Still Looking at Saturn

October 6th, 2020, 9:09 p.m. local time

Shortly after my Jupiter imaging on the 6th, I easily turned my attention to Saturn.  A splattering of clouds arrived though, so after my first image set, I took a break (knowing the forecast was clear skies all night).  Thirty minutes later and I was back at the telescope.

The four sets I took of Saturn were not as good as many of my prior sessions, but one set was serviceable enough to post.  Like Jupiter, Saturn is now smaller through the telescope than it was mid-Summer.  But you can still make out the major cloud bands and inner and outer rings.  My favorite part of these Saturn images is always the planet’s shadow on the back of the rings.  For whatever reason, I enjoy that that immense shadow is made from the same Sun that makes all of our terrestrial shadows on Earth.

As with Jupiter, I now rely heavily on my paper log book for all my prior ISO and exposure settings.  Flipping the pages back a few months, sometimes years, helps immensely and saves time at the telescope, so I can focus primarily on, well, focus.

If you have been following along and/or know what’s up in the sky right now, you can guess the subject of my next post. 🙂

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 30
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Final Look at Jupiter in 2020

October 6th, 2020, 8:20 p.m. local time

As the title implies, this was likely my final closeup attempt of Jupiter for the year.  The planet is noticeably smaller than it was at opposition three months ago.  It is also now lower in the sky, making it more difficult for me to photograph.

But I will continue to observe Jupiter, as it remains close to Saturn as they move towards their December conjunction.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 800
    • Exposure: 40
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Almost Full Moon, Last of September, 2020

Click for full-sized image.

September 30th, 2020, 11:45 p.m. local time

Clear and cold on the final night of September, the Moon was incredibly bright, with strengthening Mars following just to the East.  If it wasn’t the middle of the work week I would have tried for telescopic photography, but instead settled for my digital camera on tripod, with my longest lens.

This is an “almost” Full Moon.  If you look closely on the upper left you can still see a few crater shadows.  Technically it won’t be truly full for another 16 hours.

In other news, my wrist seems to be completely healed.  As they say in the corporate world, “out of an abundance of caution,” I still haven’t put any big strains on it, particularly in lifting my Dobsonian outside.  I did lift it briefly last week with no problems.  My plan is to resume using the telescope as close to Mars’s opposition as possible.  I can only hope the weather will be as cool and perfect as it was tonight.

Image settings for reference:

  • f/5.6
  • 1/1000 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • 300mm lens
  • Minor post-processing in PaintShop Pro

Lazy Late Summer

Taken on an Illinois trail August 18th, 2020.

Greetings.  It’s been a while since I posted, so wanted to do a “check in” post.  I haven’t done much astronomy over the past month, for various reasons which could be considered excuses, but I won’t call them that.  I could itemize the various new light pollution issues in my area that have grated me, but the reality is I already lived in a one of worst polluted spots on Earth.  The residual haze from the western United States forest fires notwithstanding, I hope to get back to sky viewing soon, and certainly in time for the approaching Mars opposition.

The true limiting factor over the past month was some sort of injury to my wrist.  Around the time I took the above picture in August, I did something to my dominant left wrist and I couldn’t put even simple strains on it, let alone try lifting my Dobsonian to take it outside.  And so I restricted my activities to only those necessary.  Fortunately within the last week it seems to be back to normal, though I continue to remain careful and will give it another week-ish before I lift the big telescope again.

Part of me believes this is the “downer” time, after the mid-Summer Jupiter and Saturn oppositions plus the bonus of the Neowise comet.  But things are looking up, as they always do in time.

Bike Paths, Pandemic Traffic, Chipmunks and Squirrels

Click for full-sized image.

August 16th, 2020, 9:30 a.m. local time

Haven’t done any real night sky viewing since the meteor shower last week.  The weather has been very pleasant and I’ve been exploring my local bike paths.  They are not too terribly exciting visually, but the paths make for relaxing treks through the Forest Preserves in the morning, before the August heat kicks in later in the day.

I biked four times this past week.  There was a very noticeable uptick today in path traffic, a combination of the nice weather and being a Sunday.  At times, it almost felt like a morning rush hour commute, with so many walkers, joggers, dogs, and cyclists to navigate around.  And it’s worth noting, vehicle traffic seems unabated by the pandemic, even more so on weekends.  Not sure where everyone goes.  Maybe business as usual?

Missing today on the paths that I saw many of mid-week: chipmunks.  I’m guessing they don’t like humans, and stay further in the forest when the paths are more heavily traveled.  Their larger cousins, squirrels, are always around, and for the most part, have a far better sense of when to get off the road.  Chipmunks are very fast by comparison, and just dart.  I almost ran over a few.  They don’t seem to know how to get out of the way.

When I lived in the city, there were squirrels everywhere, but no chipmunks.  I get the impression chipmunks need dense plant growth, so when urban development hits an area, they retreat to the forest.  Squirrels, however, can climb and burrow into buildings of any height, probably why they continue to thrive in cities.


Below is a typical Midwest marsh, as seen this morning.

Click for full-sized image.

Pictures taken with my iPhone and briefly post-processed in PaintShop Pro.

Perseid Meteor Captured on iPhone with NightCap

Taken with NightCap. Meteor mode, 5.06 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed.

