Constellations VII: Orion and Taurus

Closeup of Orion.

February 26th, 2018, 08:15 p.m. local time

Finally, for one night, the weather was great (likely above 45 degrees F), no wind, and an amazingly clear sky.  This is the best time of year for stargazing where I am, when the weather permits, because there are neither bugs nor humidity to combat.  If this had not been a school night, I would have pulled out my big telescope, waited the 45 minutes for it to cool down, and then observed the sky for as long as I could.

The only damper was the Moon, days away from Full, lighting up everything.

Waxing Moon notwithstanding, these conditions were perfect for tripoding my camera and trying out my new wide-field lens.  I upgraded over the stock lens of my DSLR camera last month and have have been eager to use it.  This night’s session was mostly a test of the new lens.

Here is the full image:

Click to see the full-sized image.

Orion with Taurus was the perfect target.  What most impressed me about this image, which is a single post-processed shot, are the colors.  The oranges of the giants Betelgeuse and Aldebaran, the blues of the young stars in the Pleiades.  They all pop out vibrantly.

This is a 20-second exposure and remarkably only ISO 100.  I think there is room for bringing out even more details if I bump up the ISO more and play with the focal length, set at f/2.8 for this image.  It’s worth noting here that I did try image stacking at ISO 1600 with a much higher focal length, but the end results seemed dull compared to this single shot image.  I have work to do to figure out how to take advantage of my new lens in conjunction with image stacking.

Other constellations are visible as well.  In the extreme upper left is the star Procyon and its constellation Canis Minor.  To the left of Orion, very faint, is Monoceros.  Below Orion you can see the top of Lepus, and next to that is the end tip of Eridanus.  I admit that I never thought about Lepus (a hare), Monoceros (a unicorn), and Eridanus (a river) until now.  They are simply too faint and not in any recognizable shape to take special notice of.  Still, there they are, pretty much as they were when the ancients named them.

Gemini is also barely visible at the top, but let’s save mention of the twins for when I can get a better view, when the glaring Moon is not sitting right on top of Castor and Pollux

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 29:

  • 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


The Stranded Stargazer

When there is nothing but gray, day and night
As layers of dark clouds canvas the sky
I recall how I would ponder and write
About what’s seen from the telescope’s eye

For with a clear sky you can catch the Moon
Or observe planets, like Venus and Mars
And with telescope, find distant Neptune
Among the constellations drawn from stars

But rude Winter cloaks all that shines above
First by snow, then sleet, then widening frost
Denying this stranded stargazer’s love
To remain indoors dreaming of nights lost

Yet Winter will not always reign as king
I shall see Orion at start of Spring

No Moon in February!

Do not adjust your screen, there really is nothing to see here.

I admit – though not accurate it makes for a sensational headline.  “No Moon in February!”

Of course there is a Moon.  There is always a Moon, our Moon, somewhere, visible to some degree nearly every day, weather permitting.  But February 2018 has no Full Moon, as the adjoining phase bounds this time happened first on January 31st with the next on March 1st.

When Pope Gregory XIII introduced his namesake Gregorian calendar in 1582, I am sure foremost on the 16th century mind was that February at times would have no Full Moon.  A 28-day month fits very snuggly into the 29.5 day cycle of the Moon, if you allow it.

How often does this happen?  Roughly four times per century, according to Sky and Telescope.  The last Full-Moonless February was in 1999.  That was a long time ago.  So long ago that America was still launching its own manned space missions via the space shuttle fleet (though as The Science Geek explains, the dearth of American human spaceflight may be rapidly approaching its end).

A February without a Full Moon makes for a January and March with two Full Moons each.  But this post is about poor February.  Let her 31-day brothers have their hoarding bragging rights in their own times.

Nonetheless, February should not feel too bad.  Lack of Full Moon is merely an anomalous quirk of our calendar, cured easily with time and a healthy dose of 2019.

We’re in the middle of a February with no Full Moon.  Logically, that means we are close to the New Moon phase.  It’s a great time for stargazing, if you can bear the cold and find a sky free of Winter clouds.

Waiting for Winter to Reopen the Sky

Ice-covered Lake Michigan this winter.

I wish there was more to say and show from the past few weeks, but the weather has not been cooperating.  Cloud-blanketed days and nights intermingled with furious snow bashings have created a mid-Winter with little time for anything beyond work and shoveling.  But I keep my back deck snow-free in hopes that a prolonged break will come one evening and I can get either a telescope or camera out for at least a brief time.

There are a few matters to report.  First, we are now in prime time viewing season for Orion.  From the northern hemisphere, it’s high in the South around 8 to 9 o’clock.  I very much want to take a wide-field view of this constellation, especially since I recently bought a better wide-field lens that I am eager to try out.  I did catch a brief glimpse of Orion last night through a break in the clouds, but certainly not predictable or long enough to warrant getting equipment set up to photograph.

Over the weekend, in between my snow removal shifts, I was up very late, around 1:30am, and noticed to the East that Jupiter was already visible through my trees.  This is great news as it means opposition is rapidly approaching, and in another one-to-two months it will be available for observation and photography at reasonable evening hours once again.

Finally, all the snow in my area made we wonder if my neighbor’s buried outdoor lights would lessen the area’s light pollution for the time being.  With a small break in clouds last night, I did look up for a few minutes, but did not notice any difference.  My guess is that any mitigation of pollution due to covered lights is offset by the highly reflective white snow cover.

Moon on the Following Morning after the Lunar Eclipse

February 1st, 2018, 07:10 a.m. local time

I took this picture just over 24 hours after I witnessed this year’s Lunar Eclipse.  The Moon was still very full, despite having been over a day into its Waning Phase.  It was a very cold morning, but clear enough for the Moon to shine brightly in the West.