What’s So Odd About a Young Moon in Late Fall?

November 20th, 2017, 5:10 p.m. local time

A bitter, windy chill was in the air tonight, with calm and clear heavens in strong deference.  The young crescent Moon made its Monthly debut in the West.  Few will notice before it sets.

The Moon has now passed by the Sun three times in the sky since the Great North American Eclipse of 2017.  Summer turned to Fall.  Fall is rapidly giving way to Winter.  The wonderful sites of the cosmos are available on nights like these for those who wish to seize the opportunity.  But don’t wait too long, for the Sun and Moon and stars wait for no one as their eternal journey carries on.

Most trees framing this evening’s Moon have already started their annual hibernation.  But amazingly, here in the Midwest in late November, many trees are stubbornly holding onto their leaves, though they usually would have been shed weeks ago by now.  Notice the one tree in the background still full as if in mid September.  I do not know what’s up with the trees this year, but they do need to hurry up if they don’t want to miss Winter.


Halloween Moon

October 31st, 2017, 9:00 p.m. local time

Ghostly clouds and autumn leaves bring you tonight’s Moon on this last day of October.

The Moon and a Plane

October 25th, 2017, 6:01 p.m. local time

Sometimes the quickest astrophotography snaps yield surprises.  I was not even trying to include the plane, honest!

Moon Falling in Daylight

October 9th, 2017, 9:45 a.m. local time

On Monday, the Moon was still out well into the morning, but setting towards the horizon in a clear, blue, and near-empty sky.  These early Waning phase days are a reminder that astrophotography can be done all day and all night.  Granted, your targets during the day will be three at most (Sun, Moon, Venus), but the pursuit is nonetheless possible.

Constellations IV: Scorpius Rising

Click for larger image.

From my vault of unpublished astrophotography, today I bring you a rendition from earlier this year of the constellation Scorpius.  I had been meaning to process this one for a while.  Days turned into weeks which turned into months.  An eclipse got in the way somewhere along the journey.  So here we are, mid-October, discussing a constellation normally thought of in the Summer.

I recall that it was still very early evening when I took the photographs which comprise this stacked image.  As you can see, my view was a tad narrow, but you can easily make out the side of Scorpius anchored by Antares.  To the top-left are two moderately bright stars, part of the constellation Ophiuchus.  If you imagine a horizontal line from the bottom of those stars in Ophiuchus to the top stars in Scorpius, then you are envisioning the Sun’s elliptic path in the sky.

When is the Moon fully Full?

Taken with Canon EOS Rebel. f/5.6, 1/500 sec., 100 ISO, 300mm focal length.

October 4th, 2017, 9:30 p.m. local time

Last night was “Full Moon night.”  The Moon passed from its prior Waxing phase and is now in its Waning phase, were it shall remain until the next New Moon.

When is the Moon truly full?  If you look at my image above from last night, taken with my digital camera, you may believe this is a Full Moon.  But it is more likely a 99-99.9% Waxing Gibbous.  How can you tell?  Notice on the right side how there is a thin circular line along the circumference of the Moon’s edge.  This indicates the direction of the Sun relative to the Moon as seen from my location on Earth.  Now look at the left side and note the absence of that circular line.  Instead, on the left you still see the shadows of craters at the extreme edge of our viewing range.

At some point last night, yes the Moon went fully Full and the line traced a complete circle.  That is your real Full Moon.  Tonight, that circular line will now be on the left side with crater shadows visible on the right.

Someday I hope to capture a true Full Moon.  Its appearance is relative every Moon cycle, so instead of relying on luck, whenever I have more time I will look up the exact UTC time and be ready to photograph at that moment.

Constellations III: Of the Summer Triangle

Click to see the full-sized hi-res image!

A few days after I searched for Pluto, I chose to forgo my telescopes for one clear evening and play with my digital camera.  The Summer Triangle is straight up in the evening sky right now for several hours after sunset.  As Jack Horkheimer used to say, “Keep looking up.”  This time, take his advice literally and you will see the magnificent asterism defined by the stars Altair, Deneb, and Vega.

This image was taken in a similar fashion to my prior wide-field constellation pictures, like Leo, where I took dozens of light, dark, and bias frames and then created a composite in DeepSkyStacker.  For this new image, though, I went a step further.  I have been searching for a way to accentuate the stars based on their brightness, short of manually blowing them up.  I believe I have uncovered a technique to get the desired effect.  You can easily make out the three main stars along with other stars/patterns in descending order from their apparent magnitudes.

