Astronomy in the Park

August 12, 2013

Monday, August 12

We’re back in New York now, having traveled over the weekend from the Rocky Mountains to Denver and then home on a Sunday afternoon flight. Great memories of the park, the cabin, the people. Within a week I hope to update my website with a whole page of Rocky Mountain photos. Here’s a few more until then.

Friday was Astronomy in the Park night at the Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead. Every two weeks during the summer, Ranger Cynthia Langguth leads a talk about the night sky, and a group of local amateur astronomers bring their telescopes for people to see what’s in the sky. But that night, Ranger Meredith led the program; she’s training to lead the night sky programs. She was great, getting the audience involved in a demonstration of the size of the universe. Here she is using an inflatable earth. (click on all photos to enlarge)

08-09-astroAbout 125 people were there, a pretty good turnout for RMNP. Many may have come from the nearby Moraine Park campground and some from nearby towns. A lot of people stayed on as it got dark to look through the eight or nine telescopes set up in the meadow and focused on various objects in the sky including Saturn, the Andromeda galaxy and the Ring Nebula.

During the program Meredith announced that the artist-in-residence was present (me) and available to help with any photography-related questions. Several people had good questions about problems they had shooting night sky pictures. I roamed around looking through telescopes but was also working, trying to get some photos of the telescopes and the sky. It’s much harder than it sounds since there is little-to-no light on the ground. All the astronomers have small red flashlights so they can see the controls on their telescopes but not ruin everyone else’s night vision. I found a man named Ken with a nice white reflector telescope; I’m not sure what he looks like since it was dark. If I put the camera very low to the ground, I could photograph his telescope against the northern sky.

Looking to the south that evening wasn’t so great; most of the sky was clear but a low cloud bank hovered in the east and southeast, reflecting the lights of Denver. The lights were quite bright at one point, making an eerie glow over the trailhead. But the northern views were good, and I got Ken’s telescope and above him, the Big Dipper, the North Star and the Milky Way. I headed back to the cabin around 11 p.m., my last night of shooting over.

08-09-scope-SSH_1286

We woke up early on Saturday to pack, needing to “check out” of the cabin by noon. We cleaned up the house and returned the keys to the main visitor center. It was sad to leave the park, and I’m hoping we will return someday. In Denver, where we stayed Saturday night, we went to see a Mark Rothko exhibit at the Denver Art Museum that afternoon. It was very good, covering the decade or so before his “color field” period. We also saw an exhibit on Navajo blankets.

Sunday morning we returned to Denver’s arts complex to see the new Clyfford Still Museum, entirely dedicated to this early abstract expressionist who isn’t as well-known as Rothko since he avoided gallery and museum shows during most of his career. We saw the progression of his life’s work, and it was amazing to see how an artist refines and changes what he does. As we were walking around the arts complex, Ann took a photo of a huge Claes Oldenburg sculpture of a small broom and dustpan. A plaque noted the appropriate behavior around a “GIANT broom and dustpan,” including “chatting with the broom about cleaning products” and “blaming the broom for the degradation of contemporary morals.”

Claes Oldenburg's broom

So then it was on to the Denver airport and the flight back to New York. I feel I was able to accomplish a lot at Rocky Mountain during the residency. The terrain was totally different than what I experienced recently in the Southwest, and it was a challenge to adapt to it both physically, due to the altitude, and artistically, as I had to factor in the mountains and what effect they would have on the rising moon when visualizing the photos I wanted to take. But there were interesting trees and lakes to use as foreground objects, which really made some of the pictures. I was able to work on and improve some techniques that led to better pictures, including using the SkyTracker device that tracks the stars during long exposures and keeps them sharp. Thanks to all the people at Rocky Mountain National Park for making this great experience possible.

08-09andromeda-SSH_1293Found one last photo, for now. By extreme luck, I got a meteor streaking through the atmosphere passing below the Andromeda Galaxy on Friday night. This is a big crop from the edge of a frame that looks very much like the one of Ken and his telescope above. Not only was the streak just inside the picture but I had the shutter open for a 30 second exposure at that very moment.

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