Category Archives: Astronomy

Venus & Pleiades

I mentioned a few days ago while sharing pictures of the Moon and Venus that the Pleiades (an open cluster of bright, blue stars, easily visible to the naked eye) were nearby and Venus would be getting closer to them.

It’s happening over the next few nights and tonight’s clear (-ish) here so I decided to see what I could see with the big lens.

(As always, I urge you ignore the sensational headlines online no matter how tempting it might be to distract yourselves from news of the virus and the panic and our governmental ineptitude and the growing body count. This conjunction of Venus & the Pleiades is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – it happens about every eight years. And it’s not something you have to see TONIGHT or you’ll miss it – it will take place over the next week or two, so relax if it’s cloudy tonight and you missed it.)

With the telephoto lens and a tripod mounted camera, you tend to start getting “trailing” in longer exposures. This is caused by the Earth moving (and no, not in the “good” way!) and the camera not. So even at the widest field of view, after about a four second exposure you’ll get trails. But it’s easy to see the extremely bright Venus and the core of “The Seven Sisters.”

(As always, click on the images to see them full screen sized, they’ll look much better and you’ll see more detail.)

If you let the exposure go to out to twenty-five seconds you’ll see a LOT of stars – but they’re moving and trailing. And that’s some random satellite crossing the upper right quarter of the field.

Zoom in about half way and the trailing gets worse, so anything over two seconds starts to show trails

And if you go out to twenty-five seconds, Venus starts to look like a really bright comet as it smears across the image.

Finally, zoom all the way out to 300 mm and crop the image to get a nice shot of the core.

Let’s see what I can play with tomorrow night or Saturday if it’s clear! (And Los Angeles folks, there are some fantastic ISS passes coming up on the weekend!)

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

You Know Who Else Doesn’t Care About COVID-19?

I’ve pointed out that the birds, bees, bunnies, and blossoms don’t really give a rat’s ass about COVID-19, no matter how much we’re stressing. (And believe me, we’re stressing, but still feeling okay here, hope that you’re doing the same!)

You know who else doesn’t care? If you need something beautiful and some perspective, go out tonight (if you’re on the West Coast and it’s early enough) or tomorrow or the next day and look for the crescent Moon and Venus and the Pleiades and Orion and Taurus and all of the other spectacular objects in the evening sky.

These were taken about twenty-five minutes ago:

Four day old Moon and Venus. This is a 1/400 sec exposure and you can see a bit of detail on the Moon. Longer exposures show Venus better, but the Moon’s details wash out pretty quickly from overexposure.

Another 1/400 second exposure, zoomed in all the way with the 300mm lens. Again, some detail on the moon.

But if we take a much longer exposure, 4 seconds, thinking to bring out the palm trees across the street, we get something special:

Click on the image to see it full-sized. Look in the upper right. Those are the Pleiades, M45, an open cluster of young, hot, blue stars.

If you’ve got a clear sky in the next couple of weeks, go out and take a look. The Moon will be moving, but the Pleiades (and Orion off to the left, and Taurus up higher above the Pleiades) will all be clearly visible to the naked eye. If you’ve got a pair of binoculars, they’ll all be spectacular!


Keep your physical distancing. It’s helping to slow down the inevitable spread of the virus.

Wash your hands. It’s a HUGE help to improve your odds of not getting the virus.

And go look up at the wonders above us. It will remind you of why you want to come out the other side from this crisis.

This too shall pass.

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Filed under Astronomy, CoronaVirus, Photography, Space

Uranus

Want to see it? Do you have clear skies and a pair of binoculars any evening in the next week or so?

I went out and saw it tonight. The next few nights probably will be cloudy here in SoCal, but you might get luckier.

An hour or so after sunset, go outside and look to the west. You’ll easily see Venus, it’s the brightest thing in the sky except for the Sun, Moon, and sometimes the ISS. It’s so bright that you can literally read a newspaper by it.

Raise the binoculars and put Venus on the far right side of the field of view.

(Image from Star Walk app)

Look at this image from the Star Walk app. We’re zoomed in here and the objects’ positions are similar to what I saw through binoculars. Their size is ***NOT***. The app is showing icons for the planets. They’ll both appear as pinpoints. Venus will be really, REALLY bright. Uranus will be about as bright as the other stars shown. Let’s look at the patterns and locations and positions relative to each other – it’s a map app, not photo realistic.

Got it?

Annotated image – this is your cheat sheet. (Remember, pinpoints, not icons!)

Okay, so through my slightly hazy & seriously light polluted sky I saw Venus on the right, three stars in a triangle (labeled 1 to 3 in the annotated image), and if I moved over to the left just a bit there were two slightly brighter stars (labeled A & B).

Got it?

  1. Venus on the right
  2. Triangle of much dimmer stars to the left (Uranus is the one on the upper left of the triangle)
  3. To make sure, just look a bit to the left and you’ll see two brighter stars

Uranus and Venus are moving a bit each night. They’ll be the closest tomorrow night, but they’ll be close for days and days.

