Relative Planets

Evenings of July 6th through July 8th, 2018

The weather was amazing this weekend, especially for early July.  Clear skies, no humidity, and bugs only became a problem on the final night.

On Friday evening I took another set of Jupiter pictures.  These are not shown, as the following day’s images were far superior.

After Friday’s Jupiter session, I kept the telescope out after midnight, so technically on Saturday, to image Saturn for the first time this year.  As always, I have to wait for the planets to clear trees to the Southeast.  Since Saturn is now a few weeks past opposition, I get a clear few of the planet shortly after midnight.

For Saturn, I checked my written log for the settings I used last year (ISO 3200 and 100 exposure).  These, according to my log, gave me my best results.  But thinking I could do better based on my recent Jupiter work, I decided to try ISOs at 1600 and 800 and exposures of 60 and 30, respectively.  Lower ISO means less noise.  The results were not too bad, but I think the 3200/100 settings are still the best, and will try those next time.

On Saturday night, I took what I think may be my best Jupiter yet.  The finder focus on my first attempt was near perfect, if not perfect.  Look at the cloud band detail!  I only wish the Great Red Spot was facing us more at the time.  You can also see Io next to the GRS.

Then on Sunday I dragged my big telescope to my front lawn to capture Venus setting in the West.  This is the first time I did that.  The results were much better than I expected.  You cannot get much from Venus beyond its general shape.

What is neat about lining all three images side-by-side is that they were taken with the same telescope and same equipment setup, so you get a great sense of their relative sizes as seen from Earth.  Venus is noticeably smaller even though it is the closest to Earth and approximately the same size as Earth.  Right now, Venus is just over 90 million miles (145 million km) away.  Jupiter is about 450 million miles (724 million km) past, and Saturn is 840 million miles (1350 million km) from us.

What I should have done was take an image of a star, to show its relative size as well.  Next time!

Equipment used this weekend:

  • 254mm homemade Dobsonian
  • Canon EOS at prime focus
  • TeleVue x5 Barlow
  • Neodymium filter
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Humid Jupiter, June 2018

Jupiter via a 254mm Dobsonian, prime focus, TeleVue x5 barlow, Neodymium filter.

June 29th, 2018, 9:45 p.m. local time

I ignored the “excessive humidity warning” tonight and imaged Jupiter.  The sky was just too clear and this was a Friday night.  I am glad I did, because though the humidity was stifling, the bugs were very few.  Apparently insects don’t like humidity either.

This is my first good image of Jupiter in 2018.  The focus was near-perfect and about as good as I am going to get with my non-imagining imaging equipment.  Referencing my note log from last year and the few bad attempts this year, I got the camera settings just right.  I also did post-processing in PaintShop Pro to smooth out and clean up the image.

As added bonuses, Europa and Io made it into the picture.  The Great Red Spot is also visible.  Even if I don’t get another decent Jupiter for the rest of the year, I will at least have this one to look back on.

First Jupiter of 2018

Jupiter via a 127mm Mak-Cass, 14.5mm eyepiece, x2 Barlow, Neodymium filter, and smartphone.

June 4th, 2018, 9:30 p.m. local time

Most of my recent astro-imaging has been through my 254mm Dobsonian.  Its main advantage, within my arsenal of equipment, is its mirror size, allowing for the most light gathered.  Its primary disadvantage is lack of automatic tracking.

So for a change of pace, I took out my 125mm Mak-Cass last night, which is able to locate and track objects in the sky.  It is not perfect, but it gets you to where you’re going, or looking, and stays on the target far longer than the manual Dobsonian can.  Whereas I refer to my Dobsonian as a “light cannon,” the Mak-Cass with its proportionately longer focal length relative to the size of its primary mirror is more akin to a sniper rifle, for pinpoint accuracy on very small patches of the sky.

The current positions and timing of our planets offer an opportunity to see both Jupiter and Venus in the sky shortly after Dusk, with the former in the Southeast and latter descending in the West.  I will have a separate post for Venus later.

Jupiter came out surprisingly well.  The biggest challenge was adjusting the smartphone mount on the eyepiece.  It was very difficult to center the camera lens just right.  I think this was in part due to the eyepiece used – a 14.5mm planetary viewer, which is not designed to hold a smartphone mount well.  It is great for simply looking with your eye, but not for attaching cameras.

My only regret on this image is that it is slightly out of focus.  I tried to minimize the impact with post-processing.  I was pressed for time and forgot to do a few refocuses as I normally would.

