Category Archives: Astronomy

“My Battery Is Low And It’s Getting Dark”

To the cold hearted pragmatists it was probably just two small bits of telemetry, numbers, indicating the level of battery charge and the transparency of the Martian atmosphere. A machine, built by humans, launched to Mars by humans, guided by humans, running a program written by humans.

Two numbers.

But humans put it in context and translated it into our languages, in the process adding context and massive amounts of emotion.

I hope when my time comes I’m lucid enough to remember those words. They wouldn’t be the worst final words to use if you get to pick.

I also hope that I say them on Mars in about 200 years…

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Good Night, Opportunity

I know we’re not supposed to cry over robots, especially after we send them into hostile environments a billion miles away, and especially after they run for fourteen years in their ninety-day missions.

But I’m going to anyway.

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Lunar Eclipse Tonight

Here’s a shot that didn’t suck from tonight:

I’ll have more in the next day or so after I sort through all of the images from tonight, but after a quick scan of the photos from the wide angle camera, this one stood out first. Fully eclipsed moon at lower left, Orion on the right, and Sirius is the bright star at the bottom right just above the tree.

It was beautiful to watch but we had a ton of wind and clouds blowing through periodically. (You can see a band of high clouds in this picture from the lower right to the center, just along the right edge of the big tree, with some more clouds in the lower right.)

But most of the time we were able to see the moon from the first stages of the partial eclipse, through totality, until the first minute or so as the moon started to come out of totality. Then it was solid clouds and after ten minutes or so waiting for any sign of a break, I bailed.

I hope many of you also got a chance to see some or all of the eclipse, it was wonderful. More orange than red to my eye, but it looked through the telephoto camera to have a dark brown or grey cast to the darker sections. We’ll see what the photos say.


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Waxing Crescent In Deep Twilight

As I was leaving the hangar tonight, there was a gorgeous two-day old waxing crescent moon just above the horizon in an orange and yellow and red sunset!

And the panoramic view (click to enlarge, as always!):

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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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