Clouds vs. Early Crescent Moon

Click for full-sized image.

June 24th, 2020, 8:45 p.m. local time

June 24th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Today’s story begins on the prior night, when the Moon was an even thinner crescent.  I saw the Moon shortly after Dusk and decided to fetch my camera.  By the time I had everything set up and returned outside, a batch of clouds had already covered the West sky.  I thought I had had some time, but the front that later brought showers moved faster than I had anticipated.

On the following night, there were only a few clouds in the West, but with storm clouds visible much farther away to the Northwest.  Around 8:30 p.m. I manage to get a few pictures in (above image).

An hour later, I took a few more of the Moon, now almost fully in dark.  It is worth nothing that, although it’s not visible in the final picture, there was clear atmospheric diffraction along the edges of the Moon’s outline.  This is where red, blue, and green start to separate due to a prism effect, common when trying to photograph, for example, Mercury, since it is always low towards the horizon.

I wanted to keep shooting, but the clouds finally arrived, again.  Below is the best focus from the session.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/60 sec exposure
  • ISO 200
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/125 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Daytime Waning Crescent Moon, June 14th, 2020

Click for full-sized image.

June 14th, 2020, 11:03 a.m. local time

Still going backwards and catching up on items from the past weeks.  Last Sunday I took a walk and found the early Waning Crescent Moon.  It may be tough to see, but it is centered and just past the tree.  If you zoom in, you can make out the crescent better.

Taken with my iPhone with minor image adjustments and cropping in PaintShop Pro.

Sketching the Stars – M3 Globular Cluster

Click for full-sized drawing.

June 16th, 2020, 11:25 p.m. local time

Here is what I hope will be the return of an observation technique I have not done for a while – sketching.  I am actually doing my most recent sketching posts in reverse.  Over the past week, I was hunting for the galaxy M61, and have a small set of sketches that will be part of a larger post.  But for now, last night I decided to have some fun and tried to observe and draw a star cluster for the first time.

My goal was to capture what I truly saw at the telescope.  Yes, the cluster in question here, M3, really does look like just a gray smudge amongst a few dots of sparse stars.  The smudge is actually the core of about a half million stars.  All in all, I think that using a virtual charcoal pencil made a pretty accurate representation of what the cluster did look like to me, under very good viewing conditions for my location.

Using my 254mm (10-inch) Dobsonian, my best 2″ eyepiece along with a 2-times magnification Barlow lens, this was probably the best wide-field view of M3 that I can get.  I could likely use my 1.25″ eyepieces, but finding this star cluster by star hopping would be extremely difficult with such a narrow view.  While M3 is obvious when you find it in a telescope, there are no close guide stars.  The closest bright star is Arcturus in the constellation Boötes.  However, with my recent practice of trying to locate M61 (see future post), it wasn’t too hard to approximate the location between Boötes and Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), which is incredibly large and bright even in my light polluted skies.

How “large” is this star cluster?  It is difficult to give an approximation because not all of the cluster is fully visible here.  But for reference, it is officially listed at 18 arcminutes.  The Moon is about 30 arcminutes.  If I looked at the Full Moon with this eyepiece/lens setup, it would fill up a good portion of the view, but not entirely and with noticeable space to spare.

Using Stellarium, I looked up the surrounding stars and all their magnitudes.  Remember that lower numbers are brighter.  M3 was definitely the brightest object, magnitude 6.20, although the light was spread across the cluster, not concentrated to a single star.  The next brightest star was to the right, named HIP 66890, at magnitude 8.40.

(Interestingly, Stellarium lists HIP 66890 as a double star.  I may have to check it out again to see if I can gleam the second star.)

To the left of M3 are dimmer stars in the 10+ magnitude range.  I have pointed out all of the key stars and M3 below:

Click for full-sized drawing.

I used Procreate on my iPad to draw this sketch, with a dark red background as the canvass and white pencil.  I then removed all red afterward in PaintShop Pro, to give the black background you see here.  I will discuss this setup and usage in more detail in upcoming post on M61.

Early Morning Glimpse of Saturn and Jupiter

Objects in the early morning sky. Left to right: Saturn, Jupiter, part of the constellation Sagittarius.

June 16th, 2020, 03:22 a.m. local time

I happened to be up early mid-morning and decided to check on Jupiter and Saturn.  I knew from my observations last week that they should have been almost due South, and my direct observation confirmed this.  The above picture was hastily taken with my phone.  Interestingly, this is the stock iPhone camera app, versus NightCap.  Normally, NightCap gives better ad hoc photos of the sky, in my experience, but this time, NightCap’s TIFFs were too dark.

