it now still wow's me!
After the tour ended, some of the group drove back to camp and the rest of us hiked back. The hike was pleasant and much easier on the descent. We have more photo opportunities as we weren’t rushed this time. Once back to camp most of us ended taking naps while we waited for the night. As the Sun slowly went down on the horizon, I proceeded to set up the 4" Stellarvue SV105T Apochromatic Triplet Refractor Telescope for a night of astrophotography. The scope was set up to accept either Canon or Nikon DSLR's mounted directly to the focuser of the scope. The skies were perfect once again, dark and clear. Through the scope we were able to see and image bright stars, faint stars, double and triple star systems, planets, nebulas, planetary nebulas, galaxies, globular clusters and open clusters.
As the night wore on, the temperature got lower. Finally at around 3 AM everyone decided to call it a night. We tucked ourselves back into our individual sleeping bags in our tents and slept. The next morning came and we all arose fairly well rested. We prepared hot tea and had breakfast and began to break down the camp. Sadly it was time to go home. We took a few more group pictures and random shots around the area. Then the cars we loaded, we said our goodbyes and headed for home.
What a great weekend. Honestly though, what made it a great weekend was not just the hiking, camping, photography or astronomy, but the amazing group of people who were in attendance! There could be no better group. Thank you Amy, Shelly, Giuliana, Ola, Randy, Jim, Pamelot, Jeremy, Lydia and Dad for taking the time to come out and enjoy a couple nights atop Palomar Mountain. I look forward to see you all again!