Category Archives: Astronomy

Three Planets And One (Visible) Moon

Again playing with the iPhone 13 Night Mode, this time with the wide-angle lens and the top of the mailbox as a crude tripod, or at least a steady surface.

(Click to make it bigger – it’s worth it!)

From left to right, that really bright light is the moon (coming up on full in a couple days), Jupiter (directly above the big tree on the left), Saturn (slightly dimmer, just to the left of that line of light in the center), and Venus (very bright, right over the neighbor’s roof on the right).

Blow up the picture and you see that there’s some trailing on the stars from the long exposure. But look at the top of the telephone pole right in the center – surrounding it is the “teapot” of Capricorn. And surrounding Venus is the “head” of Scorpius with Antares being the brightest star.

Not bad for the next step up from 100% handheld. I wonder what happens if I actually use a tripod? Maybe tomorrow night…

Oh, that “line of light in the center?” While often in my pictures that might be the ISS, not tonight. That’s SkyWest Airlines flight #5752 from LAX to Sacramento.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography

Everything In Motion

And yet that new iPhone 13 “night mode” camera takes a pretty decent photo without even a tripod…

Jupiter at top, just left of center, Saturn just a scooch above center to the left of the tree, the quarter moon setting between the tree and the house. Various other stars visible if you click on the image to blow the whole thing up to full sized.

No tripod, so this image shows a little blur and jiggle – but as I said, everything is in motion.

The Moon in its orbit around the Earth has now moved to be visible at this time of night. The Earth has rotated so that we’re in night. The trees are all blowing in 16 knot winds, gusting to 24 knots, so they’re waving about a bit. And I’m trying to hold the phone/camera as still as possible while standing in those winds as a faux tripod.

Yet – the picture is lovely.

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Filed under Astronomy, Castle Willett, Photography

New Camera

I got a new camera yesterday and got it set up. I’ve been taking some test pictures to start.

This camera has been talked about a lot recently as folks anticipated its availability – they weren’t kidding! I just saw these images from the full-sized files on my desktop monitors. STUNNING!

These were all taken with just the ambient light from inside the houses and a couple of street lights. The street light in our front yard that’s been the bane of my existence (when I’ve been taking pictures of ISS passes) is out. It’s dark out there.

Poking through the clouds up there is Jupiter. Mind you, I haven’t done anything yet to learn about all of the features and settings on this camera. If you think these are cool, wait until I actually learn how to use it! All I did for these was push the button and see what happens. I didn’t even use a tripod, so the fact that these aren’t blurry or jiggly is amazing to me.

Again, Jupiter’s the bright one, Saturn is the one closest to the right edge, and if you blow this up to full sized you’ll see all kinds of stars it captured. And all I did was hold it while standing in my back yard and push the button.

What’s even MORE amazing about this camera is that it’s got two more lenses. These were taken with the regular lens, but there’s also a telephoto and a wide angle lens built in. Fun times ahead playing with those!

Oh, yeah, and this camera also has a small supercomputer built in, as well as wi-fi, bluetooth, it shows me TV, movies, streaming video, has a whole slew of business apps, GPS and maps, connects to the internet, can keep a huge music library as well as hundreds if not thousands of books, health apps, and on and on and on.

Yeah, I got an iPhone Pro Max.

Cool!!

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Filed under Astronomy, Computers, Paul, Photography

Take The Time

We can get way too tied up with work and deadlines and stress, and skip the little things that might only take a minute or two but which can make all the difference in the world to our quality of life and sanity.

Such was the case tonight when I got so caught up that I nearly missed this – Venus in the lower left, the three-day old crescent Moon above, just 4° away.

We got the work done, hit the deadline, it’s satisfying and rewarding – but then I urged others to go outside and look.

They’re smart, good people. They did. You should too.

Seek out the little, beautiful things. Tomorrow night the Moon will have moved, but it will still be beautiful, and if you look up and to your left towards the south and the zenith, you’ll see bright Jupiter, and between Jupiter and the Moon you’ll see Saturn. If you have even a pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to see a couple of Jupiter’s moons, and craters, mountains, and mare on the Moon. If you have even a small telescope you can see the rings of Saturn and maybe Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

But maybe it will be cloudy or raining! So sit in the garage or on the porch and listen to the rain, not just the rain-ish sounding 45-second loop on that meditation or relaxation app.

