A Blazing Full Moon with Saturn

July 9th, 2017, 12:15 a.m. local time

This moon was full – very full.  And it was very bright.  The sky and everything were lit like alternative dawn imagined on an alien world, not by our Sun but from an unknown foreign star.  The Moon hiding behind a patch of clouds helped to illustrate this effect.

In the photo, you can also see Saturn off to the right.  The summer weather has stopped me from getting my telescope out more to both look at and image the planet, but I hope to get a least a few good sessions in through the month of July.

On a side note, my stargazing has been jagged for the past two weeks.  I packed it all in during the July 4th weekend while all the bombs were going off, for fear of a stray firework hitting either me or my telescope.  But I have also been studying the sky, to understand which constellations and stars are out this time of year.  My favorite, Scorpius, looms over the South horizon.  I have mapped out Bootes, which falls into the category of constellations not obvious to find unless you star hop and have a moderately dark sky.  Hercules and Ophiuchus are this type as well found in the Northern Hemisphere during the Summer.

What I am really looking forward to is the “return” of the Andromeda Galaxy.    We are nearly at that time of year again where I will be able to see it peeking over my East treeline if I stay out well past midnight.  According to my log I started viewing it last year mid-to-late July.

A Bird, a Plane, a UFO?

Click for full scale.

June 6th, 2017, 8:04 p.m. local time

I caught a bunch of interesting shots of the Moon tonight, along with a few other objects in the sky.  See the tweet below for a good capture of a plane below the Moon.

A short while after the “good” plane, I caught something else, this time much higher.  In the image above you can see a spec in quadrant 1.  Now usually I am shrinking/compressing images for the blog, but this time I am blowing one up.  Here is an expanded view of that dot:

This is likely a plane’s fuselage.  But it just seemed awfully high in the sky for a commercial plane.  What do you think it is?  Satellite?  Aliens?

Moon, May 29th

Shot with Canon EOS Rebel SL1, f5.6, ISO 200, 1/200 sec, 300mm focal length.

May 29th, 2017, 9:40 p.m. local time

Keeping notes on your past work is a good thing.  When I saw the Moon above, I knew it would make a good picture through my DSLR.  But then I thought, “which camera settings are needed tonight?”  Fortunately I keep a log from my past images, so I know at least approximately what the settings should be.

Using the manual settings from prior shots in April of a much fuller Moon, I knew what to try for this crescent Moon.  My only concern was that since these settings were for a fuller/brighter Moon that I would have to increase the exposure.  But I think it turned out fine, reaffirming my camera’s “Moon settings” with its longer lens.

And here is a tip for checking camera settings on an image.  Most newer cameras should store these settings as part of the image file’s metadata.  I don’t know about Mac OS, but in Windows if you right-click on the image, choose Properties, and click the Details tab, you should see the camera’s settings somewhere there from when you took the picture.  Note that this might not work for videos, only still pictures, but may vary by camera.

Moon, Pollux, and Castor, May 28th

From left to right: Moon, Pollux, Castor

May 28th, 2017, 9:30 p.m. local time

The Memorial Day weekend provided a few good nights of clear or mostly clear skies.  On Sunday the crescent Moon was low in the West, complete with Earthshine.  Though my smartphone does not do justice to the shape or contrast you would have seen live, you still get the idea from the picture above.

The Moon was in proximity to the constellation Gemini.  In the same frame you can see its two brightest stars, Pollux and Castor, which are the heads of the twins within the constellation.  It is difficult to see the rest of Gemini in late May since it is near the horizon and hidden by light pollution.  But in the Winter, when Gemini is high overhead, it is possible to ascertain the general shape.

Daylight Moon with Venus

May 22nd, 2017, 9:20 p.m. local time

Normally I complain about my blocked view of the East sky, due to all my trees and neighbors’ houses in the way.  But sometimes the setup has its benefits.  Today this barrier sufficiently shielded the Sun so that I could find the late stage Waning Moon.

And I thought I was only shooting the Moon, but after reviewing the wider images I noticed that Venus was also picked up!  It may be hard to see, but look above and to the right of the Moon.  The planet was not visible to the eye alone, but was still available with the right camera exposure.

Here is a different, closer view, focused on the Moon:

This last picture, a wide view, approximates what this Moon phase actually looks like when the Sun is out:

Looking ahead, the weather forecast is miserable through the Memorial Day weekend.  Rain and clouds.  This morning it is very bright with no clouds, but as always seems the case, thunderstorms are predicted an hour after sunset.

Merging the Telescope World with the Real World

From left to right: Moon, Callisto, Io, Europa, Jupiter, Ganymede. Click to see the full-sized image.

As mentioned previously, I took several different types of photographs the night of Sunday, May 7th, when the Moon and Jupiter were close.  One of these perspectives was by mounting my digital camera on a tripod to get a wide-field view of the Moon and Jupiter together.  I took many images with different exposures and ISO settings.  Here is one such raw image:

Click to enlarge.

Here, you see an overexposed Moon along with Jupiter.  This shows the distance between the two at 05/07/2017 21:20 Central Time, approximately.

The important aspect of this picture is that it captures all of Jupiter’s Galilean moons.  If you click on the image, you will easily see three of them – Io, Europa, and Ganymede.  Callisto is there, or at least, is there in the raw TIFF image.  You will have to take my word for it that Callisto is there, just very faint.

How do I know which moons are which?  The easy way I follow is to use this Jupiter moon tracker, plugging in times and dates when I take my pictures.  If you enter the time stamp I wrote above, you will get this:

Now while my original source image is nice, I knew I could improve upon it with other images taken that same night at my telescope.  After accentuating Callisto’s brightness a little so we can see it, I used Photoshop Elements to carefully cut out Jupiter and its four moons.  I then overlayed these into a properly-exposed wide-field Moon image.

