Category Archives: Astronomy

Sunset – Winter Solstice 2022

(Click to enlargenate!)

The winter solstice was about seven hours ago. Tomorrow, in the Northern Hemisphere, the daylight will last for a few seconds longer. South of the equator, the days will start getting shorter.

For us in the north, the light returns, the cycle repeats, the journey moves onward.

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Filed under Astronomy, Panorama, Photography, Sunsets

Occultation

Big goings on in the heavens tonight as the Moon moved in front of Mars and hid it for about an hour, and event known as an “occultation.”

(Was Mars hiding, or was the Moon blocking it? Who’s to blame? What was happening on Mars during that hour that the Martians didn’t want us to know about from Curiosity? Inquiring minds…)

I didn’t have the time to spare to pull out the big telescope and get it set up, but that didn’t stop me from taking time to watch and pull my camera and a video camera and a couple of tripods out. There are some truly spectacular pictures and videos out there from some of the big observatories (see Griffith Observatory, for example), but these are my “fast & dirty” results.

Before we get into the sequences, a note about basic physics and optics. The short version: the full Moon is 3.75 gazillion times brighter than Mars. So trying to take pictures that show the Moon, you need a very short exposure, in this case, 1/4000 second, the shortest exposure my 17-year-old Canon DSLR can do.

But then you can just barely see Mars. To show Mars clearly, you need a much longer exposure (1/160 second) which leaves the Moon as a white, featureless blob, looking more like the Sun.

Somewhere in the middle, if you’re lucky, there is a picture that gives you some bright, washed out detail on the Moon while also still showing the planet 50,000,000 miles away.

First, screen captures from the video camera. It has a great 20x optical zoom, but the resolution is quite a bit less than the DVR or any commercial quality video camera. Still, given five minutes of setup, these aren’t bad. These are small, low-resolution files, but they make a nice progression.

Prior to the occultation, with Mars to the lower left of the Moon, at about the “seven o’clock position”:

I was having some real problems with the tripod malfunctioning, so I’m amazed that I caught this at all! These captures are all about 30 seconds apart.

About an hour later, coming back out at about the “two o’clock position”:

These photos are about a minute apart.

Secondly, with the big camera, I didn’t get much worth sharing when Mars disappeared, but when it was reappearing I did much better (remember to click on the photos to see them full sized!):

Meanwhile, through binoculars, this was an amazing sight! I hope you got a chance to see it for yourself!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography

Christmas Lights 2022 – Moonrise

Busy, busy, busy day – went out for a quick stretch this evening and found the 13 day old, 97% illuminated moon rising through scattered clouds to the east behind the house.

To absolutely no one’s surprise – I took a picture!

I hope you enjoy it.

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Filed under Astronomy, Christmas Lights, Photography

Planets After The Eclipse

The night after the total lunar eclipse, the Moon was back to being brilliantly bright (fading each night to a new moon in 14 days, of course) and it was accompanied by two bright planets.

Lower right, headed toward setting in the west for the night, is Jupiter. Upper left, just rising in the east, very near Orion, is Mars.

Spectacular!

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Vote!

Early again today with a couple of quick notes and one critically important message for the day:

    1. Critically important message for the day – if you’re in the US and eligible,

      VOTE!

    2. For last night’s total lunar eclipse, the last one until 2025, as expected, I saw exactly diddly squat.
    3. In case you haven’t heard, there’s an incredibly important election in the US today, so make sure you vote if you’re eligible!
    4. About an hour before last night’s total lunar eclipse started there were huge breaks in the clouds and the extremely bright full moon was lovely. You can see Jupiter just above the tree in the lower left.
    5. In many US states, California included, you can sign up and register to vote on the day of the election, so not being registered isn’t an excuse. If you’re in one of those states and you can do this, then vote!
    6. We didn’t win the $2.04B lottery last night, even though they’re reporting that the ticket was sold in LA County. There’s something like ten million plus folks in LA County and about 99% of them bought tickets. Someone’s a megabazillionaire today, but not on our block.
    7. In most states (I’m not an expert, but it’s what I keep seeing repeated) if you’re in line when the polls close, stay there and they have to keep the polls open until everyone votes. So get in line and stand your ground to vote!
    8. This morning, we’re getting some much needed rain. It’s only an inch or so, but given the multi-year drought we’re in, that’s a good thing.
    9. Finally, even if it’s raining or snowing where you are, even if the lines are long (which is actually a good thing!), even if it’s inconvenient, even if it means you’re going to miss some TV show or sportsball event, even if you’re really tired – none of those are legitimate excuses. For probably the most critical threat to our government since the Civil War over 160 years ago, we all need to go out and vote. Bury the fascists and their attempts to drag us back to the 1850’s with an overwhelming vote for democracy, personal rights, and human decency.
    10. With this list format, pictures, and video, the formatting on this is going to be bizarre – whatever. You know what’s important?

