Just Moon

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April 19th, 2018, 08:35 p.m. local time

On Monday we had the wonderful pairing of the Moon and Venus.  They were framed perfectly side-by-side in the early evening Western sky.  Yesterday brought snow, which meant clouds and nothing to see.  But all the snow melted by afternoon today and the sky cleared once again.  The Moon is now significant higher than Venus after Sunset, and fuller.  So I took my digital camera and tripod outside to take the above picture.

It is significantly harder to manually focus on the Moon when it is a waxing crescent like this.  That is because there is less surface area to gauge than, by comparison, the Full Moon.

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Nearly Missed This Gem – Moon and Venus after Sunset

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April 17th, 2018, 08:20 p.m. local time

I saw the notice that the Moon and Venus were going to be close to each other tonight.  I didn’t think it would be very visible.  I was very wrong.  About 45 minutes after Sunset these two sparkled cleanly in my West sky.  Despite the unseasonably cold chill (the reason I have not posted anything for several weeks), I set up my camera to take this photograph.

Speaking of our Solar System, Jupiter is on its way.  I happened to be outside this morning at 2:30, and our largest planet was shining so bright I almost forgot what it was!  Opposition is now less than a month away and I am looking forward to dragging my telescopes out to see it very soon again up close.

March 2018’s Second Full Moon

ISO 100, f/16, 1/125 sec, 300mm focal length

March 31st, 2018, 09:35 p.m. local time

It’s Springtime, which means temperatures are…dropping like the middle of Winter?  Yes, it’s true.  Forecasts call for lows back into the teens (Fahrenheit) by Easter Friday.  Stargazing visibility has been poor to pointless over the last week or so.

But on this final day and final night of March, the skies cleared while the wind howled.  The beaming Moon, contrasted to the blurry haze of last night’s, was too tempting a target not to get my camera and tripod out.  I stayed outside only for a few minutes, as the wind made it feel like January 31st all over again.

Tonight’s image came with a new experiment for me – color correction.  I followed the steps in this good video to find the image’s mid-gray, using PaintShop Pro.  I then did some minor sharpening, contrast, and brightness adjustments.

In other news, we are almost a month out now from Jupiter’s 2018 opposition.  The planet’s nighttime schedule is just about at the point where I can start looking at it again via telescope and taking pictures, on nights when I can stay up past midnight, and the weather cooperates.  Hoping this upcoming cold snap is brief and I can start getting outside again on clear nights.


Edit: After re-examining the above Moon picture the following morning, it seemed a bit too dark to me.  Here is the same picture but with the brightness and contrast notched up, just a bit.  Also, if you are using the WordPress default blog viewer, I recommend clicking on these pictures directly, as that viewer seems to be distorting/compressing the images, at least on my PC.

The Moon and Venus and New Horizons in Post-Processing

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March 21st, 2018, 7:25 p.m. local time

Tonight I took advantage of clear (but very cold) skies to photograph the young Moon’s crescent along with Venus (sorry Mercury fans, he was conspicuously absent).  After Sunset these two objects were very far apart, stretching the limit of my wide-field lens.  There was a lot of empty space/sky between them.

This emptiness gave me an idea to try a new type of post-processing, which is today’s image.  I “enhanced” Venus, attempted to add some depth to the sky, and did a small amount of cleanup around the trees.

The result pushes the bounds of true astrophotography and into the realm of something else.  I am still debating my thoughts on this experiment and whether I would want to pursue it in future imaging.

I am already post-processing my star fields to accentuate the brightest stars.  Those pictures are no longer true photography either.  Even my Moon and planetary images are not faithful representations of what the camera sees, but are my attempts to gleam from the camera’s eye stacked or other compounded image data to make something we can recognize and appreciate.

I have found that sitting on an image, revisiting it after a time away, helps me to more objectively judge the end picture.  I will do so here, coming back to it in a week or so, to re-evaluate it again then.

Constellations IX: Not Just Auriga

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March 11th, 2018, 09:10 p.m. local time

Over the past month I devoted photography sessions to Orion and surrounding constellations like Taurus, Lepus, and Canis Minor.  Last week I focused on Gemini.  On Sunday I turned my attention a bit past all of those towards Auriga.  This is one of my favorite places in the sky, particularly because of the star clusters M36, M37, and M38, which all look fantastic through my 10″ Dobsonian.  But this night was not about high magnification as I once again set up my digital camera on tripod for more wide field imaging.

For Gemini I used f/2.8 and ISO 400 with 25-second exposures.  For Auriga I slid the ISO down to 200 while keeping the other settings the same.  Lowering ISO helps to reduce noise and improve colors, at the potential loss of detail.  I am pleased with the results as a good balance between accentuating the bright stars as well as including an adequate canvas of the faint background stars.  In post-processing, this time I prioritized trying to bring out the colors in a neutral sense without over-representing any one RBG band.

Auriga is in an interesting part of the sky for another reason, as the boundary between the surrounding star activity of the likes of Orion, Taurus, and Gemini and a fairly bland section of the sky occupied by the lesser known constellations of Lynx and Camelopardalis.  There are no noteworthy stars nor high-profile deep sky objects in that vicinity, until you hit the areas marked by Polaris, Ursa Major, and stretching over to Leo.

