RBA's Astrophotography

[Photos courtesy of Jesús "Astrogades"]

The days of August 6~10 a bunch of amateur astronomers (visual and imaging) met at Pinar de Araceli, in the province of Granada, in Spain. This site was in fact a "short" 100 minutes drive for me, coming from Murcia (my hometown and where I was staying), but people came from all over Spain from places as far as Seville (4 1/2 hours drive), Cadiz (5 1/2 hours) or even Barcelona (over 7 hours drive), .

This was my second visit to the place this summer (and also my second visit ever), but it was the first large "star party" I was attending in Spain. Things are a bit different when comparing with the star parties here in the US, but I won't say which is better - truth is, there's no better or worst, each of them has their own charm. One thing common to both: comradery,  friendship and great atmosphere. One example of that came on the third night I spent at the Pinar. The first two nights were wonderful, but the third night the sky decided to go overcast by 11pm and yet, we stayed up until way past 4am talking and basically having a great time despite the sky decided not to cooperate.

The site is very dark, in the middle of nowhere, deep in the gray zone, and sits at around 6500 feet high. It's populated with around 30+ individual cabins that offer almost everything a home can offer. Here's a view of part of the area where you can see some of the cabins:

There's a restaurant nearby (property of the management of the site) where people gathered for a nice lunch, no BBQ but some really yummy stuff. There's no argument people here know how to enjoy a good meal even when far from civilization!

Not sure if this was a patriotic sign, some leftover paraphernalia from the recent Soccer World Cup win or "all of the above" :-)

The site even has a pool, a reminder you're far from everything but still can enjoy some "civilized activities" during the day (although the water isn't that warm even in the summer months):

Because the are is so large, imagers and visual observers actually setup at different areas. It's not a rule though, and as long as you respect everyone's night vision, you're welcome to setup anywhere you like. Even by your own cabin all alone if you want, of course! Here's a pic of a few scopes in the imaging area at sunset:

It looks like some imagers haven't discovered the benefits of turning red their laptop screens, something I was VERY vocal about during my stay and afterward. Fortunately these were just a few... Here's a night shot of another imaging area where you can see one of such bright screens. It even hurts me to see it in the photo but I think they've got the message. The background sky in the image doesn't do justice to the quality of the sky BTW, and of course, all those red lights you see is the result of a long exposure (there's no excuse for that whiteness in the middle of the photo though!).

The group picture was rather poor, considering there were over 90 attendees, but better than nothing!

Notice the absence of white beards! Yes, I'd say the average age of the group (disregarding kids) was probably between 30 and 40. That was kind of interesting, considering that at a typical star party in the US if you yell "hey you the guy with the white beard!" you may get over 1/3 of the people turn their heads! (ok I'm exaggerating here I know :-) Anyway, yours truly is #7 from the left in the above image.

If you wonder if I actually REALLY managed to bring all my gear over to Spain, here's proof:

Well, the EM200 mount was an acquisition I made while I was there. My EM400 was just too bulky to bring in the plane without paying an expensive fee, so it stayed in the US. The EM200 is pretty much a smaller version of the EM400 but for that type of load it was just as a performer.

Anyway... When I realized I was going to miss GSSP this year I was rather sad. GSSP is such an amazing event!! But I have to say that this "quedada" in Pinar de Araceli - along with a few other outings I did while in Spain - will be unforgettable. The site is amazing, the management are incredibly great people, and although I did miss a bit the "camping" feeling of other star parties such as GSSP or CalStar, I have to say that having a cabin full of commodities was a plus, not to mention the fact we didn't have to deal with batteries of course.

This time around the price couldn't be better: 20€ per person and kids free will give you a complete cabin for one night (min. two people). Compare that with the $200~$300 per night at Lake San Antonio cabins (which also are at an area close to nearby lights), plus the $20 per night for just entering the site. Actually, there's no comparison!

Another plus is that the owners of the site were so pleased with us, they've decided to accommodate a large paved area for future star parties, with parking space, setting up area, and even including a cabin right by that area, accommodated for our astro-needs (red lights only, etc). They'll be inaugurating this new area in another star party that'll take place either in September or October (I forgot) - this one I'll have to miss because in September I'm planning on going to the Central Nevada Star Party and in October there's CalStar.

Regardless, and although I probably won't be coming back for a while (the trip from California is a bit too long), I certainly plan to visit El Pinar every chance I get, and should I ever move to Spain, whether temporarily or permanently, I know that El Pinar de Araceli will become my preferred spot for astrophotograhpy, even in winter, despite the loads of snow the site gets in the winter (the area they're preparing for astronomy will be snow-plowed daily - it was originally a tennis/soccer field that was also getting plowed daily). Needless to say, if you ever visit Spain, especially if you're in the southeast, and are hungry for dark skies, El Pinar de Araceli should be one of your must-do places to visit. Oh, and tell them Rogelio sent ya! (I don't get commission BTW).

Wrapping up: A great star party, with great people, great site, great skies, and of course, images coming up the moment I get some time to process them. See you soon, PDA!