A Night on the Summit

A photographer needs a guide around Keck for the night? Setup time-lapse cameras throughout the facility? Sounds like fun… Sign me up.

Two Lasers
Two AO lasers aimed at the galactic center with a large red glow coming from Kilauea
Thus I meet local photographer Jason Chu at Keck in the afternoon and help him drag a mountain of camera gear into the summit facility. We loaded quite a pile onto the cart, eight full DSLR cameras and a stack of tripods. The plan is to set them up in the domes for the night then re-collect the cameras in the morning. Six cameras in the domes and a couple more to carry through the night.

Two lasers, both aimed at the galactic center were on the schedule for the second half of the night. Andrea Ghez and her team having time on both telescopes. The weather looked a bit problematic, thick cirrus covered the sky, but the forecast called for clearing after midnight.

Jason came with a carefully drafted plan, where to set and aim each camera, timer settings, lens choice, all carefully considered. A pretty good plan too, only a few details needed changing as we placed each camera. Four cameras in Keck 1, another two in Keck 2. One camera placement was my idea… Clamped to the Keck 1 dome where it would track with the telescope. I had spent a few minutes in the machine shop putting together a solid camera clamp.

Unfortunately the clouds did not clear as predicted, thin cirrus hanging on through the night. It was clear just to the west, but stubbornly would not give us the clear skies we needed overhead. Several times it looked to clear, but the clouds would thicken again. We did have both lasers on sky for a few minutes, just enough for a few photos and not long enough to do any science.

With high hopes for some dual laser time-lapse I was ready to set up my own camera, but ended up with only a few still photos. Jason got a few nice shots during that short time, having eight cameras helped make the most of those few minutes. I did get a nice video clip of the telescope shot by rotating the dome with a camera.

Jason is working on a personal project and will be out shooting more images in the dark. I will certainly feature the results of his effort here on DarkerView when he finishes. For myself? I will have to schedule another opportunity to go up and shoot some laser time-lapse. There is an intriguing night at the beginning of July on the schedule with both Keck lasers. I also need to mail Jason a camera remote, an accomplishment that only one bit of camera gear got left behind.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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