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The theme for week 32 of 52 was “Motion” which allowed me to finally make a picture with the D7000 that I’ve wanted to do ever since I first bought it. Long before I was into photography I was obsessed by another less than cheap hobby – Astronomy.

In fact I bought my first SLR camera an Olympus OM-1 exclusively to shoot lunar and planetary images through my telescope, it also worked great for wide field “star field” shots of constellations and the Milky Way, as long as you used fast film (ASA 400+) and didn’t mind the grain.

Since buying my D7000 though I haven’t been able to get to a dark sky site and try it out on the Milky Way, but with the Perseid Meteor Shower peaking on a Saturday evening and “Motion” being the theme for the week it seemed too good an opportunity to let pass.

So before I start rambling on about how I got the shot, here’s the actual shot!

A Perseid Meteor streaks along the Milky Way above the Pony Express Monument in Rush Valley, Utah. August 11, 2012
Nikon D7000 with Sigma 10-20mm @ 10mm, 25 second exposure, f/4, ISO 1600.

The family and I started our fun evening at the Sandy City Balloon Glow (which I’ll blog about very soon!) right around 10 pm we left the talented entertainment and fun balloons to drive to Rush Valley which is about 50 miles south west of the Salt Lake Valley, we ended up driving along Faust Road which was an old Pony Express road, and we stopped and set up at the Pony Express Monument just off the road right in the middle of the bleak, desolate, featureless (sense a theme here?) valley.

I set up the camera to capture the heart of the Milky Way and the Monument (which really was the only foreground element out there unless I wanted to use my car – which I didn’t) and set it to continuously capture sequential 30 second long exposures so I could make a timelapse video, a star trail composite, and hopefully capture a few Perseid Meteors. After bundling everyone up in blankets we sat in our chairs enjoying being out in the cool desert air, and listening to the scurrying sounds of the desert inhabitants ie: rodents of various sizes and sounds, and coyotes. After about an hour we were assaulted by a caravan of five cars that suddenly pulled into the monument pull off we were set up behind and completely flooded us in headlights effectively ending my timelapse. You can see that happen at the end of the video here when the monument suddenly lights up. 

After sitting there for a few minutes ruining our night vision they decided to park on the other side of the road and we listened to them laughing and talking loudly for the next little bit as they got everyone settled to watch the meteors. I took the opportunity to recompose the framing of the shot choosing a vertical shot over landscape capture more of the Milky Way as it made its slow march across the sky.

The kids soon fell asleep but my wife and I enjoyed seeing around 20 Perseid meteors over the next two hours and one really great sporadic head on meteor that burst twice before fading out, unfortunately my camera wasn’t aimed at that area of the sky when it happened.

Here’s the timelapse video I made of  that series of 128 shots. (forgive the horrible cover image, the video looks better)

The final shot above was almost the last shot of the night, we were packing up the car to leave after I had finished my timelapse and I set up the camera to include the monument again to capture a few more shots just in case a good meteor showed up overhead as we packed. I set it to ISO 1600, f/4 and 25 seconds and let it run, I captured this last meteor and a few frames later a pair of F-16’s flying overhead (but blinking lights aren’t as impressive in a picture as a meteor) I’m so glad that I did as it was the best Meteor shot of the whole night.

Using a freeware program called Star Trails I merged those 128 frames into this shot.

Star Trails over Rush Valley, Utah comprised of one hundred 30 second long exposures at f/5 ISO 800.

I’ve always wanted to make a star trail shot that showed the different rotation around the North and South Celestial poles (the straight ones in the middle are along the Ecliptic or Celestial Equator)

I also used Star Trails to make the timelpase videos. I used another free program called Deep Sky Stacker  to stack 12 images together to make the equivalent of a 6 minute long exposure.

Twelve 30 second long exposures stacked. 10mm @ f/5 iso800

I’ll need to work with it more to reduce the streaking star look at the edges but I’m pretty pleased with the results for a first time use of the program.

Now that I’ve actually made a decent Milky Way shot I looked forward to getting out to a truly dark sky site (hopefully without clouds) and placing it on my telescope so I can guide it for a minutes long exposure at a lower ISO for a cleaner image. Being able to combine two of my hobbies is a sure fire way of making me a happy man!

Thanks for coming along on our late night trip, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Happy Shooting and Clear Skies!