Better Than a Quarter Moon

Click for the hi-res image.

August 30th, 2017, 8:59 p.m. local time

Me: “Wow, such an amazing Moon tonight!  I should get my telescope or at least digital camera to take some pictures.”

Me Too: “Well, since you did only a smartphone capture last night, let’s drag the big telescope out for this one.  Even I have to admit this is too good of a Moon to waste.”

Me: “Great!”

Me Too: “Ok.  Just make sure you produce something fantastic worth both our time.”

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Two Sides of the Quarter Moon

August 29th, 2017, 7:10 p.m. local time

Me: “Wow, that’s a great looking Quarter Moon tonight!  I should get my telescope or at least digital camera to take some pictures.”

Me Too: “You’re pretty tired.  Are you sure you want to lug all that equipment outside?  Plus, it’s a work night.”

Me: “How about a compromise: I’ll go get my smartphone and snap a few images?  That will take hardly any time at all.”

Me Too: “Ok, deal, but you’re cooking dinner tonight.”

The Backwards Moon

August 13th, 2017, 04:15 a.m. local time

Farmers and early risers will disagree, but I think of the Moon’s waning phases as backwards.  I have been use all my life to seeing the waxing Moon in the evenings.

Attempting to view meteors on Sunday gave me a rare opportunity to photograph a healthy looking backwards Moon at its midpoint sky travel that day.  As I had already prepared my digital camera and tripod for meteor hunting, it was not much effort to first attach a longer lens for the Moon.  Today’s picture is from Sunday morning with only minor touch-ups performed in PaintShop Pro.

Of course, this monthly cycle has special significant as this particular Moon phase gradually creeps Eastward every day to rendezvous with the Sun for the North America solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st.

Meteor Hunting, 2017 Edition

No meteors, but how many constellations do you see?

August 13th, 2017, 04:30 a.m. local time

In what is becoming an annual event for me, this morning I got up at 4 a.m. to check out what I could of the Perseid Meteor Shower.  Though the sky was mostly clear lest a few stray clouds, the waning Moon’s brightness was the only unfortunate circumstance compared to last year’s.  Within about an hour I saw two meteors, a long one to the West and a short one close to the Perseid radiant point, very roughly between the constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus.

And speaking of constellations, I did set up my digital camera and took a bunch of long exposures in hopes of capturing a meteor digitally.  Unfortunately this did not pan out, but I did get some interesting and surprising wide-field views of an August early morning sky.

The above image is not stacked, just a 30-second exposure at ISO 3200 pointed at the Perseid Meteor Shower’s radiant point.  I can clearly see Cassiopeia and Perseus, as expected, but then I was surprised at all the other goodies in the photo.

The Pleiades was the first unexpected capture.  I thought my favorite little star cluster was too far East to be in-range of my picture, but there it is, sitting in the very corner.

(Yes, the Pleiades are not a constellation.  They are actually part of Taurus.)

Next I saw the bright stars of Auriga.  At first, I thought one of these was Venus, but upon consulting my sky map app, Venus was much closer to the horizon at this time, hence below my picture.

The extremely faint constellation Camelopardalis is also here.  Since this one isn’t exactly the hot topic of dinner conversations and cocktail parties, I drew it out for you and your friends’ reference, so you can indeed have something to gossip about at that next party.

Part of Cepheus is also visible.

The very last noteworthy object I discovered is Polaris.  So counting Ursa Minor, that’s seven constellations in one picture!  Below is the same picture with all these interesting sky objects called out.  I recommend clicking the image to enlarge it.

Click to enlarge.

Moon Rising Above the Clouds

August 1st, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time

Sometimes the Moon fights despite the Earth’s turbulent weather.  Here we have an example of our satellite breaking free from eastward-moving cloud cover, with a nice patch of blue sky to frame.

This was taken with my smartphone, proving again that these devices have some marginal value beyond looking at pictures of Cheerios.

Seeing the Moon Among the Clouds

July 27th, 2017, 6:50 p.m. local time

The Moon grows on its month-long journey to meet the Sun for the 2017 North America eclipse.  Tonight was clear, warm, and pleasant.  About 90 minutes before sunset the Moon’s crescent stood out in front of a paling blue sky through wisping clouds overhead.

