RBA & AF Astrophotography

Death Valley, Racetrack Playa and Milky Way

Posted: April 12th, 2013

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Here's an image showing a panorama of the Milky Way and the Racetrack Playa (a dry lake famous for its "sailing rocks") in Death Valley. Simply breathtaking! You can, in fact, spot one of such "moving rocks" in the bottom-left (4-5 o'clock). And if you pay close attention, you may notice an unexpected visitor above and to the right of the highest peak on the left: Comet PanSTARRS C/2011 L4!

A bit of history in the making:

Thursday, April 11th, 2013 I headed to the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley... Not for the faint of head, as it was a 550 miles drive, out of the blue (plus another 550 miles back). I left home at 9am and I only arrived at the site a bit past 8:30pm (count a few stops to eat, put gas, etc)... Certainly, the last 28 miles of unpaved, lonely and bumpy road, getting dark already, wasn't quite the most fun thing I've done in my life.

But it was all worth it as I arrived at the "playa". Although I couldn't fully enjoy the view of the playa and the landscape because it was already pretty dark, I certainly was in awe at the skyscape! After midnight, the SQM (Sky Quality Meter) was on fire with several readings over 21.90 and one peak of 22.02. It was the second time I've ever seen an SQM over 22, but whatever the SQM was reporting, it didn't matter. The spectacle was up in the sky, not in some number...

In the (southern) parking lot there were four more cars, but no one around. I walked into the dark - literally - and found myself in the playa. I could see lights in the distance from people taking pictures, doing "light painting" and what not, so I started walking towards one of the lights to ask for some help finding where the moving rocks were. I ran into a guy, who told me I had to walk about half mile into the playa, and there I went. After the half mile I walked towards another light, and when I asked about the rocks, this other guy said:

"They're all over the place!"

Okay that was helpful, considering I couldn't see clearly more than 3 meters in front of me. I took a few shots, as the camera can "see" better than me in the dark, found one rock, and started the photo session... Around 11:30pm, the few folks that were taking photos left, so I was finally all alone in the playa, still going at it...

Around 1am I felt it was safe to leave my cameras working and go to the car to take a nap... Note that I never take naps or rest away from my equipment, this was the first time I ever did it, but I was more worried about later finding the exact location where I left my equipment in the playa than about someone going and stealing it.

So I did, setting the alarm in my cell phone at 3am. Slept between 1:30 and 3am, woke up, went back, packed my stuff, not before taking the shots that I used for this panorama (so the shot is from around 3:30'ish), got back in the car at 4am, and drove back home, with a stop by Owens Lake to take some simple shots of the lake and the sierra as the sun was rising (the timing was just too perfect to miss the chance). 7-8 hours later I was home. Glorious shower and bed time! 



M.A. Jooshesh (Contact, Page), November 17th, 2013, 8:09
such an stunning photo. what software you used to stitch the images? you mentioned pixinsight an photoshop! did you used auto mode or stitched them manually?

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