The island is home to a vibrant community of photographers, a mix of professionals and serious amateurs. There is one set of photos everyone, and I do mean everyone wants… Dual lasers on the Milky Way.
Just occasionally both of the keck telescopes, and both lasers, are focused on the center of the galaxy, both stabbing right at the heart of the Milky Way.
Opportunities to see and photograph this are few, and occur strictly during the summer months of June to August, when the Milky Way is high overhead. furthermore, these opportunities occur only when Andre Ghez and her UCLA Galactic Center Group have both telescopes scheduled.
July 25th was such a night, a good opportunity to get both lasers. Andrea’s group has the first half of the night, turning over the ‘scopes to other astronomers just after midnight. Actually there were a few nights this particular week, we just chose the 25th. After this galactic center season is over, at least until next year.
Another night on the summit for photography, another night of dual lasers working the sky above the Keck telescopes.
I have never really had a chance to properly use the old Celestron mount for photography after finishing it a few months back. Short tests, but nothing properly following the sky for hours on end as the equipment was meant to do.
It works, and it works very well indeed.
The video below contains 2.5 hours of time-lapse at 15 second for each exposure for 557 frames. Put that together and render at 24fps and you have the following result…
I have been trying to get some good photos of both Keck lasers on the galactic center for some years. Other photographers have produced spectacular photos that have me seething with envy. Why can I not get equivalent photos? It is not like I have a lack of access. The answer is mostly bad luck and circumstance. I do work, this limits the nights I can make the attempt. On those times I have ascended the mountain to photograph I have been plagued by bad weather.
There are only a few nights a year when Andrea Ghez and the UCLA Galactic Center Group have both telescopes scheduled, the night when both lasers will be focused on the core of our galaxy and the massive black hole that dwells there. Last year I had attempted a night only to find clouds and fog through the night allowing only a few moments of dual lasers and disappointing results.
This year looked to be much the same. The night was set, I had volunteered to host several local photographers, we had film permits on-hand, an observatory vehicle reserved, all the arrangements made. The only issue? The Mauna Kea Weather Center forecast promised high clouds and fog for the night. I was bracing for yet another disappointment.