Next, I wanted to get a good Jupiter into the picture, since the planet itself is overexposed in all my tripod images.  I created the following image from stacked video at my 10″ Dobsonian:

I will shrink this good Jupiter to overlay into the main picture were the bright overexposed Jupiter resides.  But I also wanted to get the planet’s angle right relative to the moons.  So I imported as a temporary layer this other picture I took on Sunday that I previously wrote about:

This “moon” image is the perfect gauge, first to align with the native orientation of Io and Europa in the main image, and then to align the good Jupiter with the moon image Jupiter.  With the proper angle, I then overlayed this good Jupiter on top of the overexposed Jupiter, shrinking it a bit to compensate for the over-brightness of the original.

The final result is the image at the top of this post.

As a final perspective, I used the telescope Moon image I posted earlier and overlayed it in, and then moved the Jupiter system next to the Moon.  This gives you an idea of how wide an area Jupiter and the Galilean moons take up in reference to our Moon:

Click to enlarge.

That’s all for now. I am hoping with the Moon waning over the next week that I will be able to take more constellation pictures, and possibly a few deep sky objects.

Moon Closeup on May 7th

Click to enlarge.

May 7th, 2017, 9:50 p.m. local time

This night produced a bunch of astrophotography goodies: a near Full Moon, Jupiter, Jupiter’s moon, some separate, some together, and at different detail levels.  I will be sorting through all my source images throughout the week.  To start, here is a closeup of the Moon through my 10″ Dobsonian taken with my smartphone, post-processed to bring out additional sharpness and contrast.

I am not sure if it was just the atmosphere or the special brightness of this month (must be that Full Flower Moon) but I was surprised and a little alarmed at how the sky was brightened.  There seemed to be a higher-than-usual glare from this Moon that washed out most stars.  It felt like I was living in the city again.

Late Afternoon Moon

May 5th, 2017, 5:00 p.m. local time

We usually never see a late afternoon Moon.  Likely, we are ending our work days then and more concerned with getting home or elsewhere.  And even when we may be inclined to look up, it will either be too cloudy or too bright from the Sun’s glare to scan the sky.

I noticed the Waxing Gibbous Moon on this unusually clear and blue day.  The angle of the Moon is one we rarely see, with the terminator line pointing down to the East.

This picture was taken with my Canon EOS Rebel SL1, 300mm, 1/1600 exposure, f/14.

Thanking the Planets for Scientific Advancement

If it were not for the planets, where would civilization be today?  For one, I doubt I would have this computer, and the electricity to power it.  The people of this alternative 21st century would be waiting at least several hundred years more for those amenities.

The classical planets of the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are the exceptions in the sky.  (And did you just notice that there are seven of them?  Think of the days of the week.)  There are clouds too, but for our ancestors those were easy to explain as both the chores and whims of the gods.  The stars are fixed, as far as the unaided can see.  But those crazy planets break the rules, making the geocentric universe difficult to explain.

(Uranus was out there too, but likely went unnoticed until Sir William Herschel came along as nothing but an insignificant, dim star, moving too slowly for anyone to appreciate.)

The Sun and Moon are fairly easy as well.  Though they wobble in the sky throughout the year, nothing is perfect, right?  The point being their motions are very easy to predict, day after day, month after month, and year after year.

Then there are the visible planets, the real planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  If not for these, there may never have been any questioning of the order of our solar system, or our place in it.  Scientific advancements took off, in the context of the arc of history, once people accepted that the Earth revolved around the Sun.  For if we did not have these planetary exceptions in the sky, would there ever have been the intellectual curiosity to question?

The planets, unlike the “fixed” stars, offer these problems to explaining the geocentric model (i.e. Earth being at the center of the universe):

  • There is a difference in behaviors between the two inner planets and the three outer planets.  Whereas Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn at least appear follow the elliptic path of the Sun, Venus and Mercury are constantly zigging and zagging in proximity to the Sun.  Mercury quickly bounces from dusk to dawn.  Venus sometimes climbs really high in the sky, yet also falls back into Mercury-like behavior.
  • The planets speed up and slow down.
  • Sometimes, the planets start moving in the opposite direction of everything else (retrograde motion).
  • Mars is a very curious case by itself, since at times it will shine as brightly as Venus and at others be dimmer than Saturn.

Copernicus was the first to publish the notion that the planets revolve around the Sun.  Later, Kepler devised his laws of planetary motion, which explain all of the conditions listed above.  Still later, Newton came long, basing his general laws of gravity and motion on Kepler’s earlier work (and Kepler’s laws turned out to be a special case of Newton’s general gravitational laws).  Newton’s work in this and related areas was the genesis of our modern scientific knowledge.

If there were no planets, there would have been no questioning of the Earth’s status relative to the Sun.  If that questioning never happened, we would have never had a true reference as to our place in the universe, making fundamental questions on physics difficult to comprehend.  I don’t doubt that eventually we would have come around to figuring these things out, only that it would have taken far longer if not for the guidance of the planets.

So here’s to you, Mercury, for your quickness.

Here’s to you, Venus, for your brightness.

Here’s to you, Sun, for keeping the lights on when we need them.

Here’s to you, Moon, for all of your cool phases.

Here’s to you, Mars, for being the most famous red beacon in the sky.

Here’s to you, Jupiter, for your steadfastness.

And here’s to you, Saturn, for the delight you reveal through our telescopes.