milky way

But the stars were amazing

| Last night, or this morning, rather, was supposed to be the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Brave soothsayers predicted that there might be as many as one hundred per hour.

The Perseid meteor shower is so named because the meteors seem to originate in the constellation Perseus, right next door, astronomically speaking, to Cassiopeia and Pegasus. I've never been much good at constellations unless someone draws the lines in the sky, but what the heck? It seemed from all I read that if I just cast my gaze to the northeast I would be in the right ballpark.

The other caveat about the Perseids is that viewing would be best, so they said, in the very early morning, in the hours before dawn.

So, yesterday after brunch I came home and took a nice long nap, then packed up my star-gazing reclining chair, some warm clothes, a star chart (ever the optimist, I), and my untrusty Nikon D50. It didn't get me any pictures of the Aurora Borealis, but maybe in warmer temperatures....

Perseid meteor showers sky chart

Later, when I awoke at 12:45am, I dressed warmly and headed off to Joshua Tree National Park, where it is really, really dark, without the glow of city light pollution. En route to our favorite isolated location within the park, I noticed that every parking area along the road was filled with cars of hopeful meteor watchers.

(Actually I've never understood these people parking along the road like that — every car that passes by surely wreaks havoc with night vision.)

I set up along Geology Tour Road, a washboarded gravel road that pretty much goes nowhere except to something called Squaw Tank, although the map does show a dotted line Berdoo Canyon Road that appears to return to the Coachella Valley, in any case definitely not a night-time excursion.

My warm clothes quickly proved inadequate and I wrapped myself in a blanket that I keep in the car. That helped, for a while.

Meanwhile, I kept waiting for the vaunted shower to begin. Occasional meteors did, in fact, streak across the sky from time to time, but at a rate more like 1 per 20 minutes rather than 100 per hour.

I tolerated my disappointment and the cold for about two hours before I broke camp and headed home, encouraging Sophie to use the heater all the way.

The untrusty Nikon D50

The whole point of bringing along the camera was to see if I could get some night time-exposures that would perhaps show star tracks from the rotation of the earth below the sky. But once again I was foiled and frustrated. I could not get the remote control to open and close the shutter as it is supposedly capable of doing. Maybe the battery in the remote is dead, I surmised.

This morning I went back to the manual and found a section that explained that when you set the camera for remote control, that setting is only good for one minute by default! Who knew? Of course more than a minute had elapsed between setting up the camera and attempting to take the first picture! The manual helpfully showed that you can select other time limits if one minute is not enough for you: 5 min, 10 min, 15 min. Permanently is not a choice, nor is "until I turn the camera off" which would be reasonable.

The problem I had was that I absolutely could not find the corresponding setting in my camera! I looked at every menu choice, in vain. It turns out that there is another whole "advanced" menu hidden behind "CMS/Setup." "Advanced" would have fit in the same space. Would it have been so painful for the camera software engineers to drop what I suppose stands for Camera Management System? 

All of which leaves me no closer to actually using the camera for long-exposure pictures than I was before.

One last thing: When you're setting the camera to use the remote control, the gray icon that appears on a gray background in the little display on the top of the camera is maybe half a millimeter high. How is anybody, even in broad daylight, supposed to be able to see that? Much less at night, even with a red LED light for illumination?

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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