Got binoculars? Got clear skies? Go see Uranus.

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Filed under Astronomy, Space

Taking A Wild Leap

It’s February 29th, which doesn’t happen that often, so I figured I might comment in my unique and inimitable style. But first, what did I have to say about this unusual date four years ago? Oddly, pretty much NOTHING AT ALL about the date, but a bunch of really nice pictures of Clay Lacy’s DC-3.

It’s no doubt an amazing aircraft, but… Leap Day? Nothing?

Okay, so let’s make up for that a bit. Acknowledging that it’s a day that only comes once every four years and even then not in years evenly divided by 100 unless it’s also a year evenly divisible by 400 (a good summary here), the random synapse firing that occurred to my somewhat sleep deprived brain was along the lines of, “That’s messy. I don’t like it. Why don’t we fix it?”

And by “fix it” of course, I’m not talking about coming up with some weird and unique calendar that somehow does away with that quarter of a day (“ish”) that’s extra. I’m talking about moving the planet’s orbit so that it’s a precisely even number of days long.

Go big or go home!

Since the Earth’s orbit takes it around the Sun in 365.25 days, the easiest way to get to an even integer would be to get rid of the 0.25 days. Moving the Earth closer to the Sun would make it orbit faster, so it would be easier to go to 365 days than to 366.

But…

If we go to a precise 365 day orbit, all of those folks born on February 29th would never, ever again have a birthday. Plus, of course, by moving the Earth closer to the Sun when we’re already destroying it with climate change would mean that we’ll fry and die that much sooner, so maybe that would be a second negative on that plan.

Plus, with a 365 day year, we still have that somewhat annoying “extra” day in there that means that if this year your birthday is on a Monday, next year it will be on a Tuesday, and the year after that a Wednesday, and so on. Still messy.

So let’s move the Earth even closer to the Sun and give it a 364-day orbit! This solves the calendar problem completely! Thirteen months of 28 days each! Uniformity! Standardization! Easy to remember!

Oh, right, it’s also boring. We would also fry and die a LOT faster, which most days I would consider to be bad thing, but frying and dying fast while being bored is so, so much worse.

Instead, I think we’ll have to move the Earth’s orbit out, away from the sun. This gives us a slightly longer year while simultaneously helping to cool the planet so that we can continue sans guilt to burn fossil fuels like they’re going out of style.

Moving out to a precise 366-day orbit doesn’t give us a fantastic, evenly divisible calendar. We would have to go out to a 372-day orbit to do that, and that might be far enough away from the Sun that we would freeze to death slowly instead of frying and dying quickly, so let’s table that idea.

No, the 366-day orbit gets my vote. It makes permanent leap years, which we’re already used to. We’ve all seen tons of February 29ths – now we would just see them every year.

We would also still have an annual variance in respect to which dates fall on which days of the week. The 366-day calendar gives us 52 weeks plus two days, but since there are seven days in a week, the match of days of the week to dates on the calendars would repeat every seven years. In other words, if your birthday was on Monday this year it would be on Wednesday in 2021, on Friday in 2022, on Sunday in 2023, on Tuesday in 2024, on Thursday in 2025, on Saturday in 2026, and again on Monday in 2027.

A little bit regular, but not boring!

(And saving the world in good measure!)

I hope that someone gets right on this.

Image result for make it so meme gif

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Filed under Astronomy, Deep Thoughts, Paul

Venus & Luna At Dusk

There it is! I mentioned last night that I could see the one-day old crescent moon just barely above the horizon. Tonight it had climbed a bit and was easily visible with Venus.

About forty minutes later, after I had gotten my haircut, it was fully dark, but the moon was still above the hills and billboards. If you zoom in, even with this cheezy iPhone picture (which, let’s admit, has a pretty amazing camera in it as much as I might make jest), you can see the outline of the almost New Moon illuminated by Earthshine.

For the record, NO ONE in the shopping center was admiring the sight. and EVERYONE was wondering who the geek with the nice haircut was taking pictures of the sky while standing in traffic.

We know the answer to that one, don’t we?

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Venus At Dusk

I didn’t notice it until I was in the car, on the freeway, and couldn’t take pictures, but just barely above the horizon, in a notch between two hills, was the teeniest, tiniest little sliver of a moon.

Stunning!

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The Night Returns

It’s always a melancholy night when the Christmas lights come down. The tens of thousands of festive lights, marking and celebrating the weeks surrounding the Winter Solstice, driving back the long nights – they’re all gone and the the night returns.

Tonight the moon, a couple of days past full, is helping to keep the darkest of the dark at bay. It’s always a pleasure to see it rising beyond the trees and the lights of Los Angeles.

Up near the zenith, winter’s guardian, bold Orion is bright – but not as bright as normal. (One of these days we need to talk about Betelgeuse. What’s up with that?)

The cycle will go around again. Spring is coming, the days will get long, we’ll roast through the summer, then the days will start to shorten again and next Thanksgiving we’ll decorate and light up the night.

Until then…

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Filed under Astronomy, Castle Willett, Christmas Lights, Paul