Death Valley National Park
GEMINID METEOR SHOWER!
This year (2023) the Geminids peaked at 1:00 AM Pacific Time, barely 24 hours after the NEW MOON - which meant there was NO moonlight to obscure even the faintest of shooting stars.
I set up my cameras, sat back and enjoyed the show - and what a show it was!
If you added up ALL the shooting stars I've seen in my lifetime, they wouldn't equal the number I saw this one night. The sky was RAINING shooting stars! I saw quite literally, HUNDREDS of meteors that night and caught over 50 in photos! The combination of dark skies, and no moonlight allowed the meteors to take the full stage of the sky!
Around 4 in the morning, I decided to pack up and head back to Delight's Hot Springs in Tecopa - then just before reaching the Inn At Death Valley, a shooting star brilliant enough to see through my windshield changed my mind. It wasn't over yet. So I drove up to the Harmony Borax Works and caught a few more in photos.
You guys know I'm not a fan of *composite* night photos, but in this case.... some of the fainter and smaller meteors wouldn't look very impressive all by themselves on a massive starry backdrop. So I combined all the shooting stars I captured into the composite photo.
NOTE: BORING WORK-THROUGH of how I made the big composite:
1. Take thousands of pictures in about 4 hours.
2. Go through the photos using Honeyview photo viewer
3. Write down on a pad of paper which ones had shooting stars
4. Copy those 50+ frames into a separate folder
5. Adjust each of those frames in Photoshop to get them looking 'just right'.
6. Stack those by aligning Orion on all of them [open Paint.net, change opacity for each photo and move it/rotate it until Orion's belt and sword are aligned with the photo beneath...then re-up the opacity back to 100% ]
7. Erase all stars from each of the frames, leaving only the shooting star.
8. Go back into each frame and fine-tune the erasure for each frame.
9. Go back through the photos to see if you can combine the background star fields to cover the entire area of the canvas without harsh transitions (like I have on the right hand side )
10. Flatten all the layers into one layer.
Now, you have all 40-50 shooting stars on one image with them accurately placed in relation to where they appeared relative to the constellation Orion.....Whew!
The best part about this, many of the fainter/smaller shooting stars wouldn't look impressive in a big photo all by themselves, but here they shine as a part of a greater whole. It also shows how there really is a "radiant" in meteor showers - in the case of these Geminids, it's around the star Castor in Gemini (hence the name). The constellation Gemini is above and to the left of Orion.
Death Valley is one of the most convenient "go to" spots from Las Vegas. Depending on where you want to go, sites can be anywhere from 2 hours away to 5 hours away (for the Racetrack Playa) or more. Since the entire National Monument is remote, chances are you will have Bortle 2 or better skies!
about the sites:
BADWATER BASIN N 36° 13' 27.15" W 116° 46' 40.69"
This is what people picture when you say, "Death Valley". The lowest place in America at 282 feet below sea level, the wide valley is covered with a white layer of... table salt! Seriously! Although I wouldn't try tasting it because it's mixed with borax and gypsum as well. This night I traveled just beyond the Badwater Basin Parking Lot to a corner of the road just south of the massive lake that is now there.
According to www.LightPollutionMap.info, the Badwater Basin is a Bortle Class 2 location due to light from Los Angeles in the southwest and Las Vegas to the southeast.
There are a number of routes from Las Vegas, but the easiest is to drive North on Highway 95, and exit after about 70 miles (Nevada 373). Continue West until you reach Death Valley Junction. You will take a right BEFORE reaching the buildings (it's a semi-ghost town with some creepy white buildings). This RIGHT turn will place you on California 190. Drive about 29 miles until you reach Badwater Road and drive the 17 miles south to Badwater Basin
HARMONY BORAX WORKS 36°28'47.84"N 116°52'31.17"W
The history of the Borax works is quite fascinating! This is the home to the famous "20 Mule Team" (the original wagons of which and water 'buffalo' or in the photos). It's not a far drive from the Furnace Creek Visitors' Center, just a bit over a mile and a half.
According to www.LightPollutionMap.info, this area is a Bortle Class 2 location.
From Las Vegas, Make your way South on the I-15 and exit at Blue Diamond. Then drive about 46 miles West until you see the LEFT turn (across the divided highway) onto Old Spanish Road. It comes up quickly, so keep an eye out for a VERY TALL radio tower on the right hand side of the highway. This tower is directly across from the exit you want. If you reach Pahrump, you've gone too far (that's okay, you can still catch the highway 178/372-Shoshone turn instead). After turning onto Old Spanish Road, you will wind around, climb up to Immigrant Pass and down the other side. Overall, you will drive about 26 miles before coming to a "Y" intersection (in Tecopa itself)... HANG RIGHT.. after another 2 miles you will see Delight's Hot Springs on the right.
From there, you will drive to California 127. Turn right (North) as if you're going to Shoshone, but take an IMMEDIATE left onto Furnace Creek Road (really! it's only like 700 feet between the turns) Find a nice turn out and enjoy (I drove about 2.5 miles)