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.
It is a great experience spending the nights in Death Valley. We have not had that opportunity till now May be in the future. Thanks for sharing these nice photos.
Thanks SG 🙂 You should try these next time you are in a dark place like Death Valley.
Wow, your travel posts show these attractions better than what public usually sees. They are not just common attractions to see, but there is so much more. I love how well you research about the destination. 🙂 Great pics. I would love to see that sky too. How awesome would it be to not have any other light distractions.
So, I guess you are heading to Yosemite again, next ? 🙂
I also, just, realized that I have not been getting post notifications from your blog instantly. Settings look like are configured fine. I hope I didn’t miss other posts.
oh you are not getting notifications? What do you usually use? WP updates or RSS feeds?
Thanks Dil 🙂 Glad you liked the post. You should try these at Death Valley sometime.
Yosemite has not yet been planned 🙂 Might go next year.
I am such an amateur that I was not aware stars (appear to) move from one point to another, in the sky! They all look the same and they don’t move in front of my eyes – enough reason for me to assume that they stand in the same place. My goal is to identify and locate pole star, someday 😛
🙂 you should try locating pole star. These days all the smartphones have apps which show sort of a sky map. It helps in locating objects in sky 🙂
I don’t know much about stars, though I know we can see North Star with naked eye. Is that called Dhruv Nakshatra?
I can imagine how you felt sleeping under the stars. We were doing that when we were small…sleeping on the terrace, but with all the disturbances of artificial lights from roadside.
Nice pictures, A.K. I will ask my son to make a visit.
Yes I think North star is the dhruva nakshatra. It must be so nice to sleep on terrace right? I have never tried doing that before.
Wow!! You have had such a fantastic experience. Sleeping under the stars and seeing and clicking so many stars and galaxies …. how cool is that!!
Yeah it was fun Shilpa. You should try it sometime.
Very nice pics and info. 🙂
Death valley is in my places to visit list.. Now I’ve got some more ideas on what to do there.. 🙂
Thanks Hal. I am glad you liked the post. You should definitely visit Death Valley sometime.
I am kicking myself that we never stayed the night at Death Valley. Everyone told us there’s nothing much to do, but sounds like it was a great time. Were you camping there?
yeah same here. Even many people I asked said there was nothing much to do in Death Valley and that we would be better off visiting Las Vegas instead.
We did not camp. We stayed at one of the resorts in the park.
Quite an coincident. Yesterday we drove to a Forest area which is considered best Dark Sky park in UK to look out for stars and do star trial photography. It appeared very cloudy though. Your milky way picture has come out really well Ash!
Thanks Anu. My star trails did not come out that well 😦
Oh that’s bad.. cloudy weather must have spoiled your plans. Do try star trail photography sometime. I kind of lost patience at the end, since I had to stand in the cold for a long time.
Please Ash, don’t make me more jealous.. We went to Las Vegas during the new year and decided to stop by Death Valley for few hours on our return journey.
Among all that I saw on the trip, the last one at Death Valley was our most favorite, it is not even remotely scary or boring, infact we found it too fascinating, really wished we could stay one night to see the sky but could not. I would definitely go back to do that again.
And I loved your experience and pictures, that Milky Way is just wow, sending this link to Ims, he will love it. 🙂
oh yeah next time plan a trip such that you get to spend couple of days in Death Valley. Good that we did not listen to our friends who said there was nothing to do there. Do spend nights next time you are there or actually in any other national park which is away from city lights. It was very beautiful at night since it was very dark.