Vernal Equinox Moon, Spring 2021, via iPhone

Click for full-sized image.

March 20th, 2021, 08:57 p.m. local time

Happy belated Vernal Equinox for all of you in the Northern Hemisphere.  The start of Spring means that I am done with excuses for not getting my telescopes outside again.  I contemplated taking the Dobsonian into the yard over the past few weeks, but the still very bitter evening chill was always enough for me to shrink back into my warm hole in the ground.

Looking at my records, I can’t believe the last time I took the big scope out was five months ago, on October 13th for the Mars opposition.  But in my defense, it was a particularly brutal late Fall and all of Winter in a variety of ways, from personal to meteorological.  Now I hope to spend at least time on the weekends with my scopes, camera equipment, or both.

My primary target for the evening was the Moon, still in Crescent Phase.  Partially notable were two visible stars visible through the 2″ eyepiece, both extremely close to the Moon’s shadow side.  I captured them in this raw stock iPhone image:

Stellarium confirmed their existence and position at the time observed:

Click for full-sized image (screenshot from Stellarium).

As listed in Stellarium, the bright, closer star is known as 121 Tau / HIP 26248 with magnitude 5.35.  The second dimmer star, in the top right of each image, is HIP 26201, magnitude 6.80.  “Tau” is of course for Taurus.  They reside between the bull’s horn tips, stars named Tianguan and Elnath.

With warmer weather approaching, I should have more opportunities to observe and capture the Spring sky.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: iPhone XS
  • Smartphone camera mount for telescope eyepieces
  • Barlow: None
  • Filter: None
  • Eyepeice: Q70 32mm, 2″
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups, cropping

New Year’s Resolution; Year TBD

Winter morning from January 14th, 2021. Click for full-sized image.

Hello, readers.  Feels like it’s been a while, but it has only been a tad over a month.  After the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, I have done no astronomy activities beyond a few glimpses of Orion when the weather permitted.  This is truly the dead of Winter.

The current season as well as the state of political affairs have offered a lot of time for thinking.  One of many questions I have pondered is what to do when (if) everything ever returns to normal?  It’s a good question that sparks regret.  For to ask the question of what you should do in the future is to, perhaps, insinuate what you should have done when you had the chance.

If there ever is a a true normal again (a real normal, not a fake “new normal”), I would like to plan my vacation time around travelling to dark sites across the United States.  It’s been a long time since I was in such locations, even fractionally of what would consider to have a dark sky.  Most such places are further out west.  It will make for interesting road trips, to pack up my telescope and camera equipment, and see what I can find.

So here is hoping to better days ahead.  I will try to keep my innate optimism up as much as possible.  But I will admit, in the dead of this Winter, it’s been tough.  20 years ago, I felt there would come a day when the travel we took for granted would no longer be possible without government sanction.  That day is here, or soon should be.  Once upon a time, beyond your reasonable (real reasonable, not politically reasonable) obligations to your family, property, and work, there was nothing stopping you from getting in your car, driving in whatever direction you’d like, for as long as you wished, then turning around when you wanted to go home.  In the near future, such a reckless disregard for planning, permits, and authorization could lead you into trouble, if the current trajectory does not change.

My greater worry is that what we take for granted today in regards to prosperity, opportunity, and decision privileges will be supplanted by the bureaucratic procedures of the emerging sudo-state.  It has gained great power during the pandemic.  If history is a guide, it will not give up that power by benevolent volition.

We shall see how the course of events unfold.  I would like to start visiting dark sites this year, but if not this year, I will hope for 2022.  If the pandemic continues, or is supplanted by a new crisis, I will plan for 2023, and continue planning and dreaming of those possibilities for the remainder of my days.  For regardless of how bleak things may look at any given point, always know that the trajectory of history is never a straight line.

Still-Early Fall Bicycling

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October 11th, 2020, ~9:30 a.m. local time

Weather has been steadily cooling but still very pleasant, pleasant enough to continuing biking on my local trails.  I’ve continued bicycling through the Summer and into the Fall, and thought these would be good point-in-time shots.  As you can see, many of the trees are still green.  This will likely change rapidly even over the next week.  Normally by early November, most trees will have lost their leaves or be in their advanced stages of Fall color.

Click for full-sized image.

On the astronomy front, tomorrow is Mars opposition 2020.  The forecast is cruel right now, with clouds scheduled to roll in early evening Tuesday.  As I write this on Monday, the skies are overcast with rain in the afternoon, followed by clearing early evening.  I may try to sneak in opposition eve viewing and photos late tonight.

Early Sunset, July 2020

Click for full-sized image.

July 5th, 2020, 7:33 p.m. local time

The picture may fool a bit, as this scene of a descending Sun overshadowed by incoming Western clouds gives no indication of how hot the day was, even within hour prior to Sunset.  The sunbeams and their highlights within the clouds are almost good enough for an oil painting.

