Blog - Two Cold Nights, August 2013
August 2, 2013 - Courtright Reservoir, CA
Living in the Fresno area, we are extremely fortunate to be only a two-hour drive from Courtright Reservoir. Though my good friend, Chad, and I throughly enjoyed our trip, we only went there after deciding to forego another location due to weather predictions. Though a very large fire was burning only 20-25 miles away, the prevailing winds blew the smoke in another direction.
Due to its elevation of 8,200 feet, and the fact that the Central Valley was not in the middle of a heat wave, we had two beautiful days (highs around 70 degrees) with cold nights (lows around 40 degrees).
Our first night was Friday, August 2, 2013. I started with two open clusters in Cygnus - M29 and M39. I chose these two objects because (a) I had not yet photographed them and (b) I was waiting for that night's grand prize - the Helix Nebula - to get higher in the sky. It was well worth the wait, and I feel extremely positive about my photographs of all three objects. It was also the first night of a new experiment with my old Rebel XT - now that I have AC power for it, I have the ability to do much longer exposures. Five hours of the star trails around Polaris really shows the beautiful motion of the stars in this part of the sky.
Unfortunately, the wizards at the various weather forecast agencies predicted partly cloudy for night number two, Saturday, August 3. Fortunately, they were wrong. Though it was hardly a surprise to find yet another example of erroneous weather predictions, it was a very good thing that it worked in our favor this time.
I continued my Open Cluster quest, this time bagging images of M52 and M103. Then I moved on to the Little Dumbbell Nebula (M76), a tiny object in my field of view, but still neat looking (and another object crossed off my Messier list). This led me to my main challenge for the night - the absolutely gorgeous Triangulum Galaxy (M33). One of the major benchmarks of a very dark sky is the ability to see M33 with the naked eye. Though Courtright Reservoir is considered a Dark Grey zone and is at a very high elevation, I was unable to spot this galaxy despite several attempts through the night.
I had already photographed this galaxy once before, but it was from a location with somewhat light polluted skies. I wanted to do this beautiful galaxy justice, and I feel like I accomplished just that. I also did another star trail shot, this time pointed due south. Even though the skies are extremely dark, we still definitely have a slight light dome coming from Fresno. Happily, it only has a minor influence on otherwise pristine, clear skies.
Beginning in September, however, this beautiful location will begin getting colder and colder, likely closing in October due to snow. I will miss this site and its pristine skies, as I won't see them again until June of next year. I look forward to it.