An Astrophoto Trip to Laguna Mountain: Comet PANSTARRS and the Helix Nebula

June 3/4, 2016

Our core astrophophoto team hadn't gotten together for many months and our prior attempt, in early May, was clouded out. I found that Comet PANSTARRS was going to pass within half a degree of the Helix Nebula on Saturday morning June 4. Perfect excuse to get together! I also had new gear to test out - the Trio Win10 tablet computer as CCDOPS platform, and fire up the ST4000xcm for the first time in a couple of years and make sure the new dessicant system was working well. Chris Kitting planned a series of all-night imaging to put together a movie of the sky from sunset to sunrise. I planned to get the Rho Ophiuchi region and try stacking .jpg's in Registax, and get some raw material to help in instruction for Astro 9 this Fall. JP came down from Grass Valley with his 25" Dob, Kirk brought his 12", and invited a friend who brought a 14" Celestron on a massive computerized mount. It was an impressive set of optical firepower, I have to say.

I also looked forward to doing a 6 mile run in the early morning, to Laguna Falls. The problem, as game day arrived, was a "dirty ridge" as a low pressure area north of us spilled cirrus into our area. It made for a great sunset and sunrise, and the clouds were mostly absent all evening, till about 2am when they came back pretty strong, and made the early morning Comet / Helix more than challenging. Chris got about 4 images out of more than a dozen attempts, which were pretty spectacular. Hopefully he'll publish them somewhere.

Kirk B has some great shots of the proceedings, posted on his flickr account.

       
         

8am, and I'm heading off on my run before it gets any hotter. Note the cloud cover is now pretty thick.

Laguna mtn is the high peak at left. "The Gorge", where Laguna Falls is, is just left of center, hidden behind the nearer mountain at right. The trail first gains a ridge, then switchbacks down to Laguna Creek in the mddle of the picture, then crosses and meanders around the left side of the near mountain before descending steeply to the Gorge and Falls.

Some beautiful flowers on the trail, including this unusual poppy.

And just as I was wondering whether there would be butterflys to photograph, this one lands on the ground right at my feet and obliges for some closeups, before fluttering off.