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.

A Bird, a Plane, a UFO?

Click for full scale.

June 6th, 2017, 8:04 p.m. local time

I caught a bunch of interesting shots of the Moon tonight, along with a few other objects in the sky.  See the tweet below for a good capture of a plane below the Moon.

A short while after the “good” plane, I caught something else, this time much higher.  In the image above you can see a spec in quadrant 1.  Now usually I am shrinking/compressing images for the blog, but this time I am blowing one up.  Here is an expanded view of that dot:

This is likely a plane’s fuselage.  But it just seemed awfully high in the sky for a commercial plane.  What do you think it is?  Satellite?  Aliens?

Moon, May 29th

Shot with Canon EOS Rebel SL1, f5.6, ISO 200, 1/200 sec, 300mm focal length.

May 29th, 2017, 9:40 p.m. local time

Keeping notes on your past work is a good thing.  When I saw the Moon above, I knew it would make a good picture through my DSLR.  But then I thought, “which camera settings are needed tonight?”  Fortunately I keep a log from my past images, so I know at least approximately what the settings should be.

Using the manual settings from prior shots in April of a much fuller Moon, I knew what to try for this crescent Moon.  My only concern was that since these settings were for a fuller/brighter Moon that I would have to increase the exposure.  But I think it turned out fine, reaffirming my camera’s “Moon settings” with its longer lens.

And here is a tip for checking camera settings on an image.  Most newer cameras should store these settings as part of the image file’s metadata.  I don’t know about Mac OS, but in Windows if you right-click on the image, choose Properties, and click the Details tab, you should see the camera’s settings somewhere there from when you took the picture.  Note that this might not work for videos, only still pictures, but may vary by camera.

Moon, Pollux, and Castor, May 28th

From left to right: Moon, Pollux, Castor

May 28th, 2017, 9:30 p.m. local time

The Memorial Day weekend provided a few good nights of clear or mostly clear skies.  On Sunday the crescent Moon was low in the West, complete with Earthshine.  Though my smartphone does not do justice to the shape or contrast you would have seen live, you still get the idea from the picture above.

The Moon was in proximity to the constellation Gemini.  In the same frame you can see its two brightest stars, Pollux and Castor, which are the heads of the twins within the constellation.  It is difficult to see the rest of Gemini in late May since it is near the horizon and hidden by light pollution.  But in the Winter, when Gemini is high overhead, it is possible to ascertain the general shape.

Daylight Moon with Venus

May 22nd, 2017, 9:20 p.m. local time

Normally I complain about my blocked view of the East sky, due to all my trees and neighbors’ houses in the way.  But sometimes the setup has its benefits.  Today this barrier sufficiently shielded the Sun so that I could find the late stage Waning Moon.

And I thought I was only shooting the Moon, but after reviewing the wider images I noticed that Venus was also picked up!  It may be hard to see, but look above and to the right of the Moon.  The planet was not visible to the eye alone, but was still available with the right camera exposure.

Here is a different, closer view, focused on the Moon:

This last picture, a wide view, approximates what this Moon phase actually looks like when the Sun is out:

Looking ahead, the weather forecast is miserable through the Memorial Day weekend.  Rain and clouds.  This morning it is very bright with no clouds, but as always seems the case, thunderstorms are predicted an hour after sunset.

Jupiter and Two Moons

Io (left), Europa (middle), Jupiter (right). Taken on May 7th, 2017.

May 7th, 2017, 10:25 p.m. local time

Apparently it is possible to get Jupiter and its moons into the same picture.  You just have to increase the ISO setting.  For the above picture of Io, Europa, and Jupiter, I cranked up my digital camera’s ISO to 1600.  Normally I have it at 400 or 800 for Jupiter.  It leaves Jupiter slightly overexposed, but I think it is a good trade-off given the objective.

In case you are wondering, Callisto and Ganymede were much further out from Jupiter at this time, one on either side.  I have a special treat for later on to show this from another perspective.

Moon Closeup on May 7th

Click to enlarge.

May 7th, 2017, 9:50 p.m. local time

This night produced a bunch of astrophotography goodies: a near Full Moon, Jupiter, Jupiter’s moon, some separate, some together, and at different detail levels.  I will be sorting through all my source images throughout the week.  To start, here is a closeup of the Moon through my 10″ Dobsonian taken with my smartphone, post-processed to bring out additional sharpness and contrast.

I am not sure if it was just the atmosphere or the special brightness of this month (must be that Full Flower Moon) but I was surprised and a little alarmed at how the sky was brightened.  There seemed to be a higher-than-usual glare from this Moon that washed out most stars.  It felt like I was living in the city again.