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Museum of Optics & Mineral Collection

February 20, 2018 Tuesday – Museum of Optics & Mineral Collection at the University of Arizona, Tucson

2018 Southern Arizona and Astronomy

I go downstairs for breakfast and then check out of the Red Lion Inn. I had down to the University of Arizona, since a friend suggested I see their Optics Museum at the College of Optical Sciences. the University is located downtown, which is on the way to my new hotel on the south side of Tucson. I manage to find pay street parking only a couple of blocks away, and use Google Maps to find the building on campus.

The Museum of Optics is self-guided, with displays on several floors of the building. After starting in the lobby with several beautiful glass sculptures and some telescopes, the tour starts at the top of the building on the 7th floor. I then work my way down floor-by-floor. They have an extensive collection of eyeglasses, binoculars, monoculars, opera glasses, historic cameras, stereographs, telescopes, and much more. It is all fascinating, and free-of-charge! The architecture of the Meinel Optical Sciences Building is quite striking, since it has a segmented glass front, the sides and back are wrapped in dark copper, and there are internal light shafts that go top-to-bottom.

Since I have well over an hour left on the parking meter, I go to the Flandreau Science Center and Planetarium which is across the street from the Meinel Building. I pay the $6 Senior’s admission and spend time taking in what is perhaps the most impressive collection of minerals on public display in Tucson area. Their amazing collection of meteorites includes some as large as a suitcase! It is a shame the displays aren’t better lit, since it’s hard to appreciate the colours and textures of the minerals when they are in glass cases under fluorescent lights.

After checking into the Baymont Hotel and Suites, I enquire about the Tesla Destination chargers outside. They charge $2/hour and have to turn it on when I’m ready to charge. I’m pleased the charge is reasonable…this is going to be so much more convenient than staying at a hotel with no electric vehicle support. Rather than drive out to the Tesla Supercharger (about a 15 minute drive), I decide to try out the Tesla Destination charger. The front desk clerk is thrilled, since this is new to her, and she has never seen a Tesla up close before. As it turns out, several of the charge points don’t work, but I finally find one that lights up green on my Tesla. It is a 40 amp 209 volt supply, so the charge rate is about the same as I have at home (Level 2 charger). I end up paying for 3.5 hours’ worth of charging at $2/hr.

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Dragoon Mountain Ranch – more astronomy!

February 17, 2018 Friday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch – astronomy!

2018 Southern Arizona and Astronomy

There is fog on the ranch in the early morning and clouds but no rain today.

One of our group leaves us this morning to pick up her rental car in Tucson, and drive to Sedona to visit with her family. I plan to drive to Sedona tomorrow to stay two nights, so we might connect up there for a visit. I also plan to drive further north to see the Grand Canyon, but we’ll see how the weather cooperates for that adventure, because if there is too much snow, I won’t go!
RASC Victoria Centre: John McDonald &emdash; Observing with the 25"
By sunset, there are only clouds on the horizon – it is clear overhead! Everyone gets their gear together, we open up the observatory, and pull an all-nighter. One of our group is a dedicate visual observer, so she operates the 25” Newtonian, climbing a ladder every few minutes to observe visually, and sketching many celestial objects. I join her to enjoy the wonderful views through this massive telescope, and add many entries to my astronomy log book.

The three of us who are photographers are using the 20” Newtonian astrograph this evening. Since my images taken a few days ago on Feb 11th turned out so well, I have some time to take more photos, but after taking two good images, we soon run into problems. I decide to enjoy some visual observing instead., so my buddies use the rest of the night to take some images of objects they are interested in while I observe using a 25″ Newtonian, my binoculars, and unaided-eye visual observing. I only last about an hour in the cold before I have to pack it in and go inside where it is warm.

February 18, 2018 Saturday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch

I am the first up this morning since everyone else stayed up into the early morning hours observing and photographing the night sky.

It isn’t raining today, but there are big clouds drifting overhead constantly. I decide to shoot a time lapse video of the clouds forming and passing over the Dragoon Mountains. I rig up my Canon 6D dSLR on a tripod with an intervalometer and shoot medium-sized JPG files all afternoon until sunset when the battery dies. After dinner, I make it into a one and a half minute video and show it to my friends on the living room TV. I also show them the video I shot of the wildfire on the day we arrived.

Dragoon Mountains Afternoon from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

The rain returns this evening with a vengeance – we can hear downpours happening outside all evening. I check the forecast for Sedona, and it looks abysmal, with torrential rain, hail and winds! I go online to cancel my arrangements up there, and also for Grand Canyon. My Plan B is to stay in Tucson for the next few days, so I reserve a hotel at the last minute. Thank goodness for online booking systems!

The rest of us are all leaving tomorrow morning, so we all use the down time do some laundry, pack, and cleanup the house.

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Kartchner Caverns & the night sky

February 24, 2017 Friday – Kartchner Caverns & the night sky at Dragoon Mountain Ranch, Arizona, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Garry reserved (a few days ago) the Big Room Tour for the Kartchner Caverns for this afternoon. We depart around 1PM so we have time to look around the visitor centre before the tour starts. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, and they even insist that we leave our cellphones behind in a locker. The tour starts by everyone being taken up the hill in a tram, and then we enter the caverns through a series of doors and air locks. The Big Room is indeed very big, and the history of the caves is interesting, with lots of stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave objects to see. We also learn about the bats who inhabit the cave and use it as a nursery.