Binocular Relaxation

April 30th, 2018, 10:45 p.m. local time

I will say this for cloudy weekdays – at least I don’t have to make up excuses for not taking my telescope and camera out on a “school night.”  Last night though presented another mostly clear sky and this time with beautiful warm spring temperatures.  It was too tempting to not go outside to do something, anything

Not wanting to take all of the equipment out, I settled for the second easiest path – using my binoculars (the easiest is no equipment at all).  It was the perfect night for it anyway, just to look up at many different, interesting parts of the sky.  So in the warm air with a cool gusting breeze, here is what I observed.

Spring Triangle

My initial objective was prompted by Scott Levine’s referencing of the “Spring Triangle” formed by Spica, Arcturus, and Regulus.  I wanted to see how far apart all three stars were to gauge if they could be photographed together.  The Spring Triangle is quite a bit larger than the already large Summer Triangle of Deneb, Vega, and Altair.  There may be a small chance of capturing all three in the very widest view my camera and lens can reach.  I hope to try soon.

Since I had my binoculars with me, I decided for fun to note the color of each of these three spring stars.

  • Arcturus – orange
  • Spica – blue
  • Regulus – mostly white with maybe a little blue

Did I get the colors right?  Searching for information on each star, I learned that:

  • Arcturus is a red giant
  • Spica is a type of binary star dominated by a blue giant
  • Regulus is a multi-star system that appears to be dominated by a white-blue star

So with the exception of calling Arcturus orange, I guessed correctly on each of them.

Moon

At this time last night the Moon had just cleared my tree tops, allowing me to take images through my telescope.  See yesterday’s post.  Tonight, it was still shrouded by many bare tree branches.  It was visible, but even through binoculars it was a difficult to focus on any of the Moon’s surface detail.

Jupiter

Jupiter keeps coming, very slowly, up and up each night.  It still clears my trees too late every evening to get the telescope out just yet (on a school night).  But I could still see it through the trees.  Tonight it was ahead of the Moon almost as much as it was trailing the Moon the prior night.

Through the binoculars I noticed a faint dot just ahead of the planet on its elliptic path.  Could that be one of its moons?  Searching later for the exact position of the moons at that time showed this:

So I was seeing either Ganymede or Callisto, both of which were far to Jupiter’s right at the time.  If I had known about this positioning while viewing them, I would have tried to pay much closer attention to see both moons even through the trees.

Coma Berenices

I admit I have become a bit infatuated with this asterism.  It is too faint in my light polluted skies to see unaided, but pops our as a gem of stars through binoculars.  If there is a single example of when binoculars view is superior over any telescope view, it is with Coma Berenices.

Sometimes called the tail of Leo, first find Leo above, and then it is not too difficult to scan Eastward until you locate this amazing batch of stars.

Gemini

My favorite friends of Orion and Taurus are all but gone into the West this viewing season, and Gemini follows close behind.  I used my binoculars to trace out the upper bodies of Castor and Pollux, a task that is harder than it sounds through a magnified view.

Mizar and Alcor

I don’t know why but I always enjoy spotting the pairing of stars Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major.  It may be because it was the first “double” I observed when I resumed my astronomy hobby several years ago.  It’s also a fun one to show onlookers and guests who have never seen a double star magnified before.

Waiting for Winter to Reopen the Sky

Ice-covered Lake Michigan this winter.

I wish there was more to say and show from the past few weeks, but the weather has not been cooperating.  Cloud-blanketed days and nights intermingled with furious snow bashings have created a mid-Winter with little time for anything beyond work and shoveling.  But I keep my back deck snow-free in hopes that a prolonged break will come one evening and I can get either a telescope or camera out for at least a brief time.

There are a few matters to report.  First, we are now in prime time viewing season for Orion.  From the northern hemisphere, it’s high in the South around 8 to 9 o’clock.  I very much want to take a wide-field view of this constellation, especially since I recently bought a better wide-field lens that I am eager to try out.  I did catch a brief glimpse of Orion last night through a break in the clouds, but certainly not predictable or long enough to warrant getting equipment set up to photograph.

Over the weekend, in between my snow removal shifts, I was up very late, around 1:30am, and noticed to the East that Jupiter was already visible through my trees.  This is great news as it means opposition is rapidly approaching, and in another one-to-two months it will be available for observation and photography at reasonable evening hours once again.

Finally, all the snow in my area made we wonder if my neighbor’s buried outdoor lights would lessen the area’s light pollution for the time being.  With a small break in clouds last night, I did look up for a few minutes, but did not notice any difference.  My guess is that any mitigation of pollution due to covered lights is offset by the highly reflective white snow cover.

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.

Jupiter is back! For me, at least…

Position of Jupiter and its moons on December 5th, 2017 06:25 CT.

