People frequently post observing reports of clear nights, but I thought I would post this report about my struggles with some marginal weather over the past few days. This was at my usual site about 8 miles west of the west edge of Laramie.
After getting a good look at it from my front yard the previous morning, I decided to try to photograph Hale-Bopp, despite the weather forecast. From town, there was some clearing after 3am, but by the time I made it out to the observing site, it was mostly cloudy again. I spent about 45 minutes channel surfing on AM radio before coming back home (is it a federal law that one station in every market must carry the Art Bell show? Jeez...)
Cloudy with some snow flurries.
It had been cloudy all day but the forecast was for skies to become partly cloudy and after midnight this came to pass. I left at about 3am (10UT) for the 15 minute drive in mostly clear skies and a temperature of 12F in light winds. I arrived early enough to photograph a couple of relatively bright asteroids near opposition. While setting up, I noticed that the sky was particularly transparent with a limiting magnitude of about +6.7. I was able to acquire the Gegenschein based upon guessing about where it would be, and later confirmed it on a chart.
I was in such a hurry to beat some clouds moving in from the east that I forgot to check the focus on the 135mm lens and didn't realize it until I had taken 3 pictures. A few minutes later, I tried again on one of the asteroids, but I decided that there might have been some slight interference from clouds. By this time it had clouded up pretty good.
Just before 11UT, I tried again for the two asteroids and once again I forgot to check the focus. Finally, I got good exposures of both fields. However, while this was happening, it was becoming quite cloudy in the east over Laramie. The sky wasn't good enough for any long exposures (the asteroids photos were only 2 minutes each), so I sat in my car and waited on Hale-Bopp. It briefly became completely overcast, but cleared up enough at about 12UT that I was able to see Hale-Bopp for about 10 seconds through a thin spot. In these conditions, it looked about as it had three nights previous from my moderately light polluted yard in town. To cap things off, about 10 blocks from home at 12:30UT I hit snow flurries.
Again, the forecast wasn't very impressive, and I had no intention of trying Hale-Bopp. However, the extended forecast was bad so I had decided that if it cleared up for a while, I would try to get photos to confirm the motion of the two asteroids, since I might not have another chance until the objects had moved considerably. By about 5UT, it was pretty clear, but windy. I vacilated about going, but finally I decided to do it.
I was set up by just after 6UT in rather nasty conditions. The temperature was about 15F with a southeast wind at about 25 mph (7 miles away, the airport recorded a gust to 35 mph at about the time I quit). I started an exposure on 24 Themis at 6:14, but stopped after a minute because I realized it was snowing! The wind was strong enough to bring in some snow flakes from clouds several miles southeast of my location. I unmounted the camera and put in back in the car. Scanning the sky, I was able to see the Gegenschein with snow in the air! In fact, since it was nearly overhead, it was even more prominent than the night before. Also, the with the cloudiness over Laramie, light pollution was diminished. The snow flurries did seem to have a slight effect on seeing faint stars, but not on larger objects. By 6:40UT, I couldn't see Laramie at all, but the northwest 60% of the sky was still fine and I spent some time unsuccessfully trying to confirm the zodiacal band extending from the Gegenschein.
By 7UT, I decided the flurries were light enough to get the camera out again. I got my shots of both asteroids and tried an untracked 7 minute exposure for the Gegenschein with a 35mm lens. It this latter shot comes out, I'll put it on my astro- photography page.
And tonight, it's snowing with 1-3" expected. Hrrrumph.
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