I finally did it. I packed up a bunch of equipment and drove 5% of the Earth’s circumference to find clear, dark skies. And, it wasn’t really that difficult, even in a mid sized sedan hybrid! Mind you, this wasn’t the sole purpose of the trip, but it was certainly a highlight. A member of the San Diego Astronomy Association kindly provided some GPS coordinates of an abandoned heli-pad “in the middle of nowhere” which made for a wonderful site. A large hill blocked most of the San Diego light dome, and what’s this we stood on? Pavement! The Milky Way was fabulously brilliant without any moon around to wither the stars into blackness.
Packing up gear was not very difficult – the CGEM, NP101is, STL11k, computer, and batteries. Now, I mentioned this was a hybrid, which has a very special bonus (at least the Ford Fusion Hybrid does). In this car, there is a normal 15A 120V outlet, draining the vehicles charge. When the charge gets low, it automagically turns the motor on and recharges it up. I was only running the laptop from the car, and it seemed to start the motor about once every ten minutes where it’d run for maybe two. This had an added benefit of providing warmth. The mount and cameras ran from a Duracell powerpack 600. This is a great battery and easily charged with solar panels if you’re looking for a good source of portable power.
THe target for the night was NGC 6960 a wonderful nebula complex I’d previously imaged with a color camera. This time however, I used the much larger sensor of the STL-11000 and included some Ha frames to add in some extra sparkle! The full frame has a bit of vignetting and the pixels are a bit large (no dithering/drizzle), but overall a pretty nice image for a quick night of work…