December 5th, 2017, 06:25 a.m. local time

Tuesday brought in a very clear morning sky.  For the past several weeks, as I’ve let my dog out in the mornings, I have been scanning the East dawn sky for Jupiter.  I finally found it, sticking out high above my largest tree.  Welcome back, old friend.

If you observe Jupiter and stars for any amount of time, you learn that Jupiter is “big” compared to any star.  This is not a trick of its brightness.  As seen from Earth, Jupiter has an angular diameter roughly between 29″ and 51″.  For comparison, Betelgeuse in Orion has a angular diameter never above 0.060″.  So at Jupiter’s smallest, you would still have line up over 483 Betelgeuses to reach the diameter of Jupiter (as seen from Earth)!

I thought I saw a cluster of light immediately to the right of Jupiter.  Could that have been a moon?  Later, I looked up the Jovian moon positions for this exact time, and I found it interesting that Io, Europa, and Callisto were all clumped together on Jupiter’s right, at that moment.  I am not entirely sure if I really saw the combined light of three moons, but it is pretty cool to think that I may have.

Memories of Jupiter

Do you recall the largest planet of all?

Jupiter’s prime viewing season in 2017 has long past, but it should still be visible a little after sunset if you want to get a final glimpse of it this year in the evening sky.

Back in June, when Jupiter was high in the sky, I embarked to sketch the planet a few times, intermingled with on different nights opposite my digital photography of it.  Sketching at the telescope is an art for which I am barely a novice, but I am taking steps to improve my drawing skills in hopes of better future drawings for Jupiter, the Moon, and Mars.

I did mentioned in an earlier blog post or comment that I would post my sketches.  So better late than never, for better or worse, here they are, further below.  Note that I list the eyepiece filters used.  An objective I had this year was to determine which filters are best for seeing Jupiter’s details.  In my final sessions, as I was getting more comfortable making out the planet’s finer details, I decided to test each of my filters so that knew for years to come which filters will help my observations.

It is entirely possible that my filter opinions are just that, and yours may be different.  But if you are inclined to observe Jupiter someday at the telescope, here is my little guide on which filters I prefer.  The numbers, in case you are unfamiliar, as the standard Wratten numbers to denote filter color or type.

  • #12 Yellow – Very good, great band contrast
  • #23 Orange – Very good, can see band contrast
  • #25 Red – Bad, can only see the primary bands a little
  • #58 Green – Good-to-ok for band contrast
  • #80A Blue – N/A, filter was dirty, needed to clean
  • #80A Medium Blue – So-so (maybe results would have been better if Jupiter was higher in the sky?)
  • #96 Neutral – Very good, a little less bright but can see bands easily
  • Mars filter – Good, nice contrast and, in particular, the Great Red Spot really popped out

So I recommend #12 Yellow, #23 Orange, #96 Neutral, and Mars.  I have to recheck my #80A Blue filters next year.

And now, onto the Jupiter sketches…

Jupiter on June 1st, 2017.

Jupiter on June 2nd, 2017.

Jupiter on June 10th, 2017.

Jupiter on June 27th, 2017.

Jupiter Animations 2017

First, a bit of housekeeping.  I have not been posting a lot this month, but that does not mean I have not been stargazing.  On the contrary, the amazing weather my area has had for the last few weeks led me to take advantage of it as much as I can.  For example, this week I did a triple feature with my telescope: first imaged Jupiter, then did some DSO searching, and finished with Saturn imaging.  All under a clear new Moon sky.  When I do take pictures, I try to push them to my Twitter account, just because it’s the faster way to post them.

And speaking of housekeeping, this post is a much delayed matter I finally got around too.  On May 31st I took a good sample set of Jupiter images to attempt an animated GIF.  I shot five video sets all about 15 minutes apart.  The above is Jupiter alone.  As you can tell, I do not have an equatorial mount, so Jupiter was in process of still ascending into the night sky at the time I took the videos.

While the planet came out pretty well, unfortunately this was a terrible time to include the Galilean moons.  The only one that was reasonable close was Io.  And bad for Io, it was at the edge of its orbit perpendicular to Earth, so over the course of that hour, it appears to have hardly moved.  See for yourself:

Obviously this second animated GIF is overexposed in order to show Io.  Given that I do not have an equatorial mount, I doubt I will be attempting this animation exercise next Jupiter season, preferring to focus on observing, still photography, and sketching.  If anything, I now know the approximate radius of Io’s orbit through the telescope.  Still, I am glad I attempted this exercise as it is one more achievement to cross off my astronomy to-do list.