Nancy and I spent four days in Fort Davis last week, to celebrate my birthday. What a treat!
Yeah, I know Fort Davis is a tiny town in dusty west Texas. No nightlife, and only a few restaurants. Also, unfortunately, Fort Davis Historical Monument and the McDonald Observatory are closed. But Fort Davis State Park is open and a destination on its own. The folks living there tend to be down to Earth, hardscrabble, and friendly. Fortunately, the restaurants are open, very good, and very different.
You know what else was open? The sky!
We stayed a couple of miles outside town in a former bomb shelter, with 24-inch-thick reinforced poured concrete walls. Solid. That was cool and viewing sunset from the state park’s skyline drive overlook was awesome. Then night brought our reason for being in Fort Davis. Stars, planets, and OMG, the Milky Way! Rising from Sagittarius in the south-southwest, traversing the sky overhead and dropping to the northeastern horizon, our home galaxy made my jaw drop. I think I giggled too.
We scanned it with binoculars, and I set up to get some images. Where to start? I was paralyzed for a while trying to decide. So, we looked at some highlights in Sagittarius…globular cluster M22, nebulae M8 and M20, open clusters M21, M23, M25. Then Jupiter and Saturn. This with a telephoto zoom lens plus adapter and barlow, used as an 800mm f11 telescope. It worked very well. With the same lens minus the adapter, now at 400mm I shot some sky-scapes, including one of M8(the Lagoon Nebula), M20(the Trifid Nebula), and open cluster M21.
I just kept looking at the Milky Way and how incredibly bright it was. There was visible structure showing our neighborhood arm!
Tearing myself away from our home galaxy, I took in the sky dome and it was full of stars! I know, they’re home galaxy stars. Many of these stars I cannot see even from Canyon Lake. I had some difficulty identifying constellations. Nancy could not make out Cassiopeia, even when I pointed it out with a laser. So many stars.
The next day we were talking with the rental owner and he commented that he doesn’t notice the sky at night. I mentioned something about the Perseid meteor shower, and he perked up, wanting to know when and where to look. The Perseids was decent for me, but I could not stay awake beyond 1:30 am on the 12th. Saw around 15 with 5 really nice ones. The next day the owner exclaimed he and his wife had a great time seeing meteors.
He also confided that they do not notice the sky at night, well, because it’s always like that.
You don’t miss it until it’s gone. Let’s not let our night sky slip away.
What’s in the Sky?
August 28-29; dusk; south-southeast: A waxing gibbous Moon teams up with Jupiter, then Saturn.