First night

October 17, 2011

First time out shooting the stars last night. In the morning we had walked the Rim Trail, which goes from our Verkamps’s to Mather Point and the main visitor’s center, looking for spots with good views, though it’s hard to say there is a bad view anywhere of the canyon. In the end, I found a plateau about a mile and a half walk from our place; it was flat rocks jutting out from the trail, with no guard rail, so I was pretty careful, especially in the dark.

Before going out, I made a chart of the sunset, moon rise and moon set plus the times and directions of the International Space Station flyovers. Amazingly enough, there was an ISS sighting for every day this week in this part of Arizona, all around the first hour after sunset. So I first set up to photograph the ISS, which appeared right on time at 6:45pm, slowly arching across the sky.

I moved to the flat rocks described above and set up one camera to get star trails as they rotate around the North Star. Then I got various shots of the Milky Way, which was directly overhead stretching from west to east. I realized I couldn’t turn on my flashlight after setting up the first camera — it would ruin that shot. So I gingerly stepped around the flat rocks, hoping not to trip on anything. There was a faint amount of light on the white rocks; it wasn’t completely dark, which was one of the main problems that night. There were only 3 hours between sunset and moonrise, so by the time it began to get pretty dark around 8pm, there was a faint glow in the east from the moon (about 75 percent full).

The deep orange moon rose about 8:50pm, looking very eerie. From the top of the rim, the rock formations of the canyon began to glow in the moonlight. In the 60-second exposures I was taking, the sky also brightened and stars began to be washed out from the moon. I was using a filter that balanced the light between the sky in the top of the photo and the ground in the bottom and was having problems with odd reflections. By the time I figured out how to prevent them, the moon was too high and bright.

I found one more location with an interesting tree and the moonlit landscape before walking back to Verkamp’s. It’s always an adventure doing this kind of photography. It can be very awe-inspiring to stand there with the bowl of stars and the galaxy over your head.

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