Or listen to the wind through the trees, or the wind chimes, or the surf on the shore. Even the sounds of traffic on a nearby freeway will sound like surf. (“Ish…”)

Whatever – don’t wait for a rainbow or lightning to see you out. Go searching for the beauty and force yourself to let your shoulders slump, your jaw unclench, you gut to untighten.

C’mon – you did all of that budget re-modeling and you built all of those massive, interlinked Excel files! Surely you can figure out how to relax for a few minutes!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

That Time Of Month Again

Two days past new moon, and the thin, bright, crescent moon is making the evening sky in the west extra beautiful.

Every month there’s a good chance that something else relatively nearby (on an astronomical scale) will be up there with it.

This month it’s Venus, up there to the left. (Ignore the lens reflection of the moon up there on top, it’s an illusion.)

In theory, Mercury’s there right below the moon, about a smidge above the mountain in the lower right corner, but you won’t see it in these images. It’s still way to close to the Sun and will set before it gets dark enough to be seen. If you want to see it, go look back in May when they were all there together and a little higher and closer together.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Sunsets

A Second Clear Night

Last night’s post was rushed – I was running out of time before my self-imposed “posting deadline” of midnight. So it got cut off abruptly, with the bottom line being that I could see the bright star Capella rising very, very near the horizon in the northeast. That’s rare in SoCal, especially these days, since there’s usually so much haze and coastal clouds scattering the ever present light pollution.

Tonight it was clear again, so I went to take pictures. Again it’s clear, but Capella doesn’t rise until after 22:00, and it doesn’t clear the fence until after 23:00, so this will be rushed as well. (For example, I didn’t have the time to clean up all of the “hot” pixels in Photoshop – please ignore all of those bright red and bright purple specks.)

First of all, here’s a very quickly annotated copy – the (currently) sideways “W” or “M” shape of Cassiopeia  up high, near the north pole, which is unmarked but just to the left of it, right around the left edge of the image. And down below, grateful for that hole or notch in the top of the hedge, is Capella.

Here’s the unedited image. Click on it to blow it up and explore.

And there’s one more item annotated in the image, just to the left of the tree, a bit above Cassiopeia – that’s the Andromeda Galaxy.

No kidding!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

A Clear Night At Last

I tend to pay attention to the sky. It’s that whole “obsessed with space and astronomy and astrophotography” thing. So when every hour my watch bugs me to stand up and walk around for a bit, I often end up after dark out taking a lap around the yard and checking out the stars.

The last month or so has been marginal in Los Angeles for stargazing. There’s been a lot of coastal clouds and haze as well as a few days that were just totally clouded over. (No rain, just clouds, at least in our neighborhood. We badly need rain!) With all of the lights in SoCal, it doesn’t take much haze to reflect it back down at the ground and brighten the sky pretty well. In real terms what that means is that on a normal night these days you can see the Moon if it’s up, almost always Venus in the sunset sky and Jupiter in the east an hour or two later (they’re REALLY bright), and usually Saturn up a bit to the west of Jupiter. Near the zenith, where the haze and clouds will be thinner and more transparent, you can see the brighter stars in the summer sky. Vega in Lyra and Deneb in Cygnus are pretty bright and overhead. Sometimes you can see all four of the bright stars in Cygnus, which is a good test of seeing.

But off to the south, you might see the bright stars of Scorpius and Capricorn, or you might not. If all you can see is Antares, it’s too foggy.

But tonight was wonderfully clear. Off to the north I could see something down near the horizon under Cassiopeia that I figured must be a helicopter it was so bright and near the horizon. But a quick check of the sky map shows that it was Capella!

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Filed under Astronomy

ISS Pass – August 04th

It’s getting near the end of the “season” for great ISS passes here. The high beta angle period has passed and after the next few days we’ll be moving back to mostly morning passes. Like, 04:00-ish morning. Uh, no thanks!

But for tonight, there was a spectacular, almost horizon-to-horizon pass, going almost through the zenith (87º maximum) and at mag -3.8.

The problem was that it was just a bit too early and too bright to be taking longer (3 or 4 second) exposures, and even one-second exposures would be bright and potentially overexposed. But taking shorter exposures, as we’ve learned, can overwhelm the older camera and memory cards, taking pictures faster than they can be saved.

I took a shot at it, with one-second exposures and about one-second pauses between photos. The end result came out great, heading from just before the zenith to the eastern horizon, although it looks a bit more like a dashed line than normal, with the gaps being the longer pauses between shots to give the camera time to keep up.

