Category Archives: Astronomy

Crescent Moon & Venus – June 12th

Looking at how often I post variations of this exact shot, with the two or three or four-day old crescent moon and Venus or Saturn or Jupiter or some combination of them all, you would almost think that there’s some pattern here…

As the prophecy (i.e, the astronomical ephemeris) foretold, the Moon has passed Venus to the west of the Sun.

Tonight I remembered to go out about 45 minutes earlier than last night. It worked (of course).

In the not-quite-dark-yet dusk, the Moon was a crescent, two and a half days (ish) from full moon (which caused that partial and annular solar eclipse on Thursday morning, remember?) with lots of Earthshine.

It was wonderful, clear, cool, a tiny breeze and the stars starting to come out. I could hear two parties going off in the neighborhood – probably graduation celebrations.

As Venus was headed toward the horizon somewhere far beyond Santa Barbara, the Moon was perched atop this tree, with some large hawk or raptor of some sort having just glided in to roost in the tree just at the lower right.

As it got darker, even though the Moon was sinking down into the coastal haze, the Earthshine got easier to see.

I’m grateful that it was clear two days in a row – given the week’s forecast for hot, Hot, HOT weather every day, we might be able to luck out for the rest of the week. Of course, it’s also predicted to be 117° to 120°+ all week, so that’s a mixed blessing.

If you can get a chance to see these two planetary objects over the next couple of nights after sunset, take it! Just go out and sit and watch for a bit. (Put on bug spray…)

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Harassing Moon

Yesterday morning the Moon was out there harassing the sun, causing a partial solar eclipse for many on the US East Coast and into Great Britain, with a few lucky folk way, way up north getting to see a short annular eclipse. Google it, there are some great photos.

Having finished with messing around with the Sun, tonight the very thin crescent moon was threatening Venus.

I caught it a couple of minutes later than I should have. It was pretty low, but there was a little bit of gap between those trees that I could just peek through from the driveway.

Any earlier and it would have been too bright to see the moon – I know, because I went and looked!

It was beautiful and clear. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a couple of nights like that to take pictures over the weekend?

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The Clouds Won Last Night

The odds were in their favor, as we saw all day yesterday. I did not have my hopes up and I wasn’t disappointed.

I got up at 02:30, about the time the partial phases were supposed to be starting.

I sort of remember wandering around to look out the window about 04:00-ish – there as a dim reddish spot in the clouds over in the west, but nothing that prevented a quick retreat to a warm bed.

A few hours later, of course:

That’s a stunning shade of blue – where was it ten hours earlier?

Even toward the west, where the coast and the haze and the “coastal eddy,” “May gray,” “June gloom” always lurk, it was unlimited visibility.

The next total lunar eclipse for the US West Coast is November 8, 2022, seventeen and a half months away. I’m sure the weather forecast is for clouds. (Yes, there’s an earlier total lunar eclipse on May 16, 2022, just under a year away, but it’s occurring just as the moon is rising in Los Angeles, so we might not see much of it at all.)

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Stupid, Stupid, Pretty Sunset!

I’ve been watching all day.

It hasn’t looked that great.

It did give us a very pretty sunset, but that’s sorta counterproductive for tonight’s particular goal.

Now, at 23:05 local, with totality beginning at 04:11 local, a little over five hours from now, it’s… complicated.

On the one hand, it looks spectacular.

On the other hand, it’s about 80% cloud covered – and getting worse.

I’ve got the cameras all ready to go and the alarms set – we’ll see if I can drag my sorry butt out of bed in the middle of the night to at least check to see how cloudy it is.

Let the games begin.

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Twenty-Seven Hours & Counting

Tomorrow night there’s a total eclipse of the moon, visible from all over the Pacific hemisphere. If you’re in Europe or eastern North or South America, better luck next time. If you’re in Hawaii, you’re golden. In eastern Australia or New Zealand, you’ll see it in the east not too long after moonrise. If you’re in Los Angeles or on the US West Coast, you’ll see it just before sunrise.

Unlike solar eclipses (*NEVER* look at a solar eclipse with the naked eye or any kind of magnification), lunar eclipses are 100% safe to look at with the naked eye, or with binoculars, or a telescope. In this case, if you’re in LA or San Diego or San Francisco or Phoenix or Seattle (you get the idea) your biggest issues will be possible clouds and getting up at 03:00. (I plan on being ready, getting up, checking for clouds, and if they’re there, I’m back in bed!)

Here’s a great site for information on when the different phases of the eclipse start, including detailed information for major cities. This is a short eclipse by lunar eclipse standards. The full phase of the eclipse is only fourteen minutes long, 04:11 to 04:25 in Los Angeles.

After being “clear and a bazillion” for the whole day, I rolled the telescope out late this afternoon and within second it was starting to cloud up.

By the time the moon rose and cleared those trees, it was downright “yucky.” (That’s an official, technical, internationally recognized astronomy term by the way.) I was testing out my equipment for attaching my good DSLR cameras directly to the telescope, using it as a humongous telephoto lens.

The moon was there – the focus wasn’t.

I’m going to blame the clouds. Which is not unreasonable at all, they were an issue.

In addition, right around full moon (we’re 27 hours away, since lunar eclipse = full moon, by definition = do the geometry) most of the moon’s surface looks flat and featureless.

The “good” pictures are always along the terminator, the division between night and day on the lunar surface, where the shadows are sharp.

You can see a tiny bit of that along the top side, where some of the craters on the limb (edge of the visible disk) are highlighted. But not much.

For example, this picture showing the center of the moon with no portion of the limb? Lots of rays and some bright spots, but no shadows with the Sun almost straight overhead.

