Summertime is a weird time for astronomers. We love the objects in the sky, especially the Milky Way and wide variety of Messier objects we can find in or near it. But the downside is the weather. Lots of rain, and even when it doesn’t rain it gets very muggy and dew becomes a big problem. We only get a few dry days during the summer when viewing conditions are optimal, so we try to take advantage of those precious nights. Here are a few shots I was able to get this past summer.
I hadn’t seen the Milky Way for a while, and I saw that Saturday night was going to be really clear. I thought about going to my usual place, which is the Deerlick Astronomy Village, but there is a ton of construction of the Interstates right now and I didn’t want a 2 1/2 hour drive to turn into four hours or more.
So I decided to head up into the mountains. I know a couple of decent spots, but I wanted to go somewhere with really dark skies this time. I consulted my Dark Sky Finder app on my iPhone and saw that there was a promising area just over the line near Ducktown, Tennessee. That would still be a shorter drive than the normal drive to Deerlick, so I packed my cameras and headed north.
When I go into the area that I was looking for, I was having a difficult time finding a good place to set up. You need a large clearing without any lights nearby, and you also want to make sure you aren’t trespassing on someone’s property. I did find what looked like an abandoned sawmill right off Highway 68, but there was a really bright streetlight at one end. I could have set up so that I wasn’t right in the line of the light, but it still would have caused problems with some shots. I decided to continue on a few miles with the thinking that if I didn’t find anything better I could come back to the sawmill.
I drove about five miles and was getting ready to turn around when I saw the Coker Creek Village Retreat. It was late, but I saw that there was a lady out front. I decided to pull over and ask if she had a recommendation for me. Did she ever.
She told me to turn around and look for a sign that said Buck Bald Mountain. I had seen the sign earlier, but it looked like a driveway. She told me that there was a very wide open area at the top and that it was about a 2 1/2 mile drive to the top. She added that the road was not paved all the way and to not be in too much of a rush. I am very glad I took her advice.
I found the road and headed to the top. It was pretty bumpy for a lot of the ride, but it paid off. It was dark when I got to the top, but I could tell that I had struck gold. There is a 360-degree unobstructed view and hardly any noticeable light pollution at all. I started setting up my gear and as my eye began to adjust to the darkness the Milky Way began to show itself. The Moon didn’t set until about an hour after I got there, but it wasn’t very bright and it was not a problem as the Milky Way was in the opposite part of the sky.
I wound up taking only about 60 shots, which is not as many as I had done on other shoots. I felt like the quality was much better, and I left feeling very good about what I had. I was not disappointed when I get them onto the computer. I will definitely be returning to Buck Bald for future shooting. The next time I plan getting there in time to watch the Sun set. Here are a few photos from the shoot:
Here is a link to entire set. I will add more to it as I continue processing them.
This is one of my favorite things to photograph. The trick is finding skies that are dark enough so that you can actually see the Milky Way. Luckily we have the Deerlick Astronomy Village here in Georgia, and I am proud to be a member. It’s about 100 miles east of Atlanta, and it has some of the darkest skies in Georgia and nice low horizons in all directions.