ISS Flyover May 29th, 2021

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 128.12 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed.

May 29th, 2021, 09:29 p.m. local time

I have been receiving alerts of ISS flyovers in my area for several weeks, but cloud cover has been intense for well over a week. With finally a completely clear night, I set up my iPhone with NightCap to record the ISS traveling overhead.

This exposure was taken facing North. Most notable is how the ISS flew just under Polaris. You can also make out The Little Dipper as it arches up and to the right.

Here are the approximate stats from this flyover:

Sat May 29, 9:29 PM6 min44°10° above NW13° above E

Vernal Equinox Moon, Spring 2021, via iPhone

Click for full-sized image.

March 20th, 2021, 08:57 p.m. local time

Happy belated Vernal Equinox for all of you in the Northern Hemisphere.  The start of Spring means that I am done with excuses for not getting my telescopes outside again.  I contemplated taking the Dobsonian into the yard over the past few weeks, but the still very bitter evening chill was always enough for me to shrink back into my warm hole in the ground.

Looking at my records, I can’t believe the last time I took the big scope out was five months ago, on October 13th for the Mars opposition.  But in my defense, it was a particularly brutal late Fall and all of Winter in a variety of ways, from personal to meteorological.  Now I hope to spend at least time on the weekends with my scopes, camera equipment, or both.

My primary target for the evening was the Moon, still in Crescent Phase.  Partially notable were two visible stars visible through the 2″ eyepiece, both extremely close to the Moon’s shadow side.  I captured them in this raw stock iPhone image:

Stellarium confirmed their existence and position at the time observed:

Click for full-sized image (screenshot from Stellarium).

As listed in Stellarium, the bright, closer star is known as 121 Tau / HIP 26248 with magnitude 5.35.  The second dimmer star, in the top right of each image, is HIP 26201, magnitude 6.80.  “Tau” is of course for Taurus.  They reside between the bull’s horn tips, stars named Tianguan and Elnath.

With warmer weather approaching, I should have more opportunities to observe and capture the Spring sky.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: iPhone XS
  • Smartphone camera mount for telescope eyepieces
  • Barlow: None
  • Filter: None
  • Eyepeice: Q70 32mm, 2″
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups, cropping

Light in Winter’s Deep

Click for full-sized image.

February 13th, 2021, 6:08 p.m. local time

Approximate Temperature: 6 degrees Fahrenheit / -14 Celsius

I recall one lecture in my Materials Science class in college, the professor said, in his British accent, “Ice is a wonderful building material.  It’s only problem is that it turns to slush when the temperate reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit!”

This statement from nearly 30 years ago popped into my head as I was clearing my driveway from the latest fluffy blanketing.  The temperature, yet again, was in free fall towards 0 (F) with no intention of stopping there overnight.  At least there was no wind.  Yes, you could likely build wonderful creations with just ice if you were guaranteed to never have to worry about melt.  Maybe this will be a paradigm for the Moon?

As I was pushing my snow blower down its next lane to plough, I looked up and realized the sky was clear.  And in the West was the early Crescent Moon.  Our weather has been do cold and cloudy and snowy these past three+ weeks, I lost track of the Moon’s cycle!  But there it was.  As I had my phone in my pocket, I of course just had to attempt a few pictures.  I got off a few shots with the stock iPhone camera and a few with Night before, in less than a minute, my exposed figures started to go numb.  Phone back in my pocket, and the ploughing continued.

Despite the crudity of this image, it partially captured the evening’s Earthshine.

On my return trip up the lane, I looked up again and saw Rigel.  Orion!  I forgot about Orion!  It’s still there.  And this is unfortunately its prime viewing season.  I am really hoping the weather in March is above freezing and I can spend some time looking again at my favorite constellation.

Something Remarkable out of the Unremarkable

From left to right: Saturn, Ganymede, Io, Jupiter, Callisto, Europa.  Click for full-sized image.

December 22nd, 2020, 5:10 p.m. local time

We begin today with a weather recap.

So this past night provided an opportunity to see the two gas giants side-by-side.  I used my small Mak-Cass 254mm telescope, which I had not used, I think, at all this year except possibly for one solar viewing.

This was a somewhat rushed setup, knowing I wouldn’t have a lot of time, and not knowing if I could get both Jupiter and Saturn in the same telescopic view.  The telescope’s final position was pointed well under 15 degrees.  I used the telescope’s stock 23mm eyepiece, with no magnification.  I was delighted to see both planets, along with all four of the Galilean moons, visible in the same field.

Anticipating a good sighting, I had already attached my iPhone to my eyepiece mount.  The best result is above showing the full eyepiece view.  Here are the objects zoomed in:

Click for full-sized image.

…and here is Saturn zoomed in even more, with some minor image corrections in PaintShop Pro:

For a quick iPhone image at the telescope, this view of Saturn turned out incredibly well.

Sunday’s view of the conjunction wasn’t terribly interesting, but this last one was different.  Seeing both planets side-by-side on this cold and clear evening, and together through the telescope, definitely ranks up with the other notable astronomical observations in 2020.

Still-Early Fall Bicycling

Click for full-sized image.

October 11th, 2020, ~9:30 a.m. local time

Weather has been steadily cooling but still very pleasant, pleasant enough to continuing biking on my local trails.  I’ve continued bicycling through the Summer and into the Fall, and thought these would be good point-in-time shots.  As you can see, many of the trees are still green.  This will likely change rapidly even over the next week.  Normally by early November, most trees will have lost their leaves or be in their advanced stages of Fall color.

Click for full-sized image.

On the astronomy front, tomorrow is Mars opposition 2020.  The forecast is cruel right now, with clouds scheduled to roll in early evening Tuesday.  As I write this on Monday, the skies are overcast with rain in the afternoon, followed by clearing early evening.  I may try to sneak in opposition eve viewing and photos late tonight.

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.

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.

Midday Bicycle Break

Click for full-sized image.

July 23rd, 2020, 10:52 a.m. local time

With great weather and being off from work, I went for a bicycle ride.  Took a few pictures along the way.  These photos are more down-to-Earth than my normal postings, but they are still nice, I think.  A small break from the comet and stars and planets.

Click for full-sized image.