Trip to Dark Skies

Last week, my family and I took a trip out to Galena. My wife and I frequent the area, but this was the first time we were taking the kids along. I took a video a couple days before we left, talking about my plans to shoot 2+ hours of the Eastern Veil Nebula in Chicago and then 2+ hours of the same object from Bortle 3 skies in Galena. I knew there would be a huge difference and I’d need to find a way to get to dark skies more often.

Then we got there. The first night was cloudy at dusk, then exceptionally clear. But I was there with my family. My oldest daughter didn’t feel well and I was tired from the drive. I took out the camera and tripod and managed some horrible Milky Way images, then went to bed. I learned a few things about shooting the Milky Way that night.

  • It’s really hard
  • My camera and lenses suck
  • Galena skies are Bortle 3, except for the Southern horizon.

Night two started clear, but clouds invaded about 1.5hrs after I was setup. I managed 48 minutes on the Eastern Veil Nebula from dark skies. In the comparisons below, the image on the left is 2hrs of integration from Chicago. The right is 48 minutes from Galena.

While I did pick up a similar amount of detail and some boost in the blue channel from dark skies, I think I learned something else. I used the Hutech IDAS NB1 filter (almost identical to the newer Optolong L-eNhance), and it is amazing for light pollution. While good detail did take longer than dark skies, it didn’t require 3 hours of driving. For those of us wanting to shoot with One Shot Color Cameras (OSC) in urban to semi-urban locations, these filters are a lifesaver. The next tier up, and 3-5 times the price, I’d put as the TRIAD and Quadband filters from Raidan.

Night three was cloudy, I was tired, and that was that. I didn’t even care because I did take away one other lesson from this trip. It was my now-six-year-old’s birthday and this was my kids’ first time out to a place like this. Where we live, there are no hills and the sky is so bright you can read a book outside at 2AM. Galena Illinois is the land that the glaciers forgot, and on a clear summer night the Milky way stretches from one horizon to the other. It wasn’t about how much time I got under the stars, it was about the kids seeing things they never had. I was happy things turned out the way they did and I wasn’t obsessing over equipment or integration time. I was awake to play with the kids, to hike up a 700ft “hill” to a lookout, or to just hang out and have a bite to eat in a town that time forgot. Instead of remembering dad sturggling to hold his head up and looking over data, they’ll remember hours swimming at the pool nestled into the side of a “mountain”, making stupid videos on a golf course. and just spending time together with nobody fighting.

Clear Skies, Bleary Eyes – KA

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