Category Archives: Astronomy

Full Moon Through Storm Clouds

After months and months of drought and an almost total lack of rain here in Los Angeles, tonight we have the outer bands of a Pacific hurricane sweeping over us. The worst of it is in the deserts and mountains inland toward Arizona, but we’re at least getting enough rain here to water the lawn a bit. Which is great, because with the water restrictions the drought has mandated, it’s been a while since there was much water out there, and it’s been well into the low 100’s every day for weeks.

Last night, as the 99% full moon was high (not a “supermoon,” but the “averagemoon” gets lousy press) it was visible coming in through the leading edge of the storm clouds.

Good thing Halloween is coming – this was spooky looking.

It was actually gorgeous, but “spooky” has had the same PR agent as “supermoon” for years, and it sells better than “gorgeous.”

Tonight, still a full-ish moon, but the clouds are way too thick to see anything. We’re just grateful for the rain.


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Destination In Sight

You probably heard – Artemis didn’t get off the ground this morning. Part of it was technical and mechanical, some sticky valves and temperatures out of range, communications issues. Part of it was weather, lighting in the area that delayed fueling and then storms building up as they were trying to decide to press ahead and try to solve the engine issues. In the end it was a good decision to stand down, solve the technical and mechanical problems, wait for a better day to fly.

This evening, just before sunset, the destination was making a most beautiful appearance in the evening sky.

Along with one of the obligatory jets on final approach to LAX after a 15 hour flight from Asia.

When it got a little bit darker and the contrast was a little better and the Moon wasn’t down in the coastal fog and atmospheric soup, a bit of detail could be seen.

Click on it to blow it up – that big round spot on the illuminated limb is Mare Crisium.

If I wasn’t in deadlines up to my eyeballs and trying to get out of town to Worldcon in less than 48 hours, it would have been tempting to haul the ‘scope out of the back yard.

But I am and I am, so I didn’t.

We’ll get an idea tomorrow afternoon of when NASA might try to launch again when they have an update on Artemis’ status. If they can repair it on the pad fast, there’s another launch window on Friday. If they can repair it on the pad but need the weekend, there’s a third launch window next Monday. If they can’t repair it on the pad or it’s going to take more than a week, they’ll have to roll the vehicle back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, which means a launch attemp no earlier than October.

When we’re ready, the Moon will still be there. I have faith.

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Jupiter Rising

While the morning skies have been filled with bright planets and even included an amazing lineup of five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, not necessarily in that order) a few weeks ago, the evening sky has been empty. DUH! All of the planets are off on the other side of the sun in the morning sky!

And you didn’t see any pictures here because I am *NOT* a morning person under the best of circumstances in my dotage.

But now Saturn and Jupiter are moving back into the late evening sky, rising about 21:00 or 22:00 local time and getting up above the trees by 23:00.

That’s Jupiter, very bright, just to the left of that big tree in the lower center. Saturn is up behind those clouds somewhere, not quite as bright, a little bit yellowish colored. Binoculars will let you pick out the Galilean moons of Jupiter, and it doesn’t take much of a telescope to show them both as disks, Saturn with its rings.

If you’re out walking the dog, or the dog’s walking you, just before bed, take a peek.

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Random Old Photos – August 21st

So, okay, nothing random about it. Five years ago today we were dodging clouds and finally ending up in southeaster Nebraska, in the parking lot of a Sinclair gas station at the intersection of US Highway 136 and Nebraska Route 4, between Filley and Beatrice.

Going back through the photos from that day, I don’t think I’ve shared this one because it’s blurry and out of focus, poorly exposed. But it shows a phenomenon called “Bailey’s Beads” where in the last fraction of a second before totality the Sun’s extremely bright surface can be seen through mountain passes on the edge of the Moon’s edge.

I’m sharing it to day as a reminder to me and a lesson to anyone else who’s interested, that events like total solar eclipses are chaotic, fluid, and fast. You can plan and practice and prepare and check your equipment until you’re numb. The more of that you do the more that you’ll increase your odds of success. But that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. There’s a luck factor in addition to not knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t know something, it’s hard to prepare for it.

On April 8, 2024 there will be another total solar eclipse crossing the US. The longest totality and the widest path will be in Texas, but as the path of totality sweeps up through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine it will include cities like Dallas, Little Rock, Evansville, Indianapolis, Dayton, Akron, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Burlington.

Somewhere along that path, hopefully in a spot with crystal clear skies, on the center line, as far south as possible to get as much totality as possible, I’ll be there with lessons learned and a second chance. And I’ll have practiced and prepared and planned and with a bit of luck I’ll get a fantastic, focused, and fabulous picture of Bailey’s Beads. And the corona. And the partial stages. And shadow bands.

And I’ll also remember to take a minute in the midst of it all to simply look and be awestruck.


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Final 2022 Supermoon

Well, at least until they start pushing a normal, average moon as a “supermoon” just for clickbait.

What it absolutely is is a full moon, about two hours past full. So, a 99.9% full moon.

Remember, the Moon’s orbit isn’t perfectly round, so sometimes when it’s at full moon, directly opposite the Earth from the Sun, sometimes it that instant it’s a bit closer, sometimes a bit further away. Most of the time it’s about average. On those handful of times per year when it’s closer than average, the clickbait mainstream media trumpets it as a “SUPERMOON!!!