I like it!

This is that wide angle, “light bucket” lens that I like so much, with an easy and almost perfect focus at infinity, so it looks clean and sharp. Later I went out when it was fully dark and played with what it would do in LA’s light polluted and slightly hazy skies, with interesting results. I’ll share those in the next couple of days after I get some time to go through them.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

ISS Pass – July 14th

It’s “high beta-angle” season on the ISS – short version without getting into too many discussions of orbital mechanics (maybe some other time…) is that for a few days the ISS is in the sun 24/7, so if it’s in your night sky it’s highly visible. There are some great passes coming up this week for most places, sometimes both in the sunset hours an hour or two after sunset in the evening and in the pre-dawn hours in the very early morning.

(Click to see it BIG – it’s worth it!)

It came up from the south-southwest (lower right, behind the telephone pole) and headed close to the zenith (i.e., directly overhead). One problem is that honkin’ big streetlight right there, which in turn caused caused those UFO-looking lens flares at the top. They’re reflections, not UFOs, which I guess makes them IFOs.

The second problem is those two jets coming out of LAX. The one on the right is Alaska SkyWest flight #3300 headed toward Boise…

(Image from FlightRadar24 app)

…while the one on the left is Delta flight #2408 to Seattle. Bye, guys!!

(Image from FlightRadar24 app)

The bigger problem is that it was barely an hour after sunset, not very dark, a little hazy so we got some reflected light pollution dancing around. I tried at first doing 1-second photos to keep the sky from over exposing, but I was also saving photos in RAW format in addition to JPG format and with a shot every second the camera couldn’t keep up with storing the images. So I switched to 4-second exposures and hoped for the best. “The best” in this case is a bit over exposed.

But then it swung through the zenith (center right) and headed down toward the north-northeast horizon (lower left). That sky didn’t have a street light or lens flares in it, and the sky was darker to the east, so the background light didn’t overexpose the frames quite as much. And that plane is unidentified, but it sounded like a Cessna or Cirrus, probably out of Van Nuys.

Lessons learned tonight? Again, I love this lens. Not much I can do about how bright or dark the sky is. But there are a number of opportunities for great evening passes for the next few days still. If you can, check out some of the NASA or other websites for ISS tracking to see if there’s a pass for you this week, or better yet, check out the Heavens-above.com site for pass predictions and maps.

Finally, there are also a number of opportunities for great morning passes for the next few days. You won’t see any pictures of those here. I don’t get to bed until nearly 1AM and I’m up a very few short hours later. I’m not getting up at Oh-freakin’-dark-thirty just to see a morning ISS pass. Sorry!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Planetary Conjunction – July 12th

Celestial mechanics, right there in plain sight. Yesterday’s photos + 24 hours (give or take a few minutes).

Mars is fading, as expected. Needed binoculars to see it, and you’ll probably have to click to see the full-sized image to see it here.

There it is! Just about eight hours from their (apparent!) closest approach to each other. The word “apparent” is key here. Remember, we’re all gravitationally bound (for the moment) to giant balls of rock, water, and gas, which are in turn spinning on their axes, which in turn are in orbit at thousands of miles an hour around a small, yellow, G-class star, so while they look close together from this particular point of view, they’re actually 74,400,000 miles apart from each other.

This is much closer, which is why even with a relatively simple and cheap camera system you can see craters and other features.

Aside from all of that, it’s simply very pretty to look at in the cooling evening sunset.

Then our 3rd rock from the Sun spins from in front of this view back over my head and behind us, causing the planets and Moon to appear to sink below the western horizon.

There they go, down behind the trees! Once they get down into the muck and coastal haze and we’re looking through a thick chunk of the atmosphere, it’s amazing how much the color from Mars varies every second or two. Mostly a dark orange, but sometimes much less red color and sometimes almost white for a second or two.

While the Moon, exposed to bring out detail at the terminator, is a fingernail crescent…

…and exposed to bring out the Earthshine, starts to also share the sky with some of the other background stars in the constellation Leo. (That’s Al Jabbah [Eta Leonis] to the upper left of the Moon, a white supergiant star about 2,000 light years from Earth.)

If you couldn’t look tonight or tried and got foiled by the weather or clouds, try to look tomorrow night! Let me know if you saw this!

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