On the way back, we go to the Benson Golf Course for dinner. It is a modest place, but the food is good and inexpensive. This is our last meal together, since John, Wendy and I leave the group tomorrow.

We head back home to do some observing – my last night at Garry’s observatory. Garry and Matt struggle to get focusing working while using the Ha filter, but eventually have to admit defeat. Garry restores the system back to normal so I can image an object of interest – NGC 2174, an emission & reflection nebula. I stay inside the house to stay warm while the system takes the images until the series finishes at 2AM. Garry and Diane get up at that time to observe Omega Centauri (photo), so I join them to have a look before heading off to bed. My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; NGC 2174 emission & reflection nebula

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Mirror Lab

February 23, 2017 Wednesday – Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Both Reg and I drive the group into Tucson to visit the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab. John and Garry have visited the lab before, but come along again since it is fascinating. For Reg, Diane, Matt and I, this is our first visit. This lab produces many of the world’s largest astronomical mirrors.

The Mirror Lab’s current multi-year project is to make the seven 8.4 metre mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which will be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Combined together, the seven mirrors will form a single parabolic surface some 24.5 metres (80’) across! GMT is scheduled to be operational in 2022 with four mirrors, and will be fully operational in 2024 with all seven mirrors. The first mirror is completed, and the second through fourth mirrors are currently in the process of being made.

The weather is wonderfully clear this evening, so Diane, Reg and I use the 25” telescope for visual observing from Garry’s observatory. My observing report

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A ‘down day’ and imaging at night at Sedun observatory

Feb 21, 2017 Monday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch, St. David, Arizona

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Today is a “down day”, meaning we have no daytime activities planned, so the group can relax and do what they want. I catch up with my social media and email, and work on my journal entries. My blog is still behind – the last entry was for Victoria-Seattle – the first days of my travels, but at least I now have the material to write those blog posts.

It is my turn on the imaging telescope this evening, but when John and Garry try to take some flat frames before sunset, the sensor ices up. This means the desiccant inside the CCD camera is saturated with moisture, and needs to be baked so it dries out to make it effective again. This delays my imaging session of M1 the Crab Nebula by an hour and a half, however I am imaging on the 20” Newtonian Astrograph by 9:20PM and wind up my run just after midnight. Without a doubt, this is my best image of the Crab Nebula. The detail within the object is fantastic, and this is the first time I’ve imaged the green fringe around the nebula! My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; M1 Crab Nebula

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Hilo & Mauna Kea, Hawaii

February 23, 2014 – Sunday – Hilo and Mauna Kea, the Big Island of Hawai’i

The ms Statendam arrives early in Hilo, and docks at the pier in the harbour. I have some breakfast and gather up my cold weather gear for my big trip up to the summit of Mauna Kea. I disembark, find the shuttle to Harper’s Car & Truck Rental. and rent a 4×4 Ford Ranger truck, which Harper’s allow on the Mauna Kea access roads.

Hilo-Mauna Kea map

Hilo-Mauna Kea map

Once I’m off in my little truck, I work my way out of Hilo and drive up the Puainko Street Extension, which becomes the H200/H2000 Saddle Road. I stop to pick up some refreshments from a corner store, since I will skip lunch. I’m glad I brought along my vehicle GPS from home, which guides me through several complicated twists and turns until I get out of the city. The first half of the 45-mile drive to the summit takes me along the Saddle Road Highway (2000), a paved 3-lane road all the way to the Mauna Kea Access Road turn-off, and then to the Visitors Information Station (VIS) on a good (but steep) 2-lane paved road all the way through ranch country.

I stay at the VIS for 45 minutes in order to acclimatize myself to the elevation change (sea level to 9,000′), and then put the vehicle into 4-wheel drive and start up the gravel road to the summit. The road surface is washboard, so having 4WD is great to keep traction and stability. A few miles before the summit, the road returns to a paved surface, since dust control is a big factor with these expensive observatories.

There is snow on top, and the air is clear and cold. I pull on my winter coat, which I have been dragging around with me on this trip just for today’s adventure. It is wonderful to finally see all these observatories in person, especially the ones Canada is involved with. The Canada-France-Hawaii (CFHT) observatory has a prime location on the end of the north ridge, and is a beautiful, brilliant white structure. The Gemini North observatory is next to CFHT, and is a silver structure with bulging air vents all around the lower part of the dome…again, a very beautiful design.

I drive around to see all the observatories up close, but unfortunately I can’t stay for the VIS’ tours inside some of the facilities. The sky is a deep blue and crystal clear, and the observatories are stark white or silver, so I use the High Dynamic Range feature of my Canon 6D dSLR. This allows me to capture the scenes much more successfully. I shoot lots of photos, since I probably won’t return to Mauna Kea again. I can see the summit of the mountain and the trail leading to it from Gemini North, but I have to be careful to not exert myself too much while at 4,205 metres (13,792′) elevation, since the amount of oxygen available up here is less than half than at sea level.

Reluctantly, I have to return to my cruise ship, so I start the drive down the mountain, with my vehicle in low range 4WD and in 2nd gear as well. I barely touch the brakes for the whole way down the mountain until I shift out of 4WD at the VIS before returning to paved roads. The return trip to Hilo and sea level goes without a hitch. I return the vehicle to the rental company, and I’m back on board the ship a couple of hours before departure time.