We’ll see what tomorrow night / Wednesday pre-dawn brings for the eclipse. Keep your fingers crossed!

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Moon & Mercury – May 14th

And Venus.

Last night the Moon and Mercury were close to one another, able to fit into the field of my 300mm zoom lens. Venus was way, waaaaaay down near the setting Sun and while folks with flat horizons were seeing it, I have trees, houses, and a small mountain to my west.

Tonight everything had moved, as celestial bodies tend to do. It’s that whole space-time, circling around in the gravity well thing. Which meant that Venus was a bit higher, and even though it was still too bright to see Mercury, Venus is a lot brighter than Mercury and I could juuuuuust see it above the trees as it was setting.

See it? To the right of the phallic tree, just barely above those trees. If you click on the image to get the full-sized photo, you’ll see it…

This cell phone image, blown up to the limit of resolution looks fuzzy – tomorrow night go out (assuming it’s clear) and if you can, take a pair of binoculars. Venus is very bright, looks like a diamond shining against the gathering dusk. Spectacular.

Sort of like this, with the good camera, just as it was disappearing.

Even without a lot of magnification, similar to what you would see with the naked eye, it stands out pretty well.

But there weren’t any pictures with the Moon, Mercury, and Venus. Too bright as Venus was setting. So I waited until it got darker.

About a half hour later, the Moon in the upper left, Mercury about halfway between the trees to the right of the phallic tree, just below being level with the top of it.

Compared to last night, it’s easy to see how much the Moon moves from one night to the next.

A cropped image of the crescent moon, three and a half days past new moon.

Similarly cropped image of overexposed moon, showing the dark portion of the moon in Earthshine.

Full-frame crescent moon in Earthsine.

It will probably be a couple of days before Venus climbs up high enough to be seen in the dark sky with Mercury, and by that time the Moon will be close to or past a quarter moon, way out of this picture. Just as well, the forecast is iffy for the next couple of evenings here.

However…

On the early morning before sunrise on Wednesday, May 26th, there will be a total eclipse of the moon. (See examples of what it will look like here and here.) You won’t see it if you’re on the US east coast or Europe, but you will probably see some or all of it in eastern Asia or on the west coast of North America. In Los Angeles, the partial eclipse begins at 02:45 AM, totality begins at 04:11 AM, maximum eclipse is at 04:18 AM, totality ends at 04:25 AM, and the partial phase ends at 05:52, right at sunrise.

As they say, mark your clocks and set your calendars!

 

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Moon & Mercury – May 13th

Most folks never get a chance to see Mercury. It’s only visible, dimly, in the early evening sunset or just barely before sunrise.

If you’ve got a clear western sky for one of the next few nights, it’s a great chance. Mercury is rising about as high as it ever gets, for the next night or two the crescent moon will be nearby (although getting further away and more full every night), and in a few days Venus, VERY bright, will be climbing up from the horizon below it, to also serve as a beacon to tell you where to look.

In these first three pictures, the moon is to the upper left of the phallic tree across the street, Mercury on the right side of the tree.

As always, expose for the brightly lit rim of the moon and the rest of the lunar disk is dark, but overexpose just a bit and you start to see the dark portion of the lunar surface illuminated by Earthshine. Finding the right spot in the middle – that’s art.

And then, just before Mercury goes down into the coastal clouds and fog rolling in or behind that tree, move a few feet to the left to find a spot between the trees where you can see them both.

Let’s hope that tomorrow’s clear and a million at sunset as well!

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The Clouds Win – No Supermoon Tonight

In the latest round in the unending battle between the clouds and the wonders of the Universe which they can and will obscure every chance they get, tonight we got this at sunset:

That’s due west right at sunset. Ignore the trees, they aren’t the problem.

Somewhere out there also was the “Pink Super Moon” rising. It’s not just a theory, I know it was there and rising because I have a great deal of faith in celestial mechanics.

But in every direction all you could see were clouds.

There were spots where a bit of fading blue showed through, but there were more places where the cloud deck was thick and threatening.

I saw reports from friends around the LA area that in places it was even starting to rain. (Which, as I said last night, we sorta desperately need, but…)

So no “super moon,” pink or otherwise for us. Just maybe some drizzle so I can shut off the sprinklers for one more night.

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The Dark & The Light

If you’ve seen my pictures of comets and conjunctions and ISS passes and so on you’ll remember that there’s a really bright, annoying, pain in the ass street light right at the south corner of our front yard.

Suddenly, about a week ago, it went out.

That’s it in the lower left, silhouetted in the dim moonlight and light pollution. No idea why, no clue when they’ll be by to fix it.

So, NOW!! Quick!! Before they fix it! Get out the telescope and cameras! (Although the view of Woodland Hills is nice…)

Except that, OF COURSE, every night since it went out has been cloudy and dark and it’s a big deal to kinda, sorta, maybe see the moon poking through the holes.

Who says that the gods don’t have a sense of humor?

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Rising Full Moon – March

It was orange, and about 99% full, and bright, and orange, and right there outside the back window and over the hill and the San Fernando Valley.

The iPhone algorithm wants to make the whole scene bright, so it’s a long exposure and horribly overexposes the moon. The good news is that it saves some of the color.

The “good camera” (Canon Rebel XT DSLR with a 75-300 mm Tamron telephoto lens) set at 75mm does the same thing, but I can override that, manually focus, and so on. I just wish that I had had the time to grab and set up a tripod, but it was a complete spur of the moment opportunity.

But the really good part about digital cameras instead of film is that photons are dirt cheap, so if you shoot enough hundreds of photos in the five minutes you have, statistical fluctuations say that you’ll get one that’s decent. And that’s what I got – one.

I’m going to call that a win.

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