Taken with my iPhone with minor edits in PaintShop Pro.

Clouds vs. Early Crescent Moon

Click for full-sized image.

June 24th, 2020, 8:45 p.m. local time

June 24th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Today’s story begins on the prior night, when the Moon was an even thinner crescent.  I saw the Moon shortly after Dusk and decided to fetch my camera.  By the time I had everything set up and returned outside, a batch of clouds had already covered the West sky.  I thought I had had some time, but the front that later brought showers moved faster than I had anticipated.

On the following night, there were only a few clouds in the West, but with storm clouds visible much farther away to the Northwest.  Around 8:30 p.m. I manage to get a few pictures in (above image).

An hour later, I took a few more of the Moon, now almost fully in dark.  It is worth nothing that, although it’s not visible in the final picture, there was clear atmospheric diffraction along the edges of the Moon’s outline.  This is where red, blue, and green start to separate due to a prism effect, common when trying to photograph, for example, Mercury, since it is always low towards the horizon.

I wanted to keep shooting, but the clouds finally arrived, again.  Below is the best focus from the session.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/60 sec exposure
  • ISO 200
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/125 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

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

Cloud Hiatus Over

Click for full-sized image.

February 2nd, 2020, 9:25 p.m. local time

Hello, readers.  Feels like I have been away for a long time, but it’s only been about a month.  I could blame the weather…and I would be right!

This past month, especially the last several weeks, have been literally cloud-covered.  This is no exaggeration.  Every night I am outside, and every night for as far as I can recall in January, each was full overcast.  If you don’t believe me, there is a local news story here which backs up the claim.  It was so bad, I started counting the cloudy nights, starting on January 24th.  Only today did the Sun finally shine in a clear day and, more importantly, the night sky was finally clear.

I celebrated this august event by taking out my DSLR camera to shoot the Moon.  The temperature was near freezing, but the air was quiet and peaceful, so I did not mind it at all for the few minutes I took pictures.  A final post-processed image from the set is included with this post.

I’ve been working other projects, but do hope to continue stargazing and taking pictures as I can.  We should only have a few more weeks of deep Winter, though it sometimes lasts into March and even April.

It will be a fun year.  Jupiter and Saturn’s oppositions are a mere five months away.  Mars returns to opposition this year.  I look forward to chronicling these events here to share with you.

Image settings for reference:

  • f/8
  • 1/250 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • 300mm lens

No Meteors for Me

Day-to-day, night-to-night, same clouds and overcast right now. Click to see full-sized image.

August 13th, 2019, 6:58 a.m. local time

It may be better this way.  Middle of the work week is not a good time to try getting up at 4 a.m. to watch for meteors.  The clouds have had their say.  Hello Perseids Meteor Shower 2020.

Correspondingly, over the last few months I have missed the Moon occulting Saturn, every time, due to bad weather, and this month was no different.

Overall, the weather has been very good for stargazing this past month, but some pinpoint timing has been disappointing.

Weather Reports from the 2019 Lunar Eclipse

Click for full-sized image.

January 20th, 2019, 08:00 p.m. local time

Cold.  It was really, really cold.

It was near zero (Fahrenheit).  Fortunately there wasn’t much wind.

And there happened to be a total lunar eclipse here in North America yesterday.  The weather has been terrible for a long time, the reason why I have not posted for so long, but remarkably we had a window where the sky was totally clear, at the price of sub-frigid temperatures.  Of this I was glad, for I can wear as many layers of clothing as I like, but I can’t do much to poke a hole through the clouds.

I learned some lessons from last year’s partial lunar eclipse.  Chief among those was that the telescope in these temperatures is more hassle than it’s worth when it comes to the Moon.  My digital camera on tripod was more than sufficient for these conditions, at a slight loss of detail in the final images.  I used my longest stock lens.

Like last year’s partial, the Moon began to form an “unnatural” crescent, and yet unlike last year’s there then formed a reddish hue as it reached totality.  The Moon was never fully unlit from where I was, as there was always a sliver of bright sunlight as the very edge.

From the first set of pictures I took of the Full Moon around 7:30 p.m. Central Time:

Click for full-sized image.

After 8:50 pm. the shadow formed:

Click for full-sized image.

Click for full-sized image.

After totality, the shadow rescinded from the West (looking above):

Click for full-sized image.

All in all, a great experience, I just wish it had been a little warmer.

Even though I have not posted here the past few months, I have been looking towards the sky as much as I could, either via naked eye observation or with my binoculars.  I look forward to the warmer months ahead; Jupiter’s return to the evening sky is a mere few months away!  Also, I STILL have to get to post-processing my Mars opposition photos.  Hopefully before Spring!