My attempt to center Auriga emphasizes this point, as the picture is a bit lopsided with all the cool stuff at the center, bottom, and left with a relative void in the upper right.

So what else is in the photo besides Auriga?  Taurus, Orion, and Gemini are all peeking in.  And then there is a near-full cameo by Perseus, which I outlined below.  And you can even see, at the very bottom, that demon star whose brightness allegedly fluctuates but I have not fully confirmed yet.

Click to see the full image.

This photography session did not increase my constellation total, which still stands at 30:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus
  • Gemini

References:

More Venus, More Mercury

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March 11th, 2018, 7:15 p.m. local time

With an excellent view towards the Western horizon on Sunday night, Venus and Mercury were easy to see about 30 minutes after sunset.  Both planets continue to rise, though Venus is moving at a much slower pace, and Mercury will start to fall again soon.  March continues to be an opportune month to see all three planets of our inner Solar System from one setting.

This image was taken with my Canon EOS on tripod with Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 lens.  I took many pictures in the span of about 10 minutes, adjusting both the ISO and exposure settings.  The above image, I feel, came out the best in terms of lighting and highlighting the relative brightness of each planet (Venus is far brighter than Mercury).  The settings used were ISO 200, f/2.8, 50mm focal length, and 1/4 second exposure.

Constellations VIII: Gemini

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March 3rd, 2018, 08:45 p.m. local time

Shortly after I took long exposure images of Orion on Saturday night, I repointed my camera further up, above Orion and towards the East.  This is where Gemini resided, high overhead.  The same camera settings were used as for Orion.  Additionally, I used essentially the same post-processing techniques that I have experimented with on Orion these past few days.  Whenever I redid Orion, I subsequently tried the same on my Gemini raw image.

The thing about Gemini is that there is no obvious outline to the constellation.  In my skies, the main stars Pollux and Caster are easily visible, but that is about it.  And even if I could see more stars, I would have a hard time tracing this constellation without a high familiarity of its shape.  I decided that tracing the constellation on the image would be helpful in this case.

Besides the feature Gemini you can also see all of Canis Minor with its bright star Procyon.  Orion’s upper arm is seen below Gemini, with the eastern edge of Taurus just visible (the blue star at the very right edge of the photo is Zeta Tauri).  At the bottom of the image are a few stars from the unicorn, Monoceros.

Every dot you see in this image really is a star.  It has been fun for me to compare my images with detailed star charts to trace out these sometimes unnamed stars.  It proves to me that they are not just camera background noise but genuinely specks representing stars and star systems in our Milky Way Galaxy.  This shows the power of a decent lens and inexpensive digital camera being able to punch through the canvas of light pollution to reveal the truths above.

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 30:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus
  • Gemini

References:

Re-Imagining Orion

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March 3rd, 2018, 08:20 p.m. local time

After I took my first true pictures of Orion early last week, while I was pleased with the results, I felt the images were still lacking, particularly in background star detail.  On Saturday, I took to shooting Orion again, with my same new lens.  This time, I bumped the focal stop all the way down to f/2.8 and the ISO to 400.  I then stacked 30 25-second images in DeepSkyStacker.  For the next several days, I played around with the resulting image mightily in PaintShop Pro.  Subtracting light pollution, adjusting levels and curves, experimenting with colors, and trying to accentuate the brightest stars.

I have realized within the last 48 hours that there are infinite routes to take when editing astrophotography in post processing, particularly wide field views.  Imagination and artistry combined.  I feel this image provides more detail than my last Orion.  Likely, I will continue to experiment.

Extreme Planet Hunter: Venus and Mercury!

Click to enlarge. In this picture, you see all three inner planets of our Solar System!

March 3rd, 2018, 6:15 p.m. local time

Here at Aperture Astronomy, we are ready at a moment’s notice to bring you riveting images of our night sky.  This happened Saturday night.  I have been blessed with wonderfully clear skies all weekend, so I had already planned to take more wide field views of the sky in a couple hours (more on this later in the week).  So around 6:00 I was waiting, playing my Xbox, when one of my astronomy apps chimed on my iPad.  It told me to see Venus and Mercury after Sunset all through March!

My first thought was, oh crap, I almost forgot about that!  I further completely forgot that Venus and Mercury would be very close tonight.  I also knew that time was not on my side.  The Sun had already set within the last 20 minutes.  I might miss my window!

So began the five-minute drill to quickly assemble my tripod, set up my camera with the 300mm lens, attach camera to tripod, and, as I’m grabbing my binoculars heading out the door, get outside.  Fortunately, the clear skies made it easy to find the two planets.  And they were indeed very close, fitting into my binocular view handily.

As you can see in the picture, I had maybe a minute before the planets would have been lost below that house.  This only emphasizes how little time there was; 30 minutes past Sunset was already almost too late.

If you cannot see them in the full picture, particularly Mercury, here they are pointed out: