Don’t Try This at Home

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November 15th, 2018, 4:20 p.m. local time

Today’s picture is something I would normally not recommend doing, taking a picture directly of the Sun.  It has a chance to damage your camera’s optics.  But as I should be refreshing my smartphone very soon, I decided that the risk was justified if only this once.

Possibly the worst characteristic of our Sun is that it is so bright.  At a magnitude of 26+, it drowns out visibility of everything in the Cosmos, with exceptions of our Moon and sometimes Venus.  This is the unfortunate reason why stars and constellations are seasonal.  Orion would not be a “Winter” constellation if Rigel and Betelgeuse didn’t have to contend with the brightness of the nearest star to Earth.  I’d give up a lot to be able to observe Orion on a Summer afternoon in the middle of July, though I doubt much of the rest of our planet would concur.

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Sorrows of Light

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October 29th, 2018, 6:00 a.m. local time

A melancholy view of the early predawn sky brooded over the parking lot.  Two demon eyes joined a larger hoard spreading their sickly orange blight to mask the remarkable luminescence above.

Most unfortunate is that the blinding unshielded lamps and dearth star field were exactly all that could be seen through the glare.

On a small screen, you should be able to see Sirius, brightest star in all our skies, to the left.  The full-sized image will reveal the constellation Orion in the middle, and in the upper right is the famous star of Taurus, Aldebaran.

Late Crescent Moon, October 2018

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October 15th, 2018, 7:25 p.m. local time

Wonderful stargazing weather.  That is how I would describe last night, though I am sure some would disagree because it was a little on the chilly side.  For me, the colder the better, as it keeps the bugs away.  Clear sky and just a little breeze made for a great chance to see this October’s Southern showcase of Saturn, the Moon, and Mars.

I took this picture of the Moon with my phone through my 10″ Dobsonian.  It had been some time since I used this equipment setup, as I have been opting to use primarily my digital camera.  But for the Moon, afocal photography with a smartphone allows for the entire surface, and then some, to be captured in one image.

On a side note, afterward I used the light cannon on different parts of the sky, observing the Summer Triangle, Sagittarius, and Cassiopeia.

Old Moon Gloomy Morning

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October 4th, 2018, 06:25 a.m. local time

It may have been a depressing view for some, with an early Fall chill, high winds, and fast-moving cloud cover.  But I knew the very Waning Moon was out there, somewhere through all that muck above.  And sure enough, in fits and spurts the sliver of the old Moon would pierce the early morning clouds for brief moments.  Today’s picture is a capture of one of those windows as I looked East from my backyard.

Goose Moon

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September 29th, 2018, 09:30 a.m. local time

I would like to say that today’s image was made possible from careful planning and thoughtful execution.  That I studied the migratory paths of North American geese, cross-referenced with this month’s Lunar phases, and examined meteorological reports to calculate the precise time and location.  But the truth is that I simply got lucky.  I was taking a bunch of pictures yesterday morning with camera on tripod and my shutter remote, snapping images when I noticed one of them had a dark streak across it.  I mildly panicked, thinking something smudged the lens!

Taken at 1/500th of a second, and it captures the bird details pretty well, I think.  The Moon isn’t too bad either.

Post-Full Moon Morning

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September 26th, 2018, 07:10 a.m. local time

With the Moon over a day past its latest Full phase, it is easily visible in the West in the hour after Sunrise.  Today offered a clear sky and obvious view as it set towards the horizon.

Waxing Gibbous Moon, July 2018

July 24th, 2018, 9:15 p.m. local time

A nearly Full Moon was on clear display tonight, lighting up a pleasantly mild July evening.  Saturn was close, just below the Moon, but I opted not to try to bring them into the same picture.  Worth noting is that four planets were visible in the night sky at this time: Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars, though Mars had just peeked over the horizon and was far out of my viewing range.

Relative Planets

Evenings of July 6th through July 8th, 2018

The weather was amazing this weekend, especially for early July.  Clear skies, no humidity, and bugs only became a problem on the final night.

On Friday evening I took another set of Jupiter pictures.  These are not shown, as the following day’s images were far superior.

After Friday’s Jupiter session, I kept the telescope out after midnight, so technically on Saturday, to image Saturn for the first time this year.  As always, I have to wait for the planets to clear trees to the Southeast.  Since Saturn is now a few weeks past opposition, I get a clear few of the planet shortly after midnight.

For Saturn, I checked my written log for the settings I used last year (ISO 3200 and 100 exposure).  These, according to my log, gave me my best results.  But thinking I could do better based on my recent Jupiter work, I decided to try ISOs at 1600 and 800 and exposures of 60 and 30, respectively.  Lower ISO means less noise.  The results were not too bad, but I think the 3200/100 settings are still the best, and will try those next time.

On Saturday night, I took what I think may be my best Jupiter yet.  The finder focus on my first attempt was near perfect, if not perfect.  Look at the cloud band detail!  I only wish the Great Red Spot was facing us more at the time.  You can also see Io next to the GRS.

Then on Sunday I dragged my big telescope to my front lawn to capture Venus setting in the West.  This is the first time I did that.  The results were much better than I expected.  You cannot get much from Venus beyond its general shape.

What is neat about lining all three images side-by-side is that they were taken with the same telescope and same equipment setup, so you get a great sense of their relative sizes as seen from Earth.  Venus is noticeably smaller even though it is the closest to Earth and approximately the same size as Earth.  Right now, Venus is just over 90 million miles (145 million km) away.  Jupiter is about 450 million miles (724 million km) past, and Saturn is 840 million miles (1350 million km) from us.

What I should have done was take an image of a star, to show its relative size as well.  Next time!

Equipment used this weekend:

  • 254mm homemade Dobsonian
  • Canon EOS at prime focus
  • TeleVue x5 Barlow
  • Neodymium filter

Humid Jupiter, June 2018

Jupiter via a 254mm Dobsonian, prime focus, TeleVue x5 barlow, Neodymium filter.

June 29th, 2018, 9:45 p.m. local time

I ignored the “excessive humidity warning” tonight and imaged Jupiter.  The sky was just too clear and this was a Friday night.  I am glad I did, because though the humidity was stifling, the bugs were very few.  Apparently insects don’t like humidity either.

This is my first good image of Jupiter in 2018.  The focus was near-perfect and about as good as I am going to get with my non-imagining imaging equipment.  Referencing my note log from last year and the few bad attempts this year, I got the camera settings just right.  I also did post-processing in PaintShop Pro to smooth out and clean up the image.

As added bonuses, Europa and Io made it into the picture.  The Great Red Spot is also visible.  Even if I don’t get another decent Jupiter for the rest of the year, I will at least have this one to look back on.