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

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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.

Almost Full Moon, Last of September, 2020

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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

Early Riser, Moon and Mars, June 2020

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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

Interpretive Moon

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July 24th, 2020, 10:18 p.m. local time

Last night was a rare triple-play of notable sky targets available from one spot within about an hour: the comet, the Moon, and planets Jupiter and Saturn.  More on the first and last in subsequent posts.

As for the Moon, its early crescent was already low when dark fully settled, trapped within my western treeline.  Still, I had brought my big telescope into my front yard, and so pointed it as best as I could.  NightCap took interesting afocal photographs.  I selected one for generous editing in PaintShop Pro, seen above, though the source is not much different.  I tried to give it a little watercolor and/or oil painting feeling.

Clouds vs. Early Crescent Moon

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June 24th, 2020, 8:45 p.m. local time

June 24th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Today’s story begins on the prior night, when the Moon was an even thinner crescent.  I saw the Moon shortly after Dusk and decided to fetch my camera.  By the time I had everything set up and returned outside, a batch of clouds had already covered the West sky.  I thought I had had some time, but the front that later brought showers moved faster than I had anticipated.

On the following night, there were only a few clouds in the West, but with storm clouds visible much farther away to the Northwest.  Around 8:30 p.m. I manage to get a few pictures in (above image).

An hour later, I took a few more of the Moon, now almost fully in dark.  It is worth nothing that, although it’s not visible in the final picture, there was clear atmospheric diffraction along the edges of the Moon’s outline.  This is where red, blue, and green start to separate due to a prism effect, common when trying to photograph, for example, Mercury, since it is always low towards the horizon.

I wanted to keep shooting, but the clouds finally arrived, again.  Below is the best focus from the session.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/60 sec exposure
  • ISO 200
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/125 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Daytime Waning Crescent Moon, June 14th, 2020

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June 14th, 2020, 11:03 a.m. local time

Still going backwards and catching up on items from the past weeks.  Last Sunday I took a walk and found the early Waning Crescent Moon.  It may be tough to see, but it is centered and just past the tree.  If you zoom in, you can make out the crescent better.

Taken with my iPhone with minor image adjustments and cropping in PaintShop Pro.

Morning Moon, June 2020

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June 12th, 2020, 9:20 a.m. local time

I have been guessing, and I think correctly, that most people do not realize the Moon is visible in morning daylight.  It is easiest to spot in the days/week after a Full Moon.  Each day, the Moon will “wane,” its reflection shrinking, as it moves closer to towards the Sun (from our vantage on Earth).

A sparkling clear late Spring day offered little reason to not get the camera out for some easy lunar photography.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Saturn, Jupiter, and Moon, Early June Morning, 2020

Objects in our Solar System. Top row, left to right: Saturn, Jupiter, Moon. Bottom, Earth.

June 8th, 2020, 02:30 a.m. local time

We* here at Aperture Astronomy will do whatever it takes** to bring you some of the most fascinating images of our Solar System and beyond.  If staying up until 2:30 a.m. is necessary, we’ll* do it!

This early morning view of two planets and the Moon was simply too good to miss, so yes, I stayed up to at least see it when the Moon had risen high in the South.  Jupiter and then Saturn followed.  Frankly it was pretty cool, and I can’t wait for what views will top this one in the ensuing months.

If I believed in astrology, I would probably think this planetary configuration was the harbinger of a great sign or omen.  Fortunately, my only reaction was to enjoy the view, and to run back inside to get my phone and capture what I could of the scene.

The image is heavily edited, taken from a source iPhone NightCap TIF.  I tried my best to compensate for the Moon’s brightness, the area’s light pollution, and keeping especially Saturn visible.  The end result is a somewhat blurry mess, but hopefully the framing gives proportion as to what the sky looked like.  And this does give a proper perspective of the light pollution in my area, from the front lights to the general blandness of the sky (though the Moon was largely a contributing factor).

On a related note, on the previous night, around 9:05 p.m. local time, I spotted Mercury for the first time this year.  The sky was about as clear as it could be.  With Dusk still settling, I used Pollux and Castor as the easy guide stars to look down, with my binoculars, to find Mercury.  Once found this way, I was able to make the planet out, barely, with the naked eye.  Through the binoculars I also spotted, still in Dusk, a faint star to the right of Mercury, which according to Stellarium was likely the 3.05 magnitude Mebsuta.

Three planets spotted within six hours.  My planet viewing season has begun!

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