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.

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The Moon and Venus and New Horizons in Post-Processing

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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.

Extreme Planet Hunter: Venus and Mercury!

Click to enlarge. In this picture, you see all three inner planets of our Solar System!

March 3rd, 2018, 6:15 p.m. local time

Here at Aperture Astronomy, we are ready at a moment’s notice to bring you riveting images of our night sky.  This happened Saturday night.  I have been blessed with wonderfully clear skies all weekend, so I had already planned to take more wide field views of the sky in a couple hours (more on this later in the week).  So around 6:00 I was waiting, playing my Xbox, when one of my astronomy apps chimed on my iPad.  It told me to see Venus and Mercury after Sunset all through March!

My first thought was, oh crap, I almost forgot about that!  I further completely forgot that Venus and Mercury would be very close tonight.  I also knew that time was not on my side.  The Sun had already set within the last 20 minutes.  I might miss my window!

So began the five-minute drill to quickly assemble my tripod, set up my camera with the 300mm lens, attach camera to tripod, and, as I’m grabbing my binoculars heading out the door, get outside.  Fortunately, the clear skies made it easy to find the two planets.  And they were indeed very close, fitting into my binocular view handily.

As you can see in the picture, I had maybe a minute before the planets would have been lost below that house.  This only emphasizes how little time there was; 30 minutes past Sunset was already almost too late.

If you cannot see them in the full picture, particularly Mercury, here they are pointed out:

Daylight Moon with Venus

May 22nd, 2017, 9:20 p.m. local time

Normally I complain about my blocked view of the East sky, due to all my trees and neighbors’ houses in the way.  But sometimes the setup has its benefits.  Today this barrier sufficiently shielded the Sun so that I could find the late stage Waning Moon.

And I thought I was only shooting the Moon, but after reviewing the wider images I noticed that Venus was also picked up!  It may be hard to see, but look above and to the right of the Moon.  The planet was not visible to the eye alone, but was still available with the right camera exposure.

Here is a different, closer view, focused on the Moon:

This last picture, a wide view, approximates what this Moon phase actually looks like when the Sun is out:

Looking ahead, the weather forecast is miserable through the Memorial Day weekend.  Rain and clouds.  This morning it is very bright with no clouds, but as always seems the case, thunderstorms are predicted an hour after sunset.

Fixing Venus

Unfortunately, our home planet has an atmosphere.  What we see of the universe beyond our tiny cocoon is distorted by sometimes hundreds of layers of different gaseous configurations.  It impacts all of our telescopes particularly badly.  The Hubble Space Telescope and its successors’ main advantage is not in size, but that they do not have to contend with the Earth’s translucent layers (of course those telescopes have their own unique challenges, but that is another story).

When I took my latest Venus pictures a few days ago, I created them by stacking video through PIPP, AutoStakkert, and RegiStax.  I have not done this process regularly since late last summer, when I was vigorously imaging Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Since then I have attempted stacking only a few times, maybe two in January and one or two this month, all for Venus.  Although I have the process mostly down pat, I do forget a few things from time to time.

My earlier picture of the ~5% illuminated Venus did not account for atmospheric diffraction.  It pushes parts of the image to too much red and the opposite side to too much blue.  I have noticed this condition primarily with Venus and Jupiter.

RegiStax has an RGB Align function which corrects this red-to-blue problem.  I went back and ran my Venus picture through RGB Align, and above is the result.

What do you think?  Does this look better than the non-RGB aligned Venus?

How Venus Won the West

March 15th, 2017, 7:45 p.m. local time

With a clear sky, calm air, and moderately cold temperature, I had no excuse not to attempt a final imagining of Venus before it passes towards and through the Sun.  Sure it will come back, but this also finally marks the end of a journey I started in August of last year, when I spent many sunsets searching with my binoculars for the emerging planet.  My first images were awful – was not the ideal time to photograph Venus when it was far away from Earth and also so low on the horizon.

But tonight, I got what may be my best Venus image yet.  With my 127mm Mak-Cass and smartphone, I took a bunch of videos.  When I stacked them separately hours later, the above is the one I considered to be the prime of the crop.

Will I be getting up early to see Venus rising in the East this Spring?  Maybe, or at least I hope I can do it on a weekend or two.

Details of my telescope setup:

  • 127mm Mak-Cass Orion Starseeker IV
  • 10mm Plossl eyepiece
  • x2 Barlow lens
  • Baader Neodymium filter
  • Moon 13% transmission filter
  • Orion SteadyPix EZ Smartphone Telescope Photo Adapter
  • Samsung Galaxy S7

Extreme Planet Hunters: Uranus Edition

Click for full size.

Click for full size.

My astronomy activity last night wasn’t intended to be about Aldebaran disappearing behind the Moon, as I flat out forgot about it.  Instead, earlier that evening I wanted to try out the technique written about at Scott’s Sky Watch to capture Uranus with a camera.  It was only after I was done searching for Uranus that I happened to notice the headline about Aldebaran on the side of my blog.

Scott took a remarkable picture, using Mars and Venus as a guide to find the obscure Uranus.  I wanted to try to duplicate what he did.  I don’t have a “real” camera though, only my smartphone, but the Samsung Galaxy S7’s is still pretty decent.  Following Scott’s explanation, I set my ISO to 400 and exposure to 10 seconds (the max the stock camera app will go).

The first image on this post is typical of the many I took about 45 minutes after sunset.  All of them seemed overly bright, but I could see “hidden” stars throughout.  Still, I feel the image qualities were sub-par.  One obvious explanation is the excessive light pollution in my front yard from every neighbor keeping their porch lights on.  Another may simply be the inferiority of my camera.  And in hindsight, I should have been storing the raw native images and not JPEGs.

(Trust me that in the top image, the “UFO” is nothing to worry about.  I live near a busy airport.  That bright dot was only in this one image out of the dozens I took, but it was the best image I have to show what I think I found.)

If you click the top image, you will get the full size image so you can scan and zoom in yourself.  Initially, I was very disappointed because I saw absolutely nothing where Uranus should have been.  Last night I chalked this up as a loss, and instead decided to blog about my cool success with Aldebaran.

But this Sunday afternoon I re-read Scott’s Uranus post, and in particular I studied his image.  Note that Scott’s image was taken a couple days prior to mine.  I hope he doesn’t mind, but I copied his Uranus discovery image to demonstrate what I noticed:

scottastronomy-uranus-03

I added in the orange arrows.  I took notice of those three stars.  Now, here is a closeup of my image above:

uranus-proof-b-04

Click for full size.

Wow, I thought, I have the same three stars!  Obviously, my image is much worse than Scott’s, but nonetheless the star pattern is definitely the same.  And by following that pattern towards Mars, I do believe that I captured an ever-so-small chuck of photons from our solar system’s seventh planet.

Here is the same image with the shadowing, contrast, and brightness altered to try to accentuate the three stars and Uranus:

uranus-proof-b-04a

Click for full size.

So do you think I caught Uranus, or am I just imagining it?

Mars and Venus Play Peekaboo

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

March 2nd, 2017, 6:20 p.m. local time

It’s a cold, chilly night, with cloud cover breaking every so often.  Our thin crescent Moon was able to penetrate most everything Mother Nature threw at it tonight.  But distance Venus, despite its still-glaring brightness, struggled to keep up.

And then I almost forget about their other solar system neighbor hanging around – Mars.  Faint but still distinct, it could only punch through those fast-moving clouds in the best of moments.  Mars is not pictured here, but was about halfway between the Moon and Venus.