Interstellar Drama Above the N. Oregon Coast: a Mystery Solved
(Manzanita, Oregon) – It's 2 a.m. in the wee hours of May 4. And when everyone else is sleeping or stumbling home from bars, Oregon Coast Beach Connection hits the overlooks above Manzanita for some late night star trail photography.
Actually, the intent is catch a shot of a shooting star. This almost happens. But other curious discoveries are made about this universe from atop one of the more famous viewpoints on the Oregon coast – in the dead of night.
A series of photos of the same scene above Manzanita reveals a lot. For instance, that mysteriously bright, orange star near the upper right hand corner of the frame. All the stars are big streaks because of the three minutes it takes to make these exposures, and one of these stars stands out.
This begs the question: what is it? A planet? We talked to Jim Todd, planetarium manager at OMSI in Portland.
“The bright orange object is actually the star Arcturus of Bootes, now visible above the southern horizon,” Todd said.
But there’s more.
“Almost straight below is the star Spica of Virgo,” he said. “Saturn did not show up too well in the picture which would of been just above Spica.”
A detail from the photo, showing Antares of Scorpion
Then he points out a nice curiosity just above that red light from a distant antenna above Manzanita. Look at the second red light, near the middle of the picture. Just a tad to the right of that are two faint stars streaking downward. One is actually a bit red, if seen with the naked eye and not in this kind of movement.
“The faint red star just above Manzanita is Antares of Scorpion,” Todd said.
At the end of this lengthy and tedious exploration of space from a north coast vantage point (each shot takes three minutes or more and there were about six of them), a massive shooting star comes streaking overhead, from east to west. Of course, it’s just out of view of this where this camera is pointing. An unlucky break. Mission not quite accomplished.
But it is spectacular and quite bright.
"The meteor was likely from the eta-Aquariids meteor shower which started on April 19; peaked on May 6; and end on May 28," Todd said.
Well, at least we all learned something.
Also quite curious is a bluish haze in the background of this photo, seemingly behind the stars. This, according to Todd, is not the Milky Way – as was the first guest – but the camera catching the misty, thick ocean air that permeates here. Perhaps it was even a small amount of fog.
These overlooks above Manzanita are excellent spots for stargazing and looking for shooting stars. You’ll need a clear night – like this one – and it’s magnificent when you find the right conditions.
Manzanita is about 15 minutes south of Cannon Beach and about 15 minutes north of Rockaway Beach.
The Manzanita overlooks in daylight
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Keywords: astronomy, science, Oregon coast, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, galaxy, stellar phenomena, stargazing, shooting star, meteor shower
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