Our Trip to West Texas, July, 2014
On July 22 I dropped off Boomer at the kennel and packed for the trip: a three day drive to Dallas, Texas and the next morning my buddy Frank and I headed south on the NJ turnpike. We took 95 all the way to the DC beltway where we picked up interstate 66 and headed west. We made it to Abington, VA and stayed overnight in a motel. The next day we got almost as far as Little Rock AR, stopping for the night in Brinkley, AR. We made it to Dallas the next day where we met Frank's son Fred and friend Mark. Took us most of the next day to drive to the Fort Davis, Texas area where we checked in at our hacienda and met the owners Tom and Tex. Nice place, well furnished, plenty of room for four and an easy drive to the little town of Fort Davis where we could buy groceries and eat out at a restaurant.
We set up our equipment on the east side of the compound and got ready for our first night under skies that were not light polluted. We brought an Optron GEM, a 5" Newtonian, a 6" Mak, ASI120MC webcam and Nikon camera with 200mm telephoto lens. My first night's business was getting a decent image of Saturn. So far I had not gotten a single good image of Saturn. The combination of the low altitude as seen from NJ and really bad seeing from the Jet Stream living overhead in NJ ruined my attempts with the CSC-1100EdgeHD and webcam. Hopefully, the 9 degrees further south latitude of West Texas would make that better. I took a series of 5 videos of Saturn at f/15 using my ASI120MC at the unmagnified final focus of my Orion 150mm Maksutov. The result is shown below. Best so far this year, even with a smaller scope than I had used at home:
The next night, while Frank was using the Optron for DSO imaging with the 200mm telephoto, I set up the ASI120MC with its wide angle lens to do time lapse video of the sky which was just spectacular. The Milky Way was easy to see and bright enough to cast a shadow if you held your hand just above a white tee shirt. Walking about in the dark was easy once eyes were adapted, just using starlight. Amazing! Here is a stack of several frames from the video taken looking north. You can see Cassiopeia embedded in the Northern Milky Way at the right and Ursa Major near the horizon left of center. Polaris and all of the stars of Ursa Minor are just below the center of the image. At the top center are Cygnus and Lyra:
And looking south we see the heart of the Milky Way, Sagittarius and Scorpio:
Meanwhile, Frank was busy with the 200mm telephoto Nikon on the GEM. Here's some DSO images he got. These are all stacks of multiple exposures of several minutes each:
During the days we visited nearby communities including going swimming in the spring fed pool at Balmorhea Texas and taking the daytime tour of McDonald Observatory. Here's a picture of the gang posed in front of the Hobby-Eberly light bucket at McDonald Observatory. More pictures from the tour are shown below.
Tts 433 inch mirror (11 meters) is composed of 91 hexagonal segments, each one meter across and having a spherical figure. The segments are aligned to form an overall spherical figure which is then corrected to give a 2" diameter field using four additional mirrors which correct the aberrations of the primary. It is pointed up at a 51 degree angle and merely rotated in azimuth to the area of the sky where the observations are to be taken and the secondary mirror assembly is tracked to position the field of interest on the feed to the spectroscope. It reminds me a bit of the big spherical radio dish at Aricibo where a set of secondary, tertiary and quaternary reflectors deals with the aberrations of the primary. A project to widen its field (the HETDEX Retrofit) is underway. It will be used in a study of dark energy.
A highlight of the trip was Mark's gourmet cooking. Here is an example, cream cheese and sausage stuffed jalapenos wrapped with bacon. Pig out time! I gained back 10 lbs on this trip. It's all Mark's fault...
More beautiful scenery of the high desert. The way home was just as long, but seemed longer. I picked up Boomer. He was glad to see me and I was glad to be home, but I sure wish the skies of NJ had a lot less light pollution!