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.

Unremarkable Great Conjunction

Click for full-sized image.

December 20th, 2020, 5:00 p.m. local time

Assuming no more cosmological events of note for 2020, I found the “great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn to be not all that great.

I have been anticipating this time for over a year, thinking about it last September when I first took this image of Jupiter and Saturn coming together.  In hindsight, I am not sure exactly what I expected from a planetary alignment that is both predictable and happening purely by chance right now.

Weather may have played a role in my disappointment, as there was a slight overcast and haze.  I had difficulty focusing my digital camera on tripod, even when targeting the nearby crescent Moon, due to the hazy dusk conditions.  And I knew from past experiences that the view from my telescopes would have been too blurry to be worth the effort in near-freezing conditions (since the planets were so low in the sky).

But I did capture the two planets unremarkably, as you can see in the corresponding image.  You probably will have to expand the image to see faint Saturn.

Perhaps in the year when I saw a comet, took my best Mars image, and captured a meteor, this conjunction was destined to be anti-climatic.

Yet if I can take one figurative observation from last night, it is this: after seeing the two planets together, it’s not hard to imagine how such an alignment, embellished by background stars or other phenomena, could have been interpreted as a divine sign by the ancients.

Still Looking at Saturn

October 6th, 2020, 9:09 p.m. local time

Shortly after my Jupiter imaging on the 6th, I easily turned my attention to Saturn.  A splattering of clouds arrived though, so after my first image set, I took a break (knowing the forecast was clear skies all night).  Thirty minutes later and I was back at the telescope.

The four sets I took of Saturn were not as good as many of my prior sessions, but one set was serviceable enough to post.  Like Jupiter, Saturn is now smaller through the telescope than it was mid-Summer.  But you can still make out the major cloud bands and inner and outer rings.  My favorite part of these Saturn images is always the planet’s shadow on the back of the rings.  For whatever reason, I enjoy that that immense shadow is made from the same Sun that makes all of our terrestrial shadows on Earth.

As with Jupiter, I now rely heavily on my paper log book for all my prior ISO and exposure settings.  Flipping the pages back a few months, sometimes years, helps immensely and saves time at the telescope, so I can focus primarily on, well, focus.

If you have been following along and/or know what’s up in the sky right now, you can guess the subject of my next post. 🙂

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 30
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Friday Night with Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter with its moons (left to right) Callisto, Io, Ganymede, Europa.

July 24th, 2020, 11:00 p.m. local time

Continuing the series of images from this past Friday night were shots taken of Jupiter and Saturn.  Jupiter, above, is shown with its four largest moons.  The image quality is not great, as my objective was to accentuate the moons and their relative positions and brightnesses.  Note that I did some creative editing to bring out the moons, particularly by overlaying a duplicate image, brightening the lower, then masking the moon slots on the top layer.

Here is a closeup of Jupiter, slightly more polished:

And of course following Jupiter right now is Saturn.  I only had to wait about 15 minutes for it to clear the treeline from where I was:

All images taken with my Dobsonian telescope and same setups as recent prior nights.  Only main difference here was using ISO 800 instead of my normal 1600.  Perhaps because the planets are still close to their oppositions, they seemed to turn out slightly better than the sets at 1600.

Jupiter at Opposition, and Another Planet

July 13th, 2020, 11:50 p.m. local time

My night of the comet also happened to be Jupiter’s 2020 opposition day.  Fortunately, the skies were clear from Dusk to past midnight, so I was able to take in both Neowise by binoculars and then later some planetary imaging at the telescope.

This was the first time since last year that I attempted to photograph Jupiter, and the first time since around March that I attempted a closeup of any planet (that was for Venus).  Fortunately, as I have done for years now, I had all of my notes available from last year on how to best use my camera’s settings.

Given that I had not performed this setup for almost a year, I am pleased with the result.  The above image was actually my first focus attempt of the night, and it came out pretty well, I think.


July 14th, 2020, 12:20 a.m. local time

Oh, and there happened to be another planet in the vicinity of Jupiter, so I decided to take some pictures of it as well:

A comet and two planets, not too bad for one night.  I was very fortunate having a crystal-clear sky.  Unfortunately, as I sit here finishing this post, I look out my window towards the unstable clouds, and at the forecast, showing clouds and rain for the next week.  At least the plants need the water.  Still, I will stay on alert, particularly for opportunity to see the comet again.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 60 (Jupiter), 30 (Saturn)
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Early Morning Glimpse of Saturn and Jupiter

Objects in the early morning sky. Left to right: Saturn, Jupiter, part of the constellation Sagittarius.

June 16th, 2020, 03:22 a.m. local time

I happened to be up early mid-morning and decided to check on Jupiter and Saturn.  I knew from my observations last week that they should have been almost due South, and my direct observation confirmed this.  The above picture was hastily taken with my phone.  Interestingly, this is the stock iPhone camera app, versus NightCap.  Normally, NightCap gives better ad hoc photos of the sky, in my experience, but this time, NightCap’s TIFFs were too dark.

