Botanic Moon

Moon on August 5th, 2019

Through warm Summer haze
Trees keep vigil in moonlight
Even though we don’t

Fixing Jupiter

Jupiter on August 1st, 2019.

I mentioned previously that on the evening I captured the ISS fly overhead, I also got the telescope out to see Jupiter.  It was a clear night with no Moon, very comfortable for early August, and most importantly, and strangely, hardly any insects to annoy me.

(And in case you are wondering, I didn’t want to wait for Saturn, as it would have been another 1-2 hours before it cleared the trees blocking my backyard’s Southeast view.  School night/work night and all that…)

I only took a few sets of videos.  None of them had great focus.  Of the three sets of videos (three ~25s videos each spanning no more than 90 seconds total due to Jupiter’s fast rotation), I chose the middle set.  But then I thought, what if I chose only two of the videos instead of the full three?  That might reduce some of the rotation blur, at the cost of detail.

Above is the result of two stacked videos.  And for reference, I also tried processing just one 25s video, but it was much too grainy.  Plus, I experimented with stacking the best 30%, 60%, and 80% of frames, and in this case, 80% looked best (I usually stack 60%).  The magic of planetary imaging is to find that sweet spot on a given night of clear skies, focus, and number of good frames to stack.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL1
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 125
    • Created from two videos of about 25s each, best 80% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for final minor touchups

Forgotten Mars


Little red light always in the night sky
Shines at opposition, despite your size
Rivaling Venus, Moon when you trek by
Lest we forget as you fade before rise

Passed so close to Earth in twenty-eighteen
I watched you for months, awaiting to see
What would reveal upon your radiant sheen
Snapped many pictures of you in my glee

Yet as the months went by your brightness passed
Glowing dimmer into the sea of stars
And lo, ashamed my interest waned fast
Forgot my pictures of you, jewel Mars

Today, I make amends and recollect
Enjoy these views, delayed by my neglect

Tracking the International Space Station, August 2019

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 68.38 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed. Click for full-sized image.

August 1st, 2019, 10:04 p.m. local time

What a difference a day makes!

After last night’s attempt to photograph the International Space Station, I wanted to give NightCap another try, this time in a darker environment.  Having my bearings, it was much easier to choose a setup location, now in my backyard.

The ISS was going to appear NNW again tonight, so I had a good idea of where to point the iPhone on tripod.

The above photo is the result.  The ISS moved very slowly “up.”  I was surprised by the speed.  It eventually reached near Zenith, and was very bright.  Curiously, it abruptly disappeared as it started falling into the SE.  This evening’s event was logged at 2 minutes on NASA’s website, so I guess it made sense.

This shot was pointing Northward.  Notably, you can easily see Ursa Minor and Ursa Major.  I have outlined the dipper asterisms below.  Also, I live near O’Hare International Airport, and two planes on a landing approach from the West were captured as well.

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 68.38 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed. Click for full-sized image.

This evening I also brought out my telescope, to look at and photograph Jupiter (hopefully more on that later).

One final note.  Recently, I converted a number of my house light switches to smart switches, which I can now control with my iPhone and Apple Watch.  This was the first night that I utilized the watch & smart switches working together.  Previously, I would have to frequently go back and forth into the house and across rooms to turn on or off lights, depending on the current situation.  Now, I can use the Apple Watch to adjust the house lights as I need them, instantly.

I also utilized the watch to control NightCap’s shutter.

It may not seem like a big deal, but it was a noticeable time saver.  Walking back & forth to turn on and off lights is not a value-add activity to stargazing.  The less time I have to spend on it, the more I can spend with the equipment and the core activities of watching the sky and photographing it.

Tracking the International Space Station, July 2019

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 109.49 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed. Click for full-sized image.

July 31st, 2019, 09:18 p.m. local time

Last night I finally got around to trying out the NightCap app for iPhone to track the International Space Station.  I considered this more of a test, given the conditions and frankly because I did not know how or if it would work.

Given the rise from NNW and descension into East, the best location for the camera was the worst location on my property.  I set the tripod up near my road, facing one streetlight and in the direction of occasional oncoming traffic.  One does not have to know anything about light pollution to know this was a bad location for a long exposure.

The problems of the matter were capped by an automobile with bright headlights driving towards me, and slowly, just as the ISS started to ascend into view.  No, it was not the cops.  But I had to make a command decision: keep tracking for the most visible part of the orbit, or stop/reposition/restart to cut out the blinding headlight glare.

I chose the former, to keep filming.  I tried my best afterward to remove the surface light pollution, at least to the point where you are able to see the ISS’s path.

Next time, I will choose a much better location, now that I know how ISS mode within NightCap works, and that it does work.  Despite the photon assault, I was very impressed with how the 100+ second exposure kept the lights from totally blinding the image; if there were no obtrusive lights, the picture would have been great.  Next time, hopefully.