If the clickbait mainstream media wasn’t doing that, the odds of you noticing the difference would be tiny. Miniscule. Extremely unlikely.

Astronomically small. (Sorry, not sorry.)

What tonight’s supermoon is also doing is wiping out our ability to see about 90% of the Perseid meteor shower. You need a nice, dark sky to see the most meteors. The full moon is thousands of time brighter, so you can only still see the very brightest of the meteors.

Enjoy the beautiful moon! Good luck with the brightest meteors!



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Late Afternoon Moon

Every now and then someone goes off on social media about how they’ve seen the moon during the day and it’s NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE (LIKE, EVER!!) so this is obviously a sign of the impending apocalypse or a glitch in the Matrix or a conspiracy by the Illuminati or something.

These people are usually mocked hideously (as they should be, because, jeez!) but it does make me wonder just how clueless some folks can be about the world around us. I understand that not everyone can have a college degree in the sciences or be the next “Jeopardy!” super champion. But where exactly do we set the bar for awareness of “common knowledge” facts about the reality that surrounds us 24/7/365?

I think it’s safe to assume that by their teenage years everyone should have noticed that the moon is often visible in the daylight hours. Water is wet, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, fire is hot, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and the moon is often visible in the daylight hours.

(Too early for spoilers on the Luke thing?)

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Happy Landiversary, Curiosity!

Ten years ago:

From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Ten years ago, Opportunity made this terrifying, improbable ride from space to the surface of Mars, successfully plopping itself down in Gale Crater to look for evidence that Mars once had liquid water on its surface and the possibility of an environment which could have led to the evolution of life.

The SUV-sized rover was designed to last one Martian year, or 687 Earth days. Anything after that was gravy.

Today was day #2,965 of gravy as Curiosity continues to operate, explore, and climb while it sends back thousands of pictures and other data from the surface of Mars.


(And going strong.)

Happy Landiversary, Curiosity! And congrats to everyone at NASA and JPL who continue to Dare Mighty Things.

Curiosity has taken over 500,000 images. What’s it looking at tosol?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The ChemCam is looking at rocks.

Want to see a recent, more conventional image?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Click on it to see it full-sized, it’s a big image.

Carry on, Curiosity. You’re doing great!!


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Night Clouds

Scattered clouds tonight, no moon, just the lights from the city reflecting off of them.

Scorpius to the south, a night where it finally cooled off a bit.

A bit of breeze, the sound of mockingbirds and coyotes through the canyons.

The kind of night when it might be nice to lay on the grass and watch the sky. But the megadrought in the US Southwest is in its fifth year? Seventh? Tenth? And with the severe water restrictions in place the grass has died, turned brown, cruncy, and pokey. Maybe let’s just stand here on the sidewalk for a few instead.

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ISS Pass – July 15th

As expected, the late ISS pass tonight was very low in the sky.

There’s the Big Dipper up there again, but instead of passing through the “bowl” of the dipper, the ISS path just barely passes above the trees.

Better yet, click on the image to blow it up to full sized – look at all of those planes, especially right down by the horizon. That’s all of the big jets coming into LAX from the Bay Area, the Pacific Northwest, and Asia.

No joy on seeing Dragon. With docking only about eight or nine hours away I figured that it would be close, but I didn’t see it at all, even watching for about ten minutes after ISS went by.

Finally, the other screw up was forgetting to check the camera battery. Instead of catching the ISS going just barely above those trees all the way to the far horizon, I just saw it for a few minutes.

Keep watching the skies!

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ISS Pass – July 14th

It’s been a while since we did this.

(Final image compiled from 68 images using StarStaX)

Aside from it simply being great to see the ISS pass over, with the launch of a SpaceX Cargo Draon less than four hours ago I was hoping that I might see the Dragon following the ISS.

I didn’t.

The reason that Dragons, Cargo and Crew, have an “instantaneous” launch window is because they launch into the ISS’s orbital plane as the instant that the orbital plane crosses over the launch pad. Getting high and getting fast are critical to rendezvous with an orbital target, but you’re maneuvering in three dimensions. Going “sideways” once in orbit, switching from one orbital plane to another, can be expensive in terms of fuel. But that orbital plane will cross right over you twice a day, so if you launch right then, you just have to go high and fast, not sideways. Restricting your chase to two dimensions simplifies the rendezvous considerably in terms of both complexity and fuel costs.

Because of that, when two objects in the same orbital plane pass overhead, you’ll see them playing follow-the-leader. If you see a set of Starlink satellites within a day or two of launch they’ll look like a string of pearls sailing across the sky. Similarly, if you see the ISS just after a Dragon, or Soyuz, or Cygnus has just left, or just before it arrives, you’ll see the bright ISS with the dimmer, smaller spacecraft following the same path.

It’s math. Physics. Orbital Mechanics!

Tonight, alas, the Dragon probably isn’t close enough since it just launched and won’t catch up to ISS until Saturday morning. Dragon will be in that orbital plane and will be cruising along that same path, but by the time it happens it won’t be in sunlight above Los Angeles. There’s another pass tomorrow night at 22:01, but it will be low to the horizon and might not even get above the level of those trees. But we’ll see what we can see. For now, enjoy tonight’s pass!

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