Category Archives: Astronomy

ISS Pass – June 4th

There have been some really great ISS passes over Los Angeles recently, but we’ve usually been clouded out. The one time it was clear I saw a fantastic pass, horizon to horizon – but I messed up the camera settings and got garbage.

Tonight the ISS was rising from a spot where I could easily see it from the back yard, and rising straight up instead of off at an angle. The back yard is MUCH darker than the front, with big areas where all of the street lights in the front are hidden behind the house and garage. So all I had to do was not screw up the camera settings!

(Image from

One second exposures (with a couple of gaps where I lost my rhythm) combined into a single image with StarStax software. You can see how it appeared orange as it came up, the light being filtered sideways through many hundreds of miles of atmosphere, then gradually getting brighter and whiter. The yellowish dot in the far lower right corner is a light on a transformer at the top of a power pole across the street. If you turn up the contrast and flip to view it as a photographic negative:

Now you can clearly see the cypress trees along the driveway on the left and the neighbor’s hedge along the fence at the bottom. It does make me wish I had aimed the camera just a little bit higher and then kept taking pictures just a little bit longer.

But I thought that the ISS had already passed out of the field of view. So I reset the tripod because I wanted to catch the end of the pass. As you can see from the Heavens-Above diagram, just about the time the ISS got to the zenith, 89° overhead, it “vanished,” passing into the Earth’s shadow.

I just caught the last few seconds as it faded. Blue, dimming rapidly to red and then dark. That happens when you’re travelling at 17,150 miles per hour. Sixteen times a day, along with sixteen magnificent sunrises a day.

Another good pass tomorrow, and another on Thursday. Let’s hope for clear skies!

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“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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