from the desk of Colin Nicholls

Category: Celestials (Page 1 of 2)

Conjunction +/-1

Lugged the 6″ Dobsonian Mount out each evening to get some shots of Saturn and Jupiter doing their thing.

December 21 was the closest approach, but I think my best shot was the evening before:

December 20th – ISO 800 F1.8 1/25 s
December 21st – ISO 800 F1.8 1/13 s
December 22nd – ISO 400 F1.8 1/30 s

Each time something cosmic happens worthy of time and attention, I tell myself I will invest in some better equipment, but it doesn’t happen. This time, I tried to get a range of ISO settings and shutter speeds, and had my Sony RX100 mounted on a tripod, pointing down the eyepiece.



NEOWISE from our back yard

NEOWISE is actually quite a credible naked-eye object, low in the North West. It helps to know where to look, and what to look for, but it is very definitely a bright nucleus with a tail fanning out. The most detail seen out of the corner of your eye.

As the month goes on, the comet will roughly follow in the Three Leaps of the Gazelle (asterism) which you can see leading to the upper left in the image above.

Oregon Eclipse

I was full of plans to write up my memories of these last few days but I was so tired that it just never happened.

This story actually begins two years ago. We wrote to our old friend Mitchell with whom we have had adventures before. We asked if he would like to plan a visit out this way, because “the skies will be interesting around this time”. We looked at the map to decide where we should be in order to experience the total eclipse, and settled on the Oregon Coast, at Depoe Bay. I researched motels and selected the Surfrider Resort, and gave them a call to reserve a couple of rooms for August 2017. My intent was to lock in a rate nice and early. I was probably naive but whatever. They told me that I would have to speak to the manager because their booking app wasn’t able to take bookings that far in advance, but eventually I got it sorted and the details filed away.

Then about a year later I called them again to give them updated credit card details, and to check that the rooms were, in fact, reserved correctly. All was good.

Then about four months ago, they called my cell and said, well, that was all fine and good but their rates had gone up (“astronomically”, ha ha) and was I okay with the new price? No, I wasn’t. Ouch. Apparently they are allowed to do this a certain number of days before the actual booking. So much for the long-term planning, *sigh*. On the positive side, it secured the room, if not the price. I re-negotiated but we went down to one room (two night minimum).

August 19

We drove up to Santa Rosa, parked the car at the airport and caught a tiny plane up to Portland, OR. We collected our rental car – a kind of worse-for-wear Subaru Imprezza, about which I had some doubts, but it was all they had – and drove to meet our old friend Mitchell with whom we have had adventures before. He looked great, having arrived in Seattle from England a few days ago and had made his way down to Portland to meet us.

Lisa and I have been in Portland before and it is a lovely place to walk around, and eat. We debated whether we should spend some time looking around and maybe having dinner there… but finally agreed that, with traffic an unknown factor, it might be best to head out to the coast, picking up supplies on the way.

It was an uneventful drive West on 18 out to the coast, turning South on 101 to get to Depoe Bay, some time before Sunset.

Now called Clarion Inn, the Surfrider Resort is very comfortable and our room was great, plenty of room for three of us.

August 20

With a day in hand, we drove up and down the coast, exploring Siletz Bay; Lincoln City; Captain Dan’s Pirate Pastry, and the Mossy Creek Pottery. For dinner we politely waited our turn at the crowded Tidal Raves Seafood Grill, which was very satisfying.

Tidal Raves Seafood Grill, Depoe Bay

August 21

Fog. We knew it could be an issue. It was here. We fairly quickly reasoned that, given a long day of driving ahead of us, it made very little sense to wait for the fog to possibly clear in time for the morning’s event. It made more sense to get on the road, and pull over at a point conducive to viewing.

The only sensible road out was South on 101 to Newport, then East on 20. The difference in latitude was not great and shouldn’t be an issue. We just needed somewhere to pull over at around 10:30 am, with clear skies.

The Corvallis-Newport Highway goes up and down and around through valleys of fog and high points and we didn’t really have to make a decision because somewhere a ways East of Corvallis we suddenly came across the only place that made sense:

Fantastic sky; good company; and a space to pull into.

(I have not been able to find the exact location on Google Maps but it must be somewhere around Eddyville.) We pulled over into a convenient gap at the side of the road, and set ourselves up.

Slowly the Moon pulled itself across the Sun.

At the moment of beginning of totality, a curious thing happened: As “twilight” fell, the steady darkening suddenly quantized: visibly snapped successfully darker in increments, all in the space of half a second before totality arrived completely. I believe this was the edge of the Sun sinking behind successive mountain ranges on the moon. I have not seen this effect described anywhere before and it was very unexpected.

The Great American Eclipse, Totality at 11:03 am, photo by Lisa Nicholls

I have no decent pictures of totality because I think I lost my mind a bit. I was looking around, trying to take it all in; trying to juggle both my iPad and my camera; and experiencing regret that I had not better prepared myself for this moment, photography-wise. Fortunately Lisa was snapping away, and Mitchell was all business, crouched behind his tripod and filters, and making adjustments.

It paid off. Mitchell’s two images rival any that I’ve seen published since.

Then… wait for it… the Moon pulls away and, again, with a strobe-like succession of flickers the landscape quickly lit up out of twilight.

This whole 2 minute event was the closest I’m likely to get to a religious experience.

Rather than dawdle as the eclipse moved into its latter phase, we quickly packed up the car and pulled out back on the highway to make our way across the State.

From Corvallis, we took 99W South to Eugene, and found a nice place for lunch. I can’t recall the name and we didn’t take any pictures. From there it was East on 58, into the smoke-heavy lower half of Oregon, towards Crater Lake.

I have to give a shout-out to the Subaru Imprezza, which although lacking a bit of pick-up in the top range, was a solid performer with a bottomless gas tank. We could not have asked for a better vehicle for this adventure.

The smoke was getting pretty thick, and the day was wearing on, and we had some concern that the road to Crater Lake might be closed… but it wasn’t. Considering the distance we had to travel, we made good time. We made to the rim at about 6:00 pm.

Even a smokey cloud has a silver lining – the light was kind of magical.

Crater Lake, Oregon, August 2017, photo by Mitchell Rodda

We all took tons of pictures and they were all great but Mitchell’s panorama is up there with the best.

It was definitely worth the detour. We couldn’t stay too long because we had to get down to Klamath Falls and check in to our motel reservation.

We passed Upper Klamath Lake as the Sun, probably tired from all the excitement earlier in the day, sank into the West.

The Sun sets over Upper Kamath Lake (photo: Lisa Nicholls)

It was just after 8:00 pm when we checked in and we found a place nearby that wasn’t closed for a quick dinner.

August 22

After a quick breakfast, we were on the road again with a full tank of gas, ready for a long boring drive down I-5 back to California and our car parked in Santa Rosa. Not entirely uneventful, with Mount Shasta looming out of the fog looking much larger than we expected; and some traffic issues.

For the most part, Northern California was relatively smoke-free, but driving West on 20 into Clearlake we were reminded of fires in this region in previous seasons, with growth coming back amongst the burnt areas.

After some delay dropping the keys back at the Rental Car office at Santa Rosa airport, said farewell to our faithful transport, the Subaru Imprezza, and transferred our stuff to the Audi and drove home.

It’s good to be home. A little rest… a little sight-seeing.

August 23

On the way to Napa, it’s a winery. Who would have thought.

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