Category Archives: Astronomy

Halloween 2018

As usual, if it’s not completely overcast, for Halloween I bring out the telescopes and let the trick or treaters take a peek at whatever might be up. The joker in the deck this year was the new location after we moved in May.

In the old house, where we were just a half block from an elementary school and two blocks from a high school, on a moderately well trafficked street, on flat ground, we would get hundreds of ghouls and goblins visiting. The new house is close to a mile from anything other than houses (coincidentally, those same schools since we didn’t move that far), on a street with very little traffic other than our neighbors, and at the top of a large, very steep hill. I didn’t think we would get hundreds of kids, but figured we might still get a fair number.

The clouds were thin for the most part, but it was not a “clear and a million” day. In addition, while earlier in the year we could look at Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars all in the same evening (and sometimes the moon as well) it’s now down to just Saturn and Mars.

The sunset was spectacular thanks to a small brush fire a few miles away, but that’s often not good for use of telescopes. Saturn will be right over the top of that telephone pole, at the edge (I hoped) of those clouds.

I don’t decorate as much for Halloween as I do for Christmas, but it was a good chance to put up a couple strings of lights and hang a skeleton or two. I even had a couple of pumpkins, thanks to a contest at our office building. I noticed as I was leaving that the two done by my co-workers were still on display in the lobby, while they were supposed to all be taken home by the end of the day. I either took care of that housekeeping item or I jacked my first pumpkins in about 45 years – po-TAY-toe, po-TAH-toe…

The sunset was spectacular and beautiful, but again, not so great for star gazing.

In the end, I could see Saturn reasonably well, and Mars, and a few other bright objects such as Alberio.

On the other hand, we got only six or seven trick-or-treaters, all in one group, and the only reason they came by was because I was in the yard, saw them get dropped off at a neighbor’s house, and hollered at them when they started to go down the hill away from us. (I might have threatened to eat all of the candy myself if they didn’t come over and take some off my hands.) They all took a look at Saturn through the telescope and made appropriate “ooh” sounds – but that was it for the evening.

Duly noted. I will adjust my candy buying expectations accordingly next year.

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It’s Late

It’s late. It was a very long day. The night is going to be short and the alarm clock is going of at Zero Dark Thirty. Tomorrow’s going to be a very, very long day.

But when I went out to see why the LAPD helicopter was orbiting around (again – it’s back now for the third time tonight, so obviously something’s up) I found a few thin, high clouds and a most wonderful full-ish moon.

I’ll dream of the moon and other gorgeous things and hope and better days.

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Double ISS Pass

First of all, if you’re in LA, I’m showing you this tonight because there’s an EXCELLENT pass of the ISS tomorrow!

Rise at 17:32 in the northwest, highest point at 19:35:58 in the southwest 62° above the horizon, sets at 19:37:54 in the south-southeast. (Map here on

Which brings us back to this evening.

The ISS goes around the Earth in about 90 minutes. If you happen to have a long twilight at a particular time of year and you get a pass early enough in the evening (but still after it’s dark enough to see the ISS in the dusk) you might get another one 90 minutes later before it’s full dark. That happened tonight in LA with passes at 18:48:35 and 20:24:56.

Here’s what I learned trying to photograph it (I’ve mentioned in the past that it’s a learning process):

(Image created using StarStaX 0.7)

For that early dusk pass, when it’s still fairly bright but you can see the ISS just fine with the naked eye, a one-second exposure isn’t going to work. The sky’s too bright and each frame will be way, way over-exposed. I had a feeling that might happen and was tempted to cut it to like 3/4 second – should have cut it to like 1/8 second or less and then just shot a LOT of frames to stack.

Secondly, when you realize the ISS is over there when you thought it was going to rise over there and you grab the tripod and scramble to reposition, take a second to make sure that the camera’s still in focus. (It probably isn’t any more – duh!)

For the second pass when it’s much later and darker, those 1-second exposures work well! The ISS here is the upper track, passing from the lower right to the upper left. The lower tracks are aircraft over the California coast on the long arc into LAX from Asia.