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Politics, Video, Weather

Tonight’s Full Lunar Eclipse

Posting a bit earlier in the day to give everyone who might need it a heads up. There’s a full lunar eclipse tonight.

If you’re in the US midwest or on the east coast you can see the beginning of it just before dawn. If you’re on the North American west coast (about from the Rockies west, map here) you can see most or all of it in the middle of the night. If you’re on the Asian east coast you can see most or all of it just after sunset. If you’re in Hawaii, you’re golden, you can see it all overhead at a relatively comfortable hour!

Assuming your sky is clear. Here in SoCal…

Light rain started around midnight and is supposed to go through Wednesday morning. While we’re grateful for the rain (the first measurable rain since March and we’re entering the third? fourth? fifth? year of a critical drought) the timing is less than optimal.

This is the last total lunar eclipse in about three years, so if you get a chance, take a peek!

Start times for different events:

UTC EST PST
First contact with umbra
(the deep part of the Earth’s shadow)
09:09 04:09 01:09
50% partial 09:44 04:44 01:44
Start of totality 10:17 05:17 02:17
Mid eclipse 10:59 05:59 02:59
End of totality 11:42 06:42 03:42
50% partial 12:14 07:14 04:14
Final contact with umbra 12:49 07:49 04:49

Remember, all you need to see a lunar eclipse (other than a clear sky or a hole in the clouds) is ye olde Mark I human eyeball. Binoculars or a small telescope might let you see more color or detail, but the naked eye works just fine. (It’s a solar eclipse that you never, EVER want to look at without protection.)

How dark will this eclipse be? How colorful? Will the moon look red, orange, brown? Who knows, they’re all different. That’s the great part of it! If you snap a picture, feel free to share it!

And that whole “signs & portents” thing where the full moon starts to turn dark and then blood red in the sky on the eve of the US midterm elections. It’s strictly a coincidence. Totally by chance. It means nothing. At all. No danger being foretold. None.

Just make sure you go out tomorrow and vote anyway, just to make sure. Seriously!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Weather

And Then The Halloween Sunset Came

There were a few clouds moving in this afternoon, a tiny chance of rain for the next day or so (and by “tiny” I mean non-zero, but so close to non-existant it’s not really funny), and when I went out I saw this quarter moon floating up there through a thin layer. “That’s a nice photo for my blog post today!” I thought. And it was.

An hour or so later, just before dinner, I saw a glow and decided to check it out.

The Halloween sunset had come and it was loaded for bear!

These rows of low hanging virga were lit up like nothing I had ever seen before.

And where the sun had gone down, it was shades of orange and red that looked like they came straight from Armageddon.

No editing on any of these. No filters. No fiddling with the hue or saturation. All straight out of the camera.

WOW! Perfect for Halloween!

And then, because of the huge hill we live at the top of, for the fourth year in a row, not a single trick-or-treater came by.

Tomorrow… November.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Sunsets, Weather

Daytime Crescent Moon

It may be daytime, but often the moon’s still up there. Today it was 26 days old, rose at 03:11 last night, set at 16:35 this afternoon. But at 11:48 it was almost overhead and only about 12% illuminated.