Jupiter is the big bright object near center.  Slightly above and to Jupiter’s left (from our vantage) is Saturn.  You can also see sloping towards the right some of the brighter stars in the constellation Sagittarius.

This picture also emphasizes how bad my location’s light pollution is.  That glow towards horizon is not the Zodiac lights, but the overabundance of artificial illumination even after 3 a.m.

Edit: Zooming into the image, I noticed a star was captured above and slightly left of Saturn.  According to Stellarium, that is the (double) star Dahib, brightest star in the constellation Capricornus.

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!

* I
** Restrictions and conditions apply

The Shape of Things to Come – Jupiter and Saturn

Saturn (left) and Jupiter (right). Click to see full-sized image.

September 24th, 2019, 07:50 p.m. local time

This is a very exciting post, at least for me.  It’s the first time on my blog that I have a picture of Jupiter and Saturn together!

I had to do some travelling today, and as I disembarked from a late train, I looked to the South to see a clear (albeit light polluted) sky an hour past Sunset.  I knew immediately what I wanted to find: our Solar System’s fifth and sixth planets!

I haven’t been tracking either for the last few weeks, so I was worried Jupiter was already too far towards the horizon by now.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find it still firmly in the Southwest.  And with Saturn almost due South, I grabbed my phone from its sturdy belt pouch, and began taking pictures of the night sky.

We’re going to be talking about Jupiter and Saturn as they approach each other (as seen from Earth) over the next year.  For now, though, I will only note that Saturn is currently residing by the constellation Sagittarius (again, as seen from Earth).  Scott’s Sky Watch! recently posted a nice drawing showing essentially the above image (minus the Moon, which is now a Waning Crescent rising after midnight).  Plus, it shows the outline of Sagittarius.  Go check it out!

For the sake of the explicit, here is the picture again, with the planets labeled:

Click to see full-sized image.

Saturn and Overcompensating

Saturn at 1600 ISO and 1/60 exposure, from 60fps HD video.

August 9th, 2019, 11:20 p.m. local time

This evening I tried out my new camera on both Jupiter and Saturn.  I logged the experience with Jupiter here.  I will now discuss the session afterward with Saturn.

As with Jupiter, I relied on all of my past experiences for the preliminary camera settings, specifically for ISO and exposure.  In general my “go to” Saturn settings have been ISO 1600 and 1/60s exposure.

I took four sets of four videos each.  After each set, I always refocus the telescope.  Focus is really the most important variable in any of my planetary imaging sessions.  It is difficult to fine-tune focus, as it is difficult to tell how good the focus is on the camera’s LCD screen (and not to mention the object is constantly moving since I don’t use a tracking mount).  These objects are hundreds of millions of miles away; it’s remarkable we can focus in on them at all!

So the first image was “standard” and its post-processing results are at the top of this post.  As with Jupiter, I feel the final image is on-par with the best my old camera could produce.

When I refocus between video sets, I always bump up the ISO setting significantly, as this makes it much easier to locate the planet/object when manually repositioning the telescope tube.  By my own convention, I go to picture mode and use ISO 12800, which exposes a very bright dot for both Jupiter and Saturn.

I noticed on my new camera that video mode is now able to capture with ISO 12800 (the old Canon EOS Rebel SL1 could not).  Just for fun, for the second video set only, I left the ISO setting at 12800 and then took four videos.

As expected, the final, raw image looked very over-exposed.  It occurs to me that I have never posted a raw image after the video frames are stacked (i.e. before initial wavelet changes in Registax), normally because those raw images are not terribly interesting.  But this may be a prime opportunity so you can see a before-and-after comparison:

Raw image. Saturn at 12800 ISO and 1/30 exposure, from 60fps HD video.

I decided to put it through more post-processing than I normally would, to try to correct the curves, gamma, and filter out excess light via histograms.  I did this mostly in PaintShop Pro.  Here is the final result:

Post-processed. Saturn at 12800 ISO and 1/30 exposure, from 60fps HD video.

It doesn’t look too bad, and arguably may even be a much clearer image than at ISO 1600.  I really like how the planet turned out.  I only felt that color around the rings was a little off.  I tried a number of techniques but couldn’t get rid of the red/blue/green splitting that you can still see.

My takeaway is that I plan to try slightly higher ISO settings for both Jupiter and Saturn on my next attempts.  I’m thinking ISO 3200 and 6400.  This may require tweaks to the exposure as well.  I’ll be back to my original methods of logging settings in my journal after every refocus.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600 and 12800
    • Exposure: 1/60 and 1/30
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from multiple videos of about 25s each, best 60% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for final minor touchups