Friday, August 10, 2018 - Brainard Lake
With a new moon on the calendar, and the promise of a deep dark sky, I drove up to Brainard after work in hopes of camping at the lake. Sadly, Pawnee Campground is one of the most popular campgrounds in the state, and it was full by the time I arrived at 6:30pm.
I had used a phone app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE-3D), to preview the sky for Friday night:
In this screenshot, the camera is roughly in the middle of the lake, looking toward "Pin B" at the summit of Mt. Audubon. The horizontal slider at the bottom shows a timeline with the elevations of the sun, moon, and galactic center (white circle). The time is set to 7:03pm; the image shows the sun above Pawnee Pass, with the moon in the saddle to the north of Mt. Toll. In real life, the bright sunlight at this angle would completely obscure the moon (as during a solar eclipse), but they show up quite nicely in the app.
That afternoon at the lake, the sun was massively bright as it slid down the slope of Pawnee and Toll. Kayaks and paddle boards drifted across the calm lake. Fish jumped out of the water to catch mosquitoes. As the sky darkened, bats flew back and forth across the lake.
After sunset, the humans retired to their camping areas. A deer approached along the shore, looking overly curious. I popped open my camera flash and shot a few pictures, to scare it away.
I decided to return to my car, to let the wildlife get their drinks.
As I stood in the parking lot, the galactic center reached its zenith above the forest south of the lake. By 9:30, Scorpio shone brightly, but the sky was not quite dark enough to see the Milky Way.
The area was quiet and calm, and the temperature was dropping quickly. I really wished I could have camped out; maybe later this year, or next summer. I shot a few more pictures, packed up my gear, and headed home.
Image Note: The lake photograph is an HDR blend of three exposure-bracketed images, at -1ev, 0ev, and +1ev. I could see the haze through my polarized sunglasses, but in the raw image, the sky looked completely blown out. Fortunately Lightroom was able to simulate a graduated ND filter, to expose the high cirrus and wildfire haze.