Venus and the Pleiades in April 2020

Click for full-sized image.

April 5th, 2020, 8:30 p.m. local time

Inspired by other blogs such as Heads UP! taking cool pictures of Venus near the Pleiades, I knew I had to get in on the action myself.

On Sunday night, aside from imaging the Moon, plus another target (stay tuned), the bright planet and star cluster were my primary objective.  Venus is now “above” the Pleiades in our perspective from Earth, but they were still very close to each other as of Sunday.

Observing the Pleiades has been a hobby of mine ever since I built my Dobsonian in late 2016, though I don’t think I have mentioned it directly on this blog.  Even in my light polluted environment, that big scope has the power to illuminate some of the faintest stars in the cluster.  They are all a beautiful blue.

For comparison, here is a previously unpublished sketch of the Pleiades I drew a few years ago.  I have flipped it upside down so it aligns with the photo I took on Sunday (Newtonian reflectors like my Dob invert the image).

Image settings for reference:

  • f/5.6
  • 1/2 sec exposure
  • ISO 3200
  • 140mm lens
  • Minor post-processing in PaintShop Pro

Venus, Early March, 2020

March 4th, 6:40 p.m. local time

Venus is still a remarkable and bright experience, in the West sky shortly after Sunset.  I dragged my Dobsonian outside for the first time this year tonight, and took a few sets of videos to stack.  Above is the result, which nicely shows the planet’s current silhouette as it faces, relative to Earth, the set Sun in the West.

If you’re up at dawn, you can see Jupiter in the East.  I assume Saturn is near Jupiter as well, but I haven’t been able to find it, and my view in that direction is largely blocked.  But in a clear morning sky, it’s hard to miss Jupiter right now, even through the obstructions of leafless trees.

Going to be a fun planet-viewing year – Venus now, and later, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and Mars’s next opposition.

Image settings/equipment for reference:

  • Homemade Dobsonian telescope, 254mm
  • TeleVue Barlow x5
  • Neodymium filter
  • Canon EOS SL3
  • f/00 (infinity)
  • 1/1000 sec exposure
  • ISO 400
  • Stacked 4 ~24 second videos, HD at 60fps

Leap Day Moon, Venus, and Choice Confirmations

Moon and Venus

February 29th, 2020, 6:40 p.m. local time

Today’s post is best started two days prior.  For those of you that were able to see it, the Moon and Venus were very close that night.  It was a wonderful sight, and I had a very clear skies.  The only problem was the cold and bitter wind which swayed me against taking the camera out.

I kind of regretted not doing it for the next two days.  After all, a moment like that doesn’t happen very often.  Still, this Saturday evening was clear again and so I got the camera and tripod out, and took the above image.

Only one problem, though, was that the temperature was still a tad below freezing, and boy I felt it in my fingers quickly.  For both Venus and the Moon closeup (below), I hurried along the focusing and pictures, more than I usually prefer.

So the only silver lining is that I realized, if tonight’s cold and mild wild was unpleasant, it just wouldn’t have been worth it on Thursday night.  At least I got to have the experience of witnessing the Moon and Venus close together, once again.

(Side note – Uranus is allegedly in the above image, close to Venus.  But again, it was just too cold to fiddle with the camera’s settings to play with a high ISO.)

February 29th, 2020

Image settings for reference (Moon closeup):

  • f/5.6
  • 1/250 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • 300mm lens

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

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.

Moon and Venus Together, May 2018

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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

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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.