Dark Sky Camping and Imaging at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

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Kissimmee Prairie PreserveThe week following Christmas I went camping at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park for a well needed vacation from the hustle and bustle of work and to get as far away from the city lights as I could. My plan was to camp for 3 days but that soon changed when I realized that the weather was not looking good for the first 2 days of my 3 day camping trip. So I decided to extended my stay to 4 days in hopes of getting so clears skies. That turned out to be a good decision.  I was  rewarded with one of the clearest, darkest skies of the year for me on Thursday December 29, 2011.

Day One

The first night was cloudy until 11pm but then it cleared up revealing a very dark, clear, moonless sky. I pointed my scope at the the constellation Perseus and was able to get 2 hours of data before the fog rolled in and shut me down. Here is the shot from that night.It's of the California Nebula. I really wanted to put some serous time on this object but once the fog rolled in it was a futile effort to continue.

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The California Nebula (NGC 1499) is an emission nebula located in the constellation Perseus. It is so named because it appears to resemble the outline of the US State of California on long exposure photographs. It is almost 2.5° long on the sky and, because of its very low surface brightness, it is extremely difficult to observe visually. It can be observed with a H-Beta filter (isolates the H-Beta line at 486 nm) in a rich-field telescope under dark skies. It lies at a distance of about 1,000 light years from Earth.

Day Two

The next day and night was a total wash out and I spent the night around the campfire, not a bad way to spend an evening with friends but I was not imaging. Below is just one of the beautiful sunsets I saw on the Prairie.

During day light hours I found time to take a couple trails. This place has a special king of beauty. Here are few shots from my hikes.

Wednesday evening looked to be epic but we had a hazy layer of clouds that wouldn't go away so the seeing was not as good as it could have been. Even so I did start a run on a wide field image of m78 and the Horse-head but ended up not using the data.

But than came Thursday evening! It started out a little dicey but once night fell, it cleared out and we had a perfectly clear evening. During the first few hours while I waited for the moon to set, I imaged NGC 1931. I got about 2 hours on this target.   

NGC 1931 Nebulas 2 hours OSC

After the moon set I started up again on my M78/Horse-head wide field image.

M78/Horsehead Nebulas 3 hours OSC

I got about 3 hours in total on these guys and could use a lot more. But for now I think I call this one done. 

I also did a timelapse movie that I will post soon but here is one frame from that sequence.

I will definitely go back to Kissimmee Prairie, it's a nice dark sky, astronomer friendly campground with plenty of amenities to make your stay a pleasant one.

See ya Next Year!