You’ll note that the ISS fades out in the top (upper left) of its arc. This was when it moved into shadow. Being the second pass of the night you’re probably not going to see it get too high or travel too far across the sky. It’ll still be there! But the Earth’s shadow will catch it, it will fly into orbital night, and you won’t see it any more. But watch for it – it will dim and turn red and orange as it goes through it’s ten-second orbital sunset.



In between the wires after the first pass there was a two-day old moon and Jupiter down on the western horizon. (They’ll be there tomorrow too when you go out to see that ISS pass that I told you about at the top – right?) This photo brought to you by the fact that I remembered to focus!

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Anti-Soul Crushing Sunset Pictures

Someone who I follow on Twitter because they attended a recent NASA Social (and I’ve found that most people who attend NASA Socials are pretty decent human beings) tweeted today: “I need something inspiring to happen. Today has been soul crushing in countless ways.”

My response was: “I know the feeling. ISS pass in your area tonight? Colorful sunset? Thunderstorm you can watch from a safe place? Look at the new pictures from Hayabusa 2 rovers? Look for Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars after sunset if it’s clear?”

Just in case they weren’t able to get any of those things or any acceptable substitutes (and without having a clue if they read this site) or just for any of you who might have had similar thoughts today, here’s the fair-to-middlin’ sunset we had tonight.

One of the problems I’ve found with the “new” house (jeez louise, we’re coming up on five months here!!) is all of the power lines and telephone poles directly to the west which show up in my sunset pictures.

Today I decided to wander down the hill a few houses (I need to get out more – five freakin’ months!) and found that a few houses down on the other side of the street there’s a much better, less obstructed view.

On the other hand, looking back to the north from there (the tall trees (Spartan Junipers maybe?) on the far right are next to our driveway) where it was darker and pinker and purple-er there was a jungle of silhouetted wires, which I found curiously compelling as an image.

As for Hyabusa 2…

For those of you with your souls being crushed tonight by those who no longer have a soul – I believe you. I see you. I will listen to you. I want to help.

For those of you still intact – join me.

For those of you who no longer have a soul – my Catholic school teachers wanted to impress me with the concept of redemption. I’m pretty sure that it was total bullshit, but I’m open minded still to having you prove me wrong.

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(…see, yesterday it was “Punt,” today it’s “Return…”)

The new moon has returned, with Venus still hanging about. Month after month after month.

I had lost track. Then I saw it from the back yard and it was gorgeous. (Venus is just above the wires, to the left of the pole.)

Welcome back!

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TOTALITY!! One Year Later

Yeah, it’s been a year. Damn.

We were right…THERE!

(Map courtesy of Xavier M. Jubier at

(Map courtesy of Xavier M. Jubier at

We had clouds and didn’t get a perfect view, but did we ever get a spectacular one, with storms all around us.

(Click for full-sized image – it’s worth it!!)

The two minutes and 38.4 seconds of totality were one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Even through the clouds.

The next total solar eclipse in the United States is on April 8, 2024. (Really, check out Xavier Jubier’s website and maps, they’re spectacular!!) I’m looking at southern Texas for the best chance of clear skies and the maximum totality in the US (over 4:20), eastern Indiana or western Ohio to be with the most fannish friends (3:57 north of Dayton) – but there’s a good chunk of northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine that’s in the path of totality where I’ll tons of family and friends from high school (but only 3:33 of totality north of Burlington).

Decisions, decisions!

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Like Pearls On A String

Today was Day Two of the Wings Over Camarillo airshow – I was really busy and it’s been a really long weekend.

I’m not going to post pictures of the airplanes today. (I shot mostly video today when I was able to get out at all.)

But when I was leaving there was the most wonderful spectacle across the southern sky. I wish I could have gotten some really excellent pictures of it – but I couldn’t, I had only my cell phone and it doesn’t do particularly well in low light.

But I’ll give you what I got.

Almost due south, the first quarter moon was high. To the east, Mars was bright and red, with Saturn shining between the two.

To the right of that, Jupiter was high bright with Venus setting toward the horizon.

Like pearls on a string, follow the line from Venus to Jupiter to the moon to Saturn to Mars. There’s your ecliptic, the plane in which the planets all revolve around the sun.


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