Very low contrast, tough to see, and I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been looking for a plane that was flying around in the same area. With my eyes set on focusing at a distance for the plane, the crescent moon just popped out of that blue background.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Something New At The Music Center

At least, new for me!

After close to a dozen plays over the last couple of years at the Ahmanson Theater, plus some concerts at the Disney Concert Hall next door, I’m going to my first play at the Mark Taper Forum.

“The Search For Intelligent Life In The Universe” is in a revival here, of course made famous originally by Lily Tomlin. She won the Tony Award for it in 1986. I’m looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, LA City Hall is lit up in bright red tonight while the full moon and Jupiter are rising in the west (to the left). Quite the sight!

A quick Google search doesn’t tell me why it’s lit that way tonight. I suspect it’s not in support of my beloved Kansas City Chiefs – but we’re going to go with that until someone comes up with a better (i.e., a real answer!

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Filed under Astronomy, Entertainment, Los Angeles, Photography

ISS Pass – October 05th

When last we saw our plucky hero, he had seen the ISS pass that faded into an orbital sunset right above his head and was urging everyone in SoCal and adjoining regions to watch this ISS pass tonight:

Image from Heavens-Above.com

Click on the image to see it gloriously full-sized.

One of my best to date I believe. The sky was a little bit brighter than last night (being closer to sunset) so I switched to 4-second exposures instead of 5-seconds. I had my setup location correct in respect to the point where the ISS rose up from the horizon, so it came up in that gap between the trees and thus saw it about a minute earlier. In addition, I had a good (i.e., lucky) guess on where the top of the frame was, so the final frame was perfect and I didn’t shoot any additional frames beyond that and waste time going to my second setup position.

It only took 28 seconds to fold the tripod, run down the little hill in the front yard in the dark without tripping and splooting and dying, cross the street, set the tripod back up, and start shooting toward the west. Not bad, decent planning.

The big question I had here was whether or not I would get the final shot showing the ISS fading into orbital sunset.

I did! This crop of that last image just before the ISS went behind the trees (already fading due to the view through the smog and haze and bright lights of downtown Los Angeles and the beautiful San Fernando Valley) clearly shows it turning orange and fading in brightness over that four seconds.

Then it was a sprint back to the front yard to go looking for the Dragon spacecraft with Crew-5, astronauts from the US, Japan, and Russia, which launched this morning. Unfortunately, I was thinking their flight profile would be similar to a Soyuz launch, where the Soyuz reaches orbit pretty close to the ISS and catches up over just a couple of hours. That was a bad assumption.

   

This is the SpaceX “Follow Dragon” site and, assuming it’s fairly accurate, when I had just seen the ISS come over and was expecting Dragon to be right behind, Dragon was actually over southern China, on a path toward northern Japan and Alaska.

But wait…

They have to be in the same orbital plane, which means that Dragon will be over SoCal in about 25 to 30 minutes. Right?

So I went out at the appointed time…

…as Dragon was supposed to be coming up on the San Francisco area and headed right toward SoCal.

I kept shooting pictures until…

…ISS was supposed to be well to our south, off of Baja.

Did I ever see the Dragon? Nope, no sign of it. On the other hand, there was a very bright moon, a little haze for all of that moonlight to reflect off of, and the Dragon is much smaller than the ISS and doesn’t have any of the HUGE solar panels that the ISS has and thus is much dimmer.

Maybe the photos showed what the eye couldn’t see? Nope. No joy.

So enjoy the photos of the ISS pass, and go to Heavens-Above.com to put in your location and see when the ISS (or other satellites) will pass through your skies.


Finally, if you’re curious, on the first big picture above, look for the Big Dipper at the bottom, just above the trees, then follow the “pointer” stars at the end of the “bowl” to see that one star that’s a dot, not a streak. That’s Polaris, the North Star, and it’s a dot and all of the other stars are streaks because the Earth is spinning. Polaris never moves because it’s directly above the pole, but all of the other stars will show longer and longer streaks the further out they are from Polaris, because they move in the sky more as the Earth spins.

In the second big picture above, the really bright “star” at the bottom left between the trees is Jupiter, and that huge glare on the right side is the Moon.

 

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