Observing the New Century at Island Lake

By Clayton Kessler


New Years Eve Ė 1999. So there I was, alone under a darkening sky, equipment set up, polar alignment made, waiting for civilization as we know it to come to an end! I really didnít expect any y2k problems Ė but what if those annoying doomsayers were correct? I was going to be ready to take advantage of the predicted massive power failures and get some really dark skies.

The real reason was that I was out was to test some new equipment and attempt to spot any problems before heading to Tucson.  I was fortunate, everything seemed to work well and I think the Taurus Tracker has helped me to defeat the dreaded "flexure monster". Things seemed to be going so well that I decided to put a roll of film in the camera and try a few exposures.

After a while a young man named Tim showed up with a new dob that he wanted to try out. Time stayed for a couple of hours and then went home about 8 or so. The only other people that showed up was the "biker gang". They came roaring through at about 11:00 PM, 20 or 25 of them. Lights were flashing around for a while and they wished me a cheery "Happy New Year" as they pedaled past me. Yeah, pedaled! Those 15 speed mountain bikes are sure quiet at night.

Most of you are familiar with Island Lake but let me try to describe the conditions. It was clear, but very humid. The sky was steady but not very transparent. I would rate the transparency at a "4" at most. All in all it was a very poor night for seeing. I could only see hints of the milky way structure, M31 was an averted vision object, and only bright stars were visible. Looking at the stars visible in ursa minor I estimate magnitude 4 stars were visible at best. I did not expect much from the photos due to the sky condition even though the dob that was out showed some very nice views. I was mainly looking for round stars indicating good tracking. When I processed the negatives I was surprised at how much detail was picked up. The shots of M42 were very usable and I digitally stacked them and came up with a nice astrophoto. Likewise the shots of M45 and the asterism in the head of Orion were also suprisingly good.

Maybe I have become spoiled with the really good sky up in Boon and out west. I just "assumed" that the sky would be so poor it would not be worth trying astrophotography at Island Lake. This was a big mistake on my part, and my mistake is what prompted this article. The lesson learned is "donít make assumptions". I "assumed" that Island Lake would be unsuitable for astrophotography. I went out there because it was a convenient place to "test" new equipment. I now know that even under fairly poor conditions I can get reasonable results with my camera at Island Lake. Now that I realize this I am sure I will go there more often, especially in the winter time. Having a hard surface parking lot to set up on is a great advantage in the snow season. I want to encourage you to go there more often as well. This would be a good place to get started with astrophotography Ė even with the light pollution, and we usually have a few interesting characters hanging around to chat with. Iíll see you there!


If you want to join the group observing at Island Lake I suggest that you call the FAAC "Hotline" at (313) 390-5456 on Thursday or Friday. The message should indicate the planned activities for the weekend. We observe in the "Spring Mill Pond" parking lot.