When we recently planned a trip to Death Valley National Park, people said spending 3 days in Death Valley would be wasteful since there wasn’t much to do in Death Valley. But 3 days were not enough for Death Valley. Really! There is a lot to see and do!
Death Valley is gifted with a dark night sky. I could see more stars in the sky than I have ever seen. There is hardly any light pollution and there is so much you can do at night.
Sleep under the stars.
This is something that was on my to-do list for a long time.
On the second night, we went to a ranger program where they let us see stars from telescopes they had setup on the airport runway. The program was pretty boring for us, since we have already seen and learnt about the stars they were talking about. We wanted something more interesting, but they were talking mostly about basics. We instead slept under the stars like many other people there did and the sky was too beautiful.
On the third night we were there, we drove to Zabriskie point which is away from lights. It was pretty cold outside, so we opened the moon roof of the car and slept under the stars for sometime . It was mesmerizing just looking at those bright lights in the sky.
Here is a picture I took of the sky.
Look at the Milky Way.
This was my first attempt to capture milky way on my camera from the ranger program. We never got such a clear view of the sky earlier and the sky was never this dark before. Hope to do a better job next time. I also heard that it is better to shoot the milky way in summer.
Shoot star trails.
I wanted to try shooting star trails from a very long time. So the first night we were there, I gave it a try from our hotel. Everything is too bright in the picture since there was a lot of light pollution. I must try it again from some darker area. To get a nice star trail, you must focus on Polaris (star). All the other stars appear to spin around Polaris (which is the North star). Star trails made me realize how Earth is rotating on its axis all the time.
Imagine someone standing on the equator. If he looks straight up, he will see stars fly past him all night long as the Earth spins, sweeping him around the circumference of the Earth. The stars would appear to rise in the East and set in the West. However, if he were at the North Pole, it would look like the stars are spinning around a point straight up in the sky. This point is called the North Celestial Pole (NCP), and is basically the same as the North Pole on the Earth projected up into the sky. All the stars seem to spin around this point, just as the Earth spins around its own North Pole.
The reason Polaris is important is because it is so close to the NCP. As the night progresses, Polaris does not rise or set, but seems to be glued to the sky! So at any time in the night you can find Polaris, and it is always in the North (in northern hemisphere). (I am not so sure about southern hemisphere). More about Polaris: Here
I want to shoot something like this next time:
Image source: Wikimedia
Look at the sky through the telescope.
We took our telescope with us, so that we could look at any interesting object in sky. I am so glad we did that. On the third day, when we were coming back from Racetrack Playa late in the evening, we noticed a single really bright object in sky. There were no stars in the sky, so it had to be some planet. We then realized that it was Venus (thanks to the night sky app on my phone). We immediately stopped the car, took out the telescope and set it up. I caught my first glimpse at Venus. It looked like a crescent moon. Ever since I saw Venus that day, I have been looking at it in the sky every night. It happens to be the brightest object in the sky, brighter than the brightest stars. It is very easy to locate it in the sky and it rises in the evening now, if you want to see Venus.
Above picture taken from: Phases of Venus
In 1610, with his small telescope, Galileo first saw the planets Venus and Mercury moving through a cycle of phases much like our own Moon. This observation finally killed the ancient Ptolemaic view of the solar system, which held the Earth as the centre of the universe. And it helped bolster the Copernican view of the solar system with the Sun at the centre and the Earth taking its place as the third rock from the Sun. For Venus, the cycle from full to full takes 584 days.
Mercury exhibits the same series of phases, though it moves through the cycle more quickly, in approximately 116 days, because of its speedier orbit around the Sun. Unlike Venus, Mercury appears brightest when it’s full. Learn more about Venus and Mercury here: Phases of Venus
The one planet that I am eager to see in my telescope is Mercury. We have already seen : Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Jupiter’s moons and Saturn through our telescope. Since Uranus and Neptune are not visible to naked eye, it may be difficult to find them in the sky.
Yosemite is supposedly another good place to see the night sky.