Trees and Planets and Light Pollution

August 20th, 2021, 12:05 a.m. local time

I took this picture with my iPhone quickly as I was packing up my telescope on Jupiter’s opposition night (more on this in a future post).  This image is largely unremarkable but I noticed in hindsight it reveals much of my stargazing circumstance.

  • In my blog posts I frequently mention the trees blocking my views to the South.  Here you see the westernmost tall cottonwoods of that line.
  • Jupiter, Saturn (faint), and the Moon appear to be in elliptic line, but they are really not.  Each has its own elliptic, notably Jupiter’s is higher that Saturn’s from this vantage.  Jupiter clears the trees so I can take pictures much earlier than Saturn, which has to exit the tree line fully for telescope views.
  • You can see a neighbor’s absurd light pollution bubble.  I have planted my own small trees, not shown here, that do a respectable job blocking the light from my deck.  It’s just the angle of my iPhone shot that happened to catch what I now largely ignore.
  • See that house side at the bottom that looks like it is painted two colors?  The light side is actually streetlight reflection, which has gotten worse in the past year as the traditional bulbs have been replaced by grated high-powered LEDs.

The moral of this story is that trees are a blessing and a curse for stargazing.  While they obscure parts of the sky, they also defend against light pollution.  Trees are in sum a great net benefit for observing the night sky.


Pictures taken with my iPhone and minorly post-processed in PaintShop Pro.

Wonderful Jupiter during Saturn’s Opposition, August 2021

Jupiter 20210802a

August 2nd, 2021, 1:40 a.m. local time

Why did I wait to 1am to photograph Saturn a few days ago?  Because it had to clear the trees blocking my South sky view.  Saturn’s elliptic is lower than Jupiter’s right now.  Jupiter, far brighter and “behind” Saturn considerably after their December conjunction, sits higher in the sky and clears all those tall trees.  So while I was out imaging Saturn, I decided to turn my telescope a bit East and check out Jupiter as well.

But it was more than just a second image set.  I used the Jovian system for all my refocuses on Saturn.  I cranked up the ISO to 12800 which allowed me to focus easily on Jupiter’s moons, which is the most accurate focus I can make with my limited equipment.

My Saturn image is proof the method worked, and I think it worked even better for Jupiter.  This may be my best Jupiter yet with a remarkably clear GRS.  A combination of great focus and my first successful ISO at 400 for Jupiter combined for what you see here (the lower the ISO, the less noise).

This image turned out so good, it is now the lock screen wallpaper on my phone.

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 400
    • Exposure: 30
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 60% of frames (via Autostakkert)
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Saturn Opposition, August 2021

Saturn 20210802

August 2nd, 2021, 1:15 a.m. local time

The sky was perfectly clear, with no wind, and downright cold that I wore a winter jacket in August Summer.  Today is Saturn’s opposition day.  And it was remarkably fortunate (maybe the stars aligned) that I was outside with my telescope and camera at 1 a.m.

As is now a near-annual occurrence, hours before I took to reading all my notes from my past Saturn captures, to review the camera and post-processing settings that worked best prior.  This year, I decided to push the ISO down to 800.  Though it was difficult at times to locate Saturn, I think the results were good.  Another even brighter planet was in the sky, which helped with my telescope’s finder alignment as well as camera focus.  More on this later.

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 800
    • Exposure: 30
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 60% of frames (via Autostakkert)
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

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.