I must admit that I was mildly shocked at how many stars are shown.  Are those really stars, or image noise?  As the images were taken straight up, to the darkest part of the sky, it seemed plausible.  Also, the Milky Way runs right through the Summer Triangle.  You cannot see the Milky Way in my picture, as I don’t think it is possible to capture in my light-polluted area without longer exposures and an equatorial mount.

In checking as many detailed online star charts as seemed reasonable, I do believe those dots are all stars!

Remember that an asterism is a pattern of stars, versus a constellation, which is a generally accepted “official” pattern.  The Summer Triangle is an asterism (a triangle, duh) but it has several constellations in and around it.  How many constellations can you see and name in this picture?

Alternative Moon Perception

The Moon…as you have never seen it before!

This is the exciting finale to a trilogy of posts about my August 30th Moon adventures.  The first showed the Waxing Gibbous Moon from that night.  The second explored several of the Moon’s craters.  And now here is the story of what came next.

As I finished up my astrophotography for the evening, I detached both the camera and eyepiece setup from my Dobonsian’s focuser.  I had, just moment before, been taking my last pictures, so the Moon was still in the telescope’s field of view.  With the focuser empty, I noticed the very bright light emanating through, like a flashlight.  This was, obviously, the Moon’s light still reflecting from the primary mirror, off the secondary, and through the focuser hole.

I have observed this “flashlight” before, but usually considered it for only a moment as I would be in the process of packing up my equipment for the night.  But on this pleasant evening for the 30th day of August, I decided to play with the light a little.  I put my hand in front of the focuser and could see the blurry image of the Moon upon it.  Moving my hand around allowed me to focus the Moon, directly on my hand.

I thought this was the end of the exercise.  But when I put the dusk plug back onto the focuser, Moonlight was still shining, this time through the translucent plastic.  It is a very simple cap, and if you are unfamiliar with these telescope dust plugs, they look like this.

Adjusting the focuser allowed me to bring the Moon into focus, right on the cover of the dust plug.  It was a strange sight.  It reminded me of the small view screens that attached to some home film projectors in the 1970s.

The Moon, but not the Moon.  Quickly I detached my smartphone from its mount and took several pictures of the phenomenon.  The above is one of those images with only minor post-processing.  The diagonal streaks across the Moon are the grains of the dust plug’s surface.

I got a lot of value out of that Moon observing session.  Right now, the Moon is waning and nearing the next New Moon.  Unfortunately my weather forecast is cloudy through the weekend; I want to get back out there and find Pluto one more time this year.

Discovering the Moon’s Craters

Section of the Moon on August 30th, 2017.

When I photographed the Moon on August 30th, I felt now was a good time to start examining it at a closer level.  Having only attempted crude drawings of craters previously, I wanted to see how high I could push the magnification of my Dobsonian reflector.  So I replaced the 17mm Plossl eyepiece used for the full disc image with a 7.5mm and Barlow lens to see what I could get.

(I should note here that I was using my smartphone for pictures, hence the afocal method of putting the camera directly to the eyepiece.)

With that telescope, this eyepiece setup magnifies about 333 times!  Although well within the theoretical maximum for a 254mm aperture, it does present challenges with the atmosphere and, closer to home, vibrations when attempting to get a steady photograph.  Many of my attempts came out motion blurry.

The situation presented itself as the ideal opportunity to study the Moon map that came with one of my equipment orders last year.  This particular section of the Moon is near its Southern pole.  At first, I had no idea what I was looking at, as the map and my image appear a tad different due to shadows.  Plus, there are a lot of craters, too many to count!

To pinpoint these specific craters and determine their names, I performed a modified approach to star hopping, but of course for the Moon.  Checking the map, I first leveraged the easy large Mare in the North, then from there simply hopped from large crater to large crater, until I arrived at the location of my picture.

In learning these names and locations, I was humbled to realize how little I know about the Moon.  I have taken lots of pictures for over a year but have never studied the surface.  How does the saying go…I hear but I do not listen?  Surely this is the equivalent for sight.

My embarrassment started when I had no idea the famous Tycho crater is sitting right there in my picture.  It has that internal shadow with a center protrusion.  Below Tycho, the largest crater shown is Clavius, a name I know I have heard before.  It has several smaller craters within.  Maginus and Moretus are also visible.

Here is the same picture, this time with the craters labeled:

This exercise has kindled a desire for me to learn more about the Moon and truly see it in all its amazing detail.  I now know and have seen four craters.  Hundreds more are out there waiting!