In case you are having trouble seeing the Moon among those clouds, here is a closeup, not of the same picture but taken within a few minutes of it:

Saturn in July 2017

July 16th, 2017, 11:10 p.m. local time

All the recent rain and generally miserable humid summer weather almost made me forget that there was a brief pocket of pleasant evening clearness just this past Sunday.  It was a great opportunity to move my 10″ Dobsonian to my back deck for taking in the evening’s astronomical wonders.

I started with imaging Saturn, my primary objective.  I had great difficulty locating Saturn that night and it was almost 20 minutes before I locked on.  Keep in mind this is all a manual process.  My homemade Dobsonian is a Newtonian reflector on a simple alt-az swivel mount.  Even by turning my exposures all the way up, I still had problems finding it.  The lesson here is that it may be next to impossible to attempt imagining of Uranus in a few months with my meager equipment.

Returning to the present though with Saturn, I think this may be my best yet.  When I image the planets, I always take a few sets of videos with different refocusing.  It is really, really hard to get the exact focus right, and the digital camera’s view screen can only get you approximately there, hence the need to take a few sets so that hopefully at least one of them is good.

This night, I took two sets, and it was the first group of videos that allowed me to create the above image.  I also used my Neodymium filter, which I prefer for Saturn as it brings out a nice color contrast among planet’s cloud bands and ring levels.

After my Saturn session was complete, I put a 17mm eyepiece on the scope just to look around on that clear no-Moon night.  Of note was the Hercules Globular Cluster (Messier 13) which I saw clearer than I ever had.  Wow!  I could make out many bright stars in the foreground of the cluster.  I don’t have the proper equipment to image it, but I hope to have the skills to properly draw it by next year.

Also of note was that I am starting to see Cassiopeia earlier and earlier in the Northeast.  It’s the great pointer to the Andromeda Galaxy.  My view to the East is mostly blocked, so I have to wait some before the galaxy is visible via telescope and binoculars from my backyard, but it is comforting to know my favorite gray smudge will be back soon!

A Blazing Full Moon with Saturn

July 9th, 2017, 12:15 a.m. local time

This moon was full – very full.  And it was very bright.  The sky and everything were lit like alternative dawn imagined on an alien world, not by our Sun but from an unknown foreign star.  The Moon hiding behind a patch of clouds helped to illustrate this effect.

In the photo, you can also see Saturn off to the right.  The summer weather has stopped me from getting my telescope out more to both look at and image the planet, but I hope to get a least a few good sessions in through the month of July.

On a side note, my stargazing has been jagged for the past two weeks.  I packed it all in during the July 4th weekend while all the bombs were going off, for fear of a stray firework hitting either me or my telescope.  But I have also been studying the sky, to understand which constellations and stars are out this time of year.  My favorite, Scorpius, looms over the South horizon.  I have mapped out Bootes, which falls into the category of constellations not obvious to find unless you star hop and have a moderately dark sky.  Hercules and Ophiuchus are this type as well found in the Northern Hemisphere during the Summer.

What I am really looking forward to is the “return” of the Andromeda Galaxy.    We are nearly at that time of year again where I will be able to see it peeking over my East treeline if I stay out well past midnight.  According to my log I started viewing it last year mid-to-late July.

First Saturn of 2017

June 19th, 2017, 12:45 a.m. local time

It was a hasty session under non-ideal conditions, and I was very tired, but I wanted to try capturing Saturn with my 10″ Dobsonian and DSLR camera.  I have the Jupiter settings down fairly pat, so now it is time to start honing in on taking good pictures of the sixth planet.

A few factors became obvious when I started.  First, since Saturn is much lower towards the horizon, I am going to have to use my counterweights (a bunch of “C” clamps) to keep the Dobsonian from falling over with the camera attached.  For last night, I just held the tube up manually.  I only got about 1,100 shaky frames across back-to-back videos.

Next, it will be a challenge to get the ISO and exposures right, since Saturn is fainter than Jupiter.  With Jupiter, I could achieve focus by setting the camera’s option to overexposure and then focusing in on Jupiter’s moons.  Titan seems too faint for this focusing method to work.

Last, it is going to be a bit uncomfortable over the next month trying to photograph in Summer conditions.  I have come to love the Winter for stargazing – no bugs and you can just layer up.

Forecasted viewing is pretty bad for the rest of the week.  The only good news is that Saturn is still appearing a bit too late in the evening, as I must wait until after midnight to view it due to the tall Southeast obstructions in my way.  Hoefully things will look up in a few weeks.