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.

Moon Reunites with Venus on Hot Summer Night, June 2018

Click to see the full image.

June 16th, 2018, 9:05 p.m. local time

We’re about a month from the last rendezvous of the Moon and Venus.  I wasn’t planning to get the camera and tripod set up tonight due to the excessive heat.  But after the Sun set, I went outside, thought the humidity was somewhat bearable, and decided to give it a try.  I was not outside too long, though, as the bugs were ridiculous.

Fortunately I had my image set from last month to use as reference for the camera’s settings.  This made tonight’s session easy and quick, as was necessary, as explained above.

Curious Location to See the Moon

Sears Tower and Moon, via smartphone.

June 7th, 2018,11:30 a.m. local time

I don’t always photograph the Moon in broad daylight.  But when I do, I try to include a former world’s tallest building, for perspective.

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.

Moon and Venus Together, May 2018

Click to see the full image.

May 18th, 2018, 9:05 p.m. local time

The Moon and Venus were side-by-side again last night in the Western sky.  The surrounding clouds offered a nice opportunity for a larger framing of the evening view.

If you look closely above and to the left of the Moon, you can see stars.  They were not visible to me at the time I took this picture.  The brightest one on the left is the star Alhena in the constellation Gemini.  And in fact, the very faint stars, which you will only be able to see if you click on the full image, are all part of the bottom of Gemini.  Castor and Pollux, at the top of Gemini, were visible at this time, but out of the image frame.  I am guessing that next month, these two plus the Moon will make for another nice viewing, weather permitting.

Finally, note that the glow around the Moon and to a smaller degree Venus are not exposure issues.  Those coma-like appearances were plainly seen due to the cloud cover.

Nearly Missed This Gem – Moon and Venus after Sunset

Click to see the full image.

April 17th, 2018, 08:20 p.m. local time

I saw the notice that the Moon and Venus were going to be close to each other tonight.  I didn’t think it would be very visible.  I was very wrong.  About 45 minutes after Sunset these two sparkled cleanly in my West sky.  Despite the unseasonably cold chill (the reason I have not posted anything for several weeks), I set up my camera to take this photograph.

Speaking of our Solar System, Jupiter is on its way.  I happened to be outside this morning at 2:30, and our largest planet was shining so bright I almost forgot what it was!  Opposition is now less than a month away and I am looking forward to dragging my telescopes out to see it very soon again up close.

The Moon and Venus and New Horizons in Post-Processing

Click to see the full image.

March 21st, 2018, 7:25 p.m. local time

Tonight I took advantage of clear (but very cold) skies to photograph the young Moon’s crescent along with Venus (sorry Mercury fans, he was conspicuously absent).  After Sunset these two objects were very far apart, stretching the limit of my wide-field lens.  There was a lot of empty space/sky between them.

This emptiness gave me an idea to try a new type of post-processing, which is today’s image.  I “enhanced” Venus, attempted to add some depth to the sky, and did a small amount of cleanup around the trees.

The result pushes the bounds of true astrophotography and into the realm of something else.  I am still debating my thoughts on this experiment and whether I would want to pursue it in future imaging.

I am already post-processing my star fields to accentuate the brightest stars.  Those pictures are no longer true photography either.  Even my Moon and planetary images are not faithful representations of what the camera sees, but are my attempts to gleam from the camera’s eye stacked or other compounded image data to make something we can recognize and appreciate.

I have found that sitting on an image, revisiting it after a time away, helps me to more objectively judge the end picture.  I will do so here, coming back to it in a week or so, to re-evaluate it again then.

More Venus, More Mercury

Click to see the full-sized image.

March 11th, 2018, 7:15 p.m. local time

With an excellent view towards the Western horizon on Sunday night, Venus and Mercury were easy to see about 30 minutes after sunset.  Both planets continue to rise, though Venus is moving at a much slower pace, and Mercury will start to fall again soon.  March continues to be an opportune month to see all three planets of our inner Solar System from one setting.

This image was taken with my Canon EOS on tripod with Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 lens.  I took many pictures in the span of about 10 minutes, adjusting both the ISO and exposure settings.  The above image, I feel, came out the best in terms of lighting and highlighting the relative brightness of each planet (Venus is far brighter than Mercury).  The settings used were ISO 200, f/2.8, 50mm focal length, and 1/4 second exposure.