Frog (and friend)


There were a few orographic cumulus clouds hanging around the summit of Mount Pinos as I set up my gear for a few nights of imaging. "Nothing to worry about" I said to myself, "they'll dissipate by nightfall and I'll enjoy a night of clear, dark skies. Following a monthly ritual, I spent the next two hours setting up the equipment I use for astronomical imaging. Trying to ignore the fact that the clouds were overtaking the last vestiges of blue sky, I was beginning to question the wisdom of setting up all this expensive equipment under a sky rapidly filling with clouds. Now it was time to set up the laptop, the electric focuser, the power inverter and the camera's power supply, plus what seems like hundreds of wires, cords and cables. This stuff doesn't like water. What if it rains?

Should I continue? Should I pack up? Should I just wait and see?

Unwilling to steal defeat from the jaws of victory, I decided to leave the remaining equipment in my vehicle and watch the weather for a while. I poured myself a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, sat in the Suburban and listened to the radio as the Phillies gave the Dodgers a lesson in baseball. And the sky grew darker and darker. Another sip of wine and I heard a distant clap of thunder. Damn!

Within two minutes the scope was wearing a protective cape of aluminized mylar, ready for rain should it come. The C11 and my new AstroPhysics mount would stay dry. As I returned to the truck, the first drops fell. For 45 minutes it rained, quite hard at times.

By 7:30 the rain subsided and the sky cleared quickly. "Ha", I thought to myself, "Good call!" I hurriedly set up the remaining gear and polar aligned the mount, working around a few wisps of lingering clouds. By 10:30 I was ready to begin the first exposure sequence. The dark nebula I would shoot all night was properly framed, and the autoguider was calibrated and tracking. In the computer software that runs the CCD camera, I set up a sequence of twenty-one red-filtered exposures of ten minutes each. Three and a half hours of red-filtered exposures would be used for the luminance channel in the final RRGB image. This dark nebula is seen in silhouette against a red emission background, so a red-filtered luminance channel would work well. Despite the heavy condensation that kept even the laptop's screen and keyboard damp, I was happy I'd chosen to stay through the rains. It was going to be a good night.

Another bit of wine and a half sandwich later I realized the laptop was plaintively beeping at me. Uh oh, had moisture found its way into the laptop's interior? A quick look at the guider's image showed no guide star. Only noise. Not good! Then, that sinking feeling came over me. I didn't want to look up, for fear of what I'd see. Yes, the clouds were back. At first, just a little patch nicely located in front of my target. Within twenty minutes they covered the whole sky. They looked thick and threatening. I recalled my dear friend Helmut Wilck telling me, "If a dog bites you once, shame on the dog. If he bites you twice, shame on you." I knew what I had to do.

It was 3:00AM when I rolled out of the parking lot at Mt. Pinos, leaded for home. "At least I'll beat the Friday morning rush-hour traffic" I thought to myself, trying hard to find anything to be happy about. I returned home with a truckload of damp astronomy equipment and fifty minutes worth of exposures on the laptop's hard drive. Not even enough data to get a decent monochromatic shot, much less the tricolor image I'd hoped for.

Determined to document this stormy night's efforts, I processed the little bit of image data and put the result here. It will help me remember the night it rained cats and frogs.


Imaging Equipment

Exposure Information


 About This Image

I'm sure you seasoned astronomers instantly recognized this dark nebula. For any that need help with the identification, I'll post it here in a week or two.

 About This Outing

It was wet!