Jupiter is the big bright object near center.  Slightly above and to Jupiter’s left (from our vantage) is Saturn.  You can also see sloping towards the right some of the brighter stars in the constellation Sagittarius.

This picture also emphasizes how bad my location’s light pollution is.  That glow towards horizon is not the Zodiac lights, but the overabundance of artificial illumination even after 3 a.m.

Edit: Zooming into the image, I noticed a star was captured above and slightly left of Saturn.  According to Stellarium, that is the (double) star Dahib, brightest star in the constellation Capricornus.

Morning Moon, June 2020

Click for full-sized image.

June 12th, 2020, 9:20 a.m. local time

I have been guessing, and I think correctly, that most people do not realize the Moon is visible in morning daylight.  It is easiest to spot in the days/week after a Full Moon.  Each day, the Moon will “wane,” its reflection shrinking, as it moves closer to towards the Sun (from our vantage on Earth).

A sparkling clear late Spring day offered little reason to not get the camera out for some easy lunar photography.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Saturn, Jupiter, and Moon, Early June Morning, 2020

Objects in our Solar System. Top row, left to right: Saturn, Jupiter, Moon. Bottom, Earth.

June 8th, 2020, 02:30 a.m. local time

We* here at Aperture Astronomy will do whatever it takes** to bring you some of the most fascinating images of our Solar System and beyond.  If staying up until 2:30 a.m. is necessary, we’ll* do it!

This early morning view of two planets and the Moon was simply too good to miss, so yes, I stayed up to at least see it when the Moon had risen high in the South.  Jupiter and then Saturn followed.  Frankly it was pretty cool, and I can’t wait for what views will top this one in the ensuing months.

If I believed in astrology, I would probably think this planetary configuration was the harbinger of a great sign or omen.  Fortunately, my only reaction was to enjoy the view, and to run back inside to get my phone and capture what I could of the scene.

The image is heavily edited, taken from a source iPhone NightCap TIF.  I tried my best to compensate for the Moon’s brightness, the area’s light pollution, and keeping especially Saturn visible.  The end result is a somewhat blurry mess, but hopefully the framing gives proportion as to what the sky looked like.  And this does give a proper perspective of the light pollution in my area, from the front lights to the general blandness of the sky (though the Moon was largely a contributing factor).

On a related note, on the previous night, around 9:05 p.m. local time, I spotted Mercury for the first time this year.  The sky was about as clear as it could be.  With Dusk still settling, I used Pollux and Castor as the easy guide stars to look down, with my binoculars, to find Mercury.  Once found this way, I was able to make the planet out, barely, with the naked eye.  Through the binoculars I also spotted, still in Dusk, a faint star to the right of Mercury, which according to Stellarium was likely the 3.05 magnitude Mebsuta.

Three planets spotted within six hours.  My planet viewing season has begun!

* I
** Restrictions and conditions apply

More Moon, June 2020

Click for full-sized image.

June 1st, 2020, 10:00 p.m. local time

Continuing my recent series of evening backyard excursions targeting the Moon, I brought the big telescope out again for a look at the larger Gibbous phase, now just a few days away from Full.  The sky was clear and bright, illuminated from the Moon’s reflection.  It made observing anything around the Moon difficult, especially in my light polluted skies.

The only post-processing note is that I tried to get the overall sharpness, contrast, and brightness as close to the image from two nights ago as possible.  I like that prior image better.  Frankly, the Moon gets less interesting as it approaches Full, as the shadows creep behind the Moon and away from the Sun, revealing less crater shadows.

Image settings for reference:

  • 254mm Dobsonian
  • f/1.8
  • 1/1011 sec exposure
  • ISO 24
  • Exposure bias: 0
  • Focal length: 4mm
  • 14.5mm eyepiece (1.25″)
  • No eyepiece filter
  • iPhone XS with NightCap app on eyepiece mount

Plane and Moon

Click for larger image.

May 31st, 2020, 6:37 p.m. local time

Here is another “by chance” image.  I was outside early evening to photograph the rising Moon with my Canon EOS, to get a daytime shot.  I was using my phone as the remote shutter, so I wasn’t paying full attention while I stepped away to snap images.  Normally during that time, I try to stand as still as I can, to minimize ground vibration.

It was only afterwards that I found this one image of a very high flying plane.  If you zoom in, you an see quite a bit of detail, including an underside red light and the color of the top fin (I don’t know what the technical terms are).

Image settings for reference:

  • f/5.6
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • 300mm lens
  • Minor image touch-ups in PaintShop Pro