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.

Leo the Lion and Coma Berenices, May 2018

Click to see the full-sized image.

Since I started taking wide-field pictures of the sky last year, the constellation Leo has been my most-photographed target.  Being high overhead in my area during its prime viewing season, its resulting images suffer the least from the harsh light pollution closer to the horizon.  It is also an easy constellation to trace once you identify the anchor stars of Regulus and Denebola.

This image was produced in DeepSkyStacker from about 25 25-sec exposures, f/2.8 and ISO 200.  I have settle on these settings based on my earlier pictures this year of Orion, Gemini, and Auriga.  Further post-processing attempted to accentuate the bright stars.

Above Leo and to the left you can see Coma Berenices.  It sort of blends in with the other fainter stars directly above Leo.  This was in part a trade-off by me – I wanted to show as many stars as possible, at the loss of Coma Berenices blending too much into that fainter star field.


Next on my ongoing astro-imaging tour, I hope, is Jupiter.  I took one set of pictures a few weeks ago, but they turned out badly.  The skies were clear this weekend but the humidity was stifling.  Fortunately, there is plenty of time to see and image Jupiter in 2018, and I am still easily on pace based on prior years and how Jupiter repositions year-to-year.  In 2016 I started photographing Jupiter in early April; in 2017, I started in early May.  So 2018’s “window” is a few weeks away.

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.

Constellations X: Spring Triangle Fever

Click to see the full image.

May 4th, 2018, 09:50 p.m. local time

For the record, I have had amazingly clear skies ever since late last week.  Each night I have tried to take advantage of these viewing opportunities, especially since the aging Moon has been rising well past midnight.  On Friday night, the first adventure I undertook was the photographing of the Spring Triangle – Arcturus, Regulus, and Spica.

I was not sure if I could capture this asterism in one picture.  The Spring Triangle is much larger than the Summer Triangle.  But I was successful.  It is worth noting that normally, I crop my raw images to focus on whatever the subject of the picture is.  For the Spring Triangle, you are seeing the complete and full dimensions of the source image.  This required the widest setting of my widest lens.  It is a very large patch of sky.

This is not a stacked image.  I went with only 25-second images and different ISOs.  The picture above was at ISO 200.  It was post-processed to remove light pollution and accentuate stars.

So aside from the technical details, what exactly are you looking at?  You can see all of Leo to the right.  Find Regulus and you should be able to trace Leo.  With Arcturus and Spica you can see parts of the constellations Bootes and Virgo, respectively.  In the top middle you see the packed stars of Coma Berenices.

This photography session increased my constellation total to 32.  Bootes, at least partially, is seen.  Also, correcting my previous records, I should have acknowledged earlier that Coma Berenices is a recognized modern constellation.  It was an ancient asterism, originally considered to be part Leo, being the lion’s great and magnificent tail.

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus
  • Gemini
  • Bootes
  • Coma Berenices

References:

Binocular Relaxation

April 30th, 2018, 10:45 p.m. local time

I will say this for cloudy weekdays – at least I don’t have to make up excuses for not taking my telescope and camera out on a “school night.”  Last night though presented another mostly clear sky and this time with beautiful warm spring temperatures.  It was too tempting to not go outside to do something, anything

Not wanting to take all of the equipment out, I settled for the second easiest path – using my binoculars (the easiest is no equipment at all).  It was the perfect night for it anyway, just to look up at many different, interesting parts of the sky.  So in the warm air with a cool gusting breeze, here is what I observed.

Spring Triangle

My initial objective was prompted by Scott Levine’s referencing of the “Spring Triangle” formed by Spica, Arcturus, and Regulus.  I wanted to see how far apart all three stars were to gauge if they could be photographed together.  The Spring Triangle is quite a bit larger than the already large Summer Triangle of Deneb, Vega, and Altair.  There may be a small chance of capturing all three in the very widest view my camera and lens can reach.  I hope to try soon.

Since I had my binoculars with me, I decided for fun to note the color of each of these three spring stars.

  • Arcturus – orange
  • Spica – blue
  • Regulus – mostly white with maybe a little blue

Did I get the colors right?  Searching for information on each star, I learned that:

  • Arcturus is a red giant
  • Spica is a type of binary star dominated by a blue giant
  • Regulus is a multi-star system that appears to be dominated by a white-blue star

So with the exception of calling Arcturus orange, I guessed correctly on each of them.

Moon

At this time last night the Moon had just cleared my tree tops, allowing me to take images through my telescope.  See yesterday’s post.  Tonight, it was still shrouded by many bare tree branches.  It was visible, but even through binoculars it was a difficult to focus on any of the Moon’s surface detail.

Jupiter

Jupiter keeps coming, very slowly, up and up each night.  It still clears my trees too late every evening to get the telescope out just yet (on a school night).  But I could still see it through the trees.  Tonight it was ahead of the Moon almost as much as it was trailing the Moon the prior night.

Through the binoculars I noticed a faint dot just ahead of the planet on its elliptic path.  Could that be one of its moons?  Searching later for the exact position of the moons at that time showed this:

So I was seeing either Ganymede or Callisto, both of which were far to Jupiter’s right at the time.  If I had known about this positioning while viewing them, I would have tried to pay much closer attention to see both moons even through the trees.

Coma Berenices

I admit I have become a bit infatuated with this asterism.  It is too faint in my light polluted skies to see unaided, but pops our as a gem of stars through binoculars.  If there is a single example of when binoculars view is superior over any telescope view, it is with Coma Berenices.

Sometimes called the tail of Leo, first find Leo above, and then it is not too difficult to scan Eastward until you locate this amazing batch of stars.

Gemini

My favorite friends of Orion and Taurus are all but gone into the West this viewing season, and Gemini follows close behind.  I used my binoculars to trace out the upper bodies of Castor and Pollux, a task that is harder than it sounds through a magnified view.

Mizar and Alcor

I don’t know why but I always enjoy spotting the pairing of stars Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major.  It may be because it was the first “double” I observed when I resumed my astronomy hobby several years ago.  It’s also a fun one to show onlookers and guests who have never seen a double star magnified before.