August 12th, 2020, 04:20 a.m. local time

Meteors!  They are today’s topic.  I got up very early this morning and saw six of them, likely from the Perseid Meteor Shower.  Although the sky was clear, that pesky Moon was still shining bright at 4am, even in its Waning Crescent phase.  Fortunately, my large tree to the East blocked its direct light.

Aside from visual observation, I also set up my iPhone on a tripod and ran the NightCap app in Meteor Mode.  It continually took several-second exposure images indefinitely.  I let it run from for about 40 minutes, until around 5am when the sky started to visibly lighten.

The image above was the most spectacular, captured very early in the session.  The other images mostly caught “space junk,” i.e. random satellites.  I didn’t see this specific meteor as, early on, I was more busy watching my phone and remote-control watch to ensure everything was in working order.


Where in the sky was this image taken?  Unless you’re familiar with the constellations, it will be hard to guess.  I had the phone on tripod pointed almost straight up.  Interestingly, I noticed while viewing this image in a dark room, you can see a dark aura emanating from the center top; that is the sky’s Zenith, and you can get a sense for how bad my light pollution is even around 4am.

Thanks to Roger Powell’s recent post on identifying photographic objects, I discovered nova.astrometry.net, which can identify the place in the sky your image was taken.  It’s very neat.  I uploaded my meteor image and it identified the constellations captured.  I will call this the meteor of Pegasus-Equuleus of August the 12th, 2020:

Facing West, pointed towards Zenith.

Early Riser, Moon and Mars, June 2020

Click for full-sized image.

August 9th, 2020, 4:35 a.m. local time

For the past couple of days, I have gotten up very early, either at or before Dawn.  The first case was for a terrestrial matter.  But for the second, today, it was for the view of the Moon and Mars.

This was the closest I’ve seen a planet to the Moon in the few years of this blog.  They seemed much closer than the image infers, when you factor in their placement in the huge, expansive dome of the sky.

I had toyed with the idea of pulling out the big telescope for a closeup of Mars, but I’m glad I deferred, as this Waning Gibbous phase was still very bright.

I am going to try for more early morning observations.  The world is far more…peaceful at 4am.  Light pollution is noticeably less.  I have noticed an uptick in both noise and light pollution within these past few months after Dusk, likely due to commercial venues being largely unavailable, so people are congregating more in the residential areas instead of going out, and more and more it seems lately as the lockdowns continue in their dysfunctional and disjoint forms.  At least in America, we’ve lost a lesson from our Prohibition era, that you can’t eliminate activity, only drive it out of sanctioned sight, either elsewhere or underground.

And what may be pertinent soon, meteor showers are normally at their best before dawn, since that is the time of day your section of the world is turning into the Earth’s orbital path.

This picture was difficult to frame.  Normally, I use a default of 4×6 inches.  But given the placement of the two objects in relation to each other, that frame didn’t feel right.  Finally I decided that a simple square looked best.

The image is a composite, based off of the Moon, with tiny Mars overlayed from a higher exposure and ISO.

Image settings (Moon):

  • Canon EOS SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/250 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Exposure bias: 0
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor editing and composite with Mars done in PaintShop Pro

Fifth Night of the Comet: End of the Tail

Click for full-sized image.

July 22nd, 2020, 9:54 p.m. local time

This one was from almost a week ago now.  Comet C/2020 F3 had risen sufficiently high enough that I was able to photograph it from the relative darkness of my backyard.  If you follow The Big Dipper’s middle part of the handle straight down, you can barely see Neowise above two stars near the bottom.  This picture was taken with my iPhone and NightCap, on a tripod.

It was, sadly, the last night I was able to clearly see the tail.  As I watched it through my binoculars, I felt a sense of loss, that soon, this comet would never be seen by me or anyone else again for thousands of years, unless a means to travel the Solar System is developed before it arrives again.  To give perspective, assume very roughly that the last time this comet was in Earth’s vicinity was around 4000 B.C.  Any semblance of civilization was in Sumeria.  The great Egyptian kingdoms were still about a millennium away.  Writing had yet to be developed.  The chronology of The Bible had barely begun.  Perhaps the Sumerians or tribes of the settled world saw Neowise and took it as a great sign from their gods.

When the comet returns, millennia from now, I wonder how the inhabitants of Earth will see it.

Friday Night with Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter with its moons (left to right) Callisto, Io, Ganymede, Europa.

July 24th, 2020, 11:00 p.m. local time

Continuing the series of images from this past Friday night were shots taken of Jupiter and Saturn.  Jupiter, above, is shown with its four largest moons.  The image quality is not great, as my objective was to accentuate the moons and their relative positions and brightnesses.  Note that I did some creative editing to bring out the moons, particularly by overlaying a duplicate image, brightening the lower, then masking the moon slots on the top layer.

Here is a closeup of Jupiter, slightly more polished:

And of course following Jupiter right now is Saturn.  I only had to wait about 15 minutes for it to clear the treeline from where I was:

All images taken with my Dobsonian telescope and same setups as recent prior nights.  Only main difference here was using ISO 800 instead of my normal 1600.  Perhaps because the planets are still close to their oppositions, they seemed to turn out slightly better than the sets at 1600.