BREAKING NEWS: Moon Visible Despite Excessive Light

Experts acknowledged that the object (lower-left center) witnessed by several persons is known as the Moon.

BRIGHTVILLE, ILLINOIS – The Earth’s only natural satellite made a surprise appearance in the sky yesterday evening, alarming the few onlookers who happened to noticed its thin crescent near the Western horizon.

Sources confirmed that the Moon may have been visible for a limited time on Thursday, until about an hour after sunset.  It appeared as what astronomers call a Waxing Crescent, since each night there will more of its disc visible, until it reaches its Full phase on the 31st of January.

“I was walking to my car in the parking lot after work and, you know, just happened to see something in the sky that wasn’t an airplane,” said one anonymous blogger.  “It’s so hard to see anything up there with all these lights.”

Though the appearance of the Moon is not typically a concern to most people, Illinois has taken aggressive steps in recent years to illuminate its night sky more.  In particular, the installation of new ultra-bright LED lights along the state’s streets and tollways have greatly contributed to what critics call “light pollution.”

“We received many reports from concerned motorists about a curved-shape UFO low in the sky,” said an Illinois Department of Illumination spokesperson.  “After review with top meteorogical experts, we are confident the object was indeed the Moon.

“Understanding the anxiety this event caused, rest assured that we will be looking to install even more high-powered LEDs throughout our roadways.  We simply cannot have our motorists distracted by objects appearing in the sky from nowhere without official approval.”

Due largely to the Chicago region, Illinois has one of the highest Bortle scale ratings on the planet.

“Our goal, and the goal of every Illinois citizen, is to achieve the highest Bortle scale rating in the country and throughout the world.”

Illinois authorities warn that in areas without cloud cover, the Moon may be more visible and brighter every night for the next ten days.


The Brightness of Algol, Part I

Click to see the full-sized image. Afocal image taken from a 254mm reflector.

“I will definitely be looking out for Algol and will try to take pictures.”
Me on September 12th, 2017

The star Algol, in the constellation Perseus, is known as an eclipsing binary star.  As explained at Scott’s Sky Watch:

“Algol’s brightness changes as we see it here on Earth. It’s not because its inherent brightness itself is changing, but because another star is passing in front of it, blocking out some if its light, just like the Moon did to the Sun last month, but much farther away. From its 90 light years, we can see it as only one star. Algol was the first star of this type to be discovered, so this type is sometimes called an Algol Binary. We here are fortunate to be able to see this.”

I had been hoping to take pictures over the course of days to see if changes in its brightness could be detected.  I was only able to image the star on one night so far, several weeks ago on December 19th.  I did log the telescope, lens, and camera settings, so that I can try to reproduce the imaging event at a later date.  The above image, from December 19th, is unaltered except for an increase in color vibrancy that can be applied easily to the next image.

There is still some time this season to capture Algol again.  I just need both the Winter weather and skies to cooperate together on a single night.

Cloud City

Click for the full-sized image.

Winter morning over Chicago on January 9th, 2018.

What Do You See?

I took this image of Chicago after dusk on December 20th last year.  What do you see?

Some may say they see a city alive, from the skyscrapers to lakefront to the bustling streets that run through Chicago’s commercial, industrial, and residential zones.

Personally, I see photons.  Lots and lots of stray protons, all of them moving up.  Beyond the few markers intended for aviation safety, the sources of these photons are illuminating spaces beyond their intended targets.

What do you see?

A View from My Early Morning Commute

My train rushes by
Streetlights below glare upward
It’s light pollution

Constellations VI: Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, and the Quest for the Andromeda Galaxy

Click to see the full-sized image.

I was motivated this weekend to try to find the asteroid 3200 Phaethon.  But after reviewing its location, I realized it would be tough to see from my vantage point.  Saturday night brought in a clear sky with calm weather, so I decided on another venture – more wide-field astrophotography!

My primary target was Pegasus, but I knew I could also capture nearby Andromeda as well as Cassiopeia.  I took about 40 15-second exposures with my digital camera, followed by the customary 15-ish dark and bias frames, put them all into DeepSkyStacker, post-processed them in PaintShopPro, and the above image is the result.

There are a lot of starts in this picture, taken by pointing my tripoded camera above and a bit to the West around 8:15pm local time.  In case you cannot see the constellations, here is the same image with the major shapes traced:

Click to see the full-sized image.

Also highlighted is the area of the Andromeda Galaxy.  In my very light-polluted neighborhood, none of the galaxy is visible unaided, but I can see its center with my binoculars and telescope.  In this picture, the center is visible as a very small spec.  Keep in mind this picture was taken with my widest-possible lens setup, so details would be scarce regardless.

In Andromeda, the main guide star is Mirach.  In my above images, I don’t have this star labeled, but it is the closest star that is part of the orange connection lines to the final “a” in the word Andromeda.  Stellarium shows Mirach in relation to galaxy M31 as:

Mirach in relation to the Andromeda Galaxy.

For comparison to my actual results, here is that section of my image zoomed in.  You can see Mirach, the Andromeda Galaxy, and all the main surrounding stars as they match up to Stellarium’s database:

Click to see the full-sized image.

Next, I would like to try the same long-exposure exercise through my telescope, pointed at the Andromeda Galaxy, to determine if I can capture any detail beyond the galaxy’s center!

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 24:

  • 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


Four Nights, One Lamp, Four Phases

Click for larger image.

November 28th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
November 29th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
November 30th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
December 1st, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time

On Tuesday, November 28th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon high above.  I decided to take a picture with the only camera I had available, which of course was my smartphone.

On Wednesday, November 28th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon high above.  Standing in the same spot as the night prior and at roughly the same time, I look a picture of the Moon again.

On Thursday, November 29th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon above.  Standing in the same spot that I did on the prior two nights, I look a picture of the Moon again.

On Friday, December 1st, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon towards the East.  Standing in the same spot that I did on the prior three nights, I look a picture of the Moon again.

This format was unintentional at the start, but by Thursday I decided to trek along with the experiment for as long as the clouds would stay away.  In the end, I had four image sets, each 24 hours apart, pointed in the same direction.

The walkway light proved an excellent anchor to align the images day by day.  Obviously, they are not 100% exact.  I tried to stand in the same spot each night, but as this wasn’t a controlled environment exercise, the Moon’s path and location is ever so slightly off, but hardly noticeable.

Keep in mind that the Moon moves backward every day from its position the prior day.  This was demonstrated quit visibly in August as the Moon past over the Sun from right to left.

Here is the same image with each day’s date tagged to its Moon phase:

Morning Moon and Jupiter

Click for the full-sized image.

December 14th, 2017, 5:05 a.m. local time

In a partial attempt to stargaze earlier than Jim R for one morning, I caught a great view of a very Waning Moon rising in the East, with a bonus of Jupiter following along.  You can see Jupiter a bit to the lower right of the Moon as it peeks just above a tree branch.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I mention my view of the East being blocked by trees.  Here you get scope of that blockage, which of course alleviates some in the Winter months.  I enjoy watching Orion and later Sirius ascend through this netted mosaic on clear December evenings.

Morning Moon Before the Front

Click for the full-sized image.

December 8th, 2017, 9:50 a.m. local time

My location was quite different from where I photographed the Moon last night.  The venue changed from the evening darkness of my yard to the bright, expansive view from my place of work.  In nearly twelve hours, the Moon traveled across sky via its elliptic, and was now settling into the West.  All this time, the Moon gradually crept closer East towards the Sun, even though the general movement direction is East-to-West.

Notice the Moon high in the middle, with the approaching clouds from the Northwest.

This picture was taken with my smartphone and edited for some minor post-processing.