July 27-28 Nebraska Star Party Merrit Reservoir

Jesse Attanasio looking at his phone under the Milky Way.  Given so little to shoot lately, it wasn't hard to convince myself to go shoot the star party.  Jesse had already been out and about for a week before I showed up and planned to do the star party full on, or well half on anyway.  I just wanted to shoot them under the Milky Way, the scopes.  Also I wasn't going unless it looked for sure clear.  Saturday night, the night before it really started, looked solid, so I went out then.  After a fun chase back east in Nebraska. 

The star party is held at Merrit Reservoir, about 25 miles southwest of Valentine Nebraska.  Hundreds of night sky/telescope folks make the trip from across the US.  It goes from Sunday night till Friday morning.  I'm not nearly that dedicated, so I didn't really go to it exactly.  They have a keynote speaker, classes each day and well all sorts of stuff I guess.  Most of what little I shot was Saturday night before the thing kicked off.  Probably the best night of the upcoming week I would guess.  Still there were plenty of people there. 

Jesse liking the Milky Way lol.  I'd say the area lives up to its darkness.  The sky around the Milky Way was jet black.  The Milky Way really seemed 3D, jumping out of the blackness.  We just had some pesky clouds down low.  But up high it was really good.  Not as clear as it gets though.  I can only imagine how nice it would be from there in the fall or winter with less smoke and summer haze issues.  Smoke would really come in overnight and the next day.  I imagine mostly from Canada but who knows.  There are huge areas up there producing an absurd amount of smoke.  But this could have been from the northwest too and slowly came around under the high pressure sliding east.  I think it also may have been snagged behind a big upper low in eastern Canada.  You could see a simply massive area of smoke caught up behind that one.  Then the trough behind it sliding down over the plains at this time, I think may have snagged some of it.  Or else it simply brought more from the same source region.  Anyway, like last year, Canadian smoke has been a big problem for really clear skies. 

I'm barely bothering with my Milky Way shots.  You'll see why in a minute. 

Getting fairly chilly for July.  It got down to 50F in Valentine.  I thought it was perfect camping weather.  By the next night I was hating life, even at 5 degrees warmer apparently. 

Here is a wide angle shot using my Celestron Advance VX tracking mount, which I've done next to nothing with.  No autoguider and just one frame here. 

This is just 3 frames stacked from a Sigma 50 F1.4 Art I had rented for this.  And here is the thing now about shooting the Milky Way.  I think I've permanently ruined non-tracked shots for myself.  With tracking one can end up with some amazing stuff.  No trails.  I have a lot to learn.  Pretty sure I will want a CCD camera made for astro, but they are very very far from cheap.  Probably want to do it via rgb filters too.  I for sure at least need to get an autoguider.  Anyway, finally getting a bit of an idea on what can be had.  The non-tracked 10,000 ISO stuff has just became, bleh why bother.  Time to track and layer in to scenes. After a camera for it, an autoguider and surely some filters.  Orrrrr just abandon the idea all together, as it isn't cheap and will be highly time consuming.  Gone back and forth on all that and how much I really want to get into it. 

3 hours of sleep I look out and see very obvious smoke.  Such a thick band I thought the hill nearby was on fire or something.  Thought, jeez that is nasty.  Puts a damper on the ol Milky Way. 

I couldn't get any Verizon data without driving clear back to Valentine.  It's evening the second day and I'm heading back from Valentine.  Sun was bright but I could see signs of smoke under and right of it.  That is all smoke you see.  Only a small hole straight up appeared nice and blue.  Look at more of an angle through the sky and you are looking through more smoke and seeing it better. 

I have allergies.  The thing I have the biggest problem with is straw.  I avoid straw like the plague.  It will render me utterly sick for 24 hours.  I can handle the whole allergy thing otherwise.  Usually just annoying.  But that stuff makes me straight up sick, like I have the worst cold ever.  The hills were all mowed for everyone.  So essentially one was sitting on nice and dry straw.  But better yet was the wind all day over it, making sure to really get it up in the air.  Wind that wanted to take my tent down.  I sat there all day getting sick, weeeee.  Also getting sun burned.  These two things combined with a chilly night would create hell, freezing hell lol.  I could see the smoke would be a problem.  I was sort of wishing I'd just headed back home.  I wanted to do more with tracking though. 

Around 11 or so I went to start up my tracking mount, which I had gotten all nicely aligned again.  It wouldn't power on.  I knew to have fixed the locking nut thing before now.  Evidently the power cable in there had spun around the post and snapped plastic inside and pulled the push plug off.  I know this as I fixed it when I got back home the next day.  That night though, soon as it wouldn't power on, I was highly over it all lol.  Sick, tired and rather cold thanks to the sun burn.  I was asleep by midnight. 

I was so glad to have had ear plugs in my camera bag.  Ever go to one of these or probably camping in general, eh take some ear plugs.  Had I not had any, there is no way I'd have slept.  Someone would always be making some noise or leaving, etc.  Instead I slept like a baby.  At least until 4:30 when I woke up having to piss and finding myself completely freezing.  I'd have been fine without the sunburn. Was the night before.  Any bit out of the sleeping bag and it was uncontrollable shivering.  As in for real I couldn't make myself not.  I wanted nothing more than to get in my car and start it.  Man I wanted to do that lol.  I'd just wake people up though so couldn't.  Including Jesse who had just went to sleep in his truck then.  It wasn't a crazy sunburn either.  But enough.  And while being sick with allergies out the wazoo, you wrap up too much and your head would be too hot.  It was lame but I'm really damn glad I did crash early and got what sleep I did.  The drive home was easy.

Oh yeah the cactus were fun in there too.  Flip flops were changed to shoes really damn fast.  Pushed my hand on one I almost couldn't pull out.  The other thing the ear plugs were good for were the mosquitoes in my tent.  I had bug spray on but man their buzzing sound can end up quite irritating.  These were the first nights I slept in a tent in a crazy long time.  Guessing the last time was before I could drive.  I tried day time in the badlands recently but that didn't fly.  Too hot. 

Oh yeah this one guy had a sweet chair tent thing.  Those are a must have.  Basically just a shade from the sun you sit under.  It was really nice out but the sun was hot.  I was fine in my car but wasps kept flying in and sending me back out.  I'd go sit on my chair for a while and just get more burned in rapid fashion.  If I could have prevented either the allergy issue or the sunburn, it would have for sure been the sunburn.  That zapped me once it was cool out. 

 

Ignore the brightness differences as they weren't pointing at the same area of the sky.  These are the upper left corner 100% crops.  The upper right and the lightness would flip.  Just note the coma.  The wings off the stars instead of points of light.  The above is at F1.4, Sigma F1.4 old one on the left and Sigma 50 Art on the right.  I'd hoped for better from the Art.  All the 50mm offerings simply suck bad with coma.  The Art Sigma is a lot better than most of them.  Yet it isn't like it's great at it. 

F2 Sigma Art 50 on the right. 

F2.8