A Second Reason to visit Mt Washington…

I’ve been searching around for a better dark sky location to shoot long-exposure astrophotos. While I love the convenience of taking photos from the front deck of my house, it’s not ideal due to all the lights here in the city of Nanaimo. My search for such a location took me to the top of Mt Washington, which is about a 90-minute drive from my home.

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Wide-field view of the Winter Milky Way from Mt Washington – 30sec – 15mm Fisheye lens

An ideal location for amateur astrophotography has many of the same features that motivate professional astronomers to locate large astronomical observatories on the top of remote mountains. These features include: dark skies, away from the glow of city lights; an unobstructed horizon, to allow an all-sky view;  and a high-altitude, to get above much of the atmospheric haze and water-vapour that exist near sea-level.

Despite the fact that Mt Washington is closed for the winter – due to a complete lack of snow this year – the top of the mountain is still heavily lit, making it totally unsuitable for star watching.

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The “view” from the parking lot at the top… not so good…

Fortunately, there are a number of chain-up areas on the side of the road on the way to the mountain, which are far enough from the lights at the top to provide some excellent dark-sky views. The lack of lights and the nearly 3,000 foot elevation make these road-side spots ideal for observing the dark night sky.

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Much better from a few km down the road…

This is a photo of Orion that was taken from a roadside pull-off (chain-up area) about 10km from the top of the mountain. It’s a four-minute exposure using an 85mm f1.8 lens stopped down to f4.5 on a Canon 6D camera. The camera was mounted on a little iOptron SkyTracker mount to track the stars (and prevent star trails) during the long exposure.

For an annotated version of the image, identifying some of the major astronomical objects that are visible, click this little thumbnail image:

Orion20150221MtWash4min_3200iso_6D_85mmf4.5Annotated

It would be great if the folks at the resort would consider turning off some of the lights at the top during the off-season. They would save some money on electricity, and could certainly promote the mountain as a spectacular location for eco-oriented visitors to watch the stars.

Mt Washington… No Snow… But Lots of Stars!