Category Archives: Astronomy

Planets After Sunset

Once again, serendipity rears its ugly head!

A long day at the hangar meant that I was leaving just after sunset with a crystal clear (windy, dry, high fire danger) sky and a gorgeous sunset.

Not only was the gradient stunning, but so were those two bright planets!

That’s Jupiter on top (leaving the evening sky) and Venus on the bottom (entering it). I knew that Mercury might be seen under the right conditions, but was pretty sure that it had either set by this time or was really close to the horizon in the glare and probably not a naked-eye object.

So I checked.

(Image from StarWalkHD for the iPad)

Yeah, Mercury is last week’s news, already on the other side of the Sun, setting before it does. But…

Saturn’s up? I must have forgotten that.

I don’t see it in the photos above, but then, those photos had had the exposure shortened so they would closely resemble what I saw my eye was seeing. I had started by taking a couple of photos and letting the iPhone expose them, which meant they looked way too bright and the colors were all off. But with a longer exposure, maybe…

Click on the image, blow it up to full sized, then look to the upper left, just like in the StarWalk image.

See it?

How about now?

I would note for the record that, according to that image, Pluto is out there just above and to the left of Saturn. But given that I can’t see it even in a dark sky location with my 8″ telescope, I don’t think the iPhone 8 is pulling that one in.

Maybe I need an iPhone 11 Pro?


Filed under Astronomy, CAF, Photography, Space

Funcle Paul & The Telescope

We still have family in town following the wedding, including a three-year-old who loves stars and moons and planets.

It would be amazing to clean and restore the big telescope and take it out to a dark sky location and show her a whole range of deep sky objects and nebulae and galaxies and globular clusters and telling her all about redshifts and spectroscopy and how Hubble figured out that the universe was so much more immense than anyone had ever dreamed possible and inspiring her for a whole life of wonder and exploration and love of science…

But she’s three.

So dragging the scope out onto the back porch with a dusty mirror in a light polluted city and showing her the crescent moon probably worked just as well.

I am the Funcle.

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Filed under Astronomy, Family

Weekend Gradient & Reflection

The gradient comes from the lovely sunset colors as I was leaving the CAF hangars tonight.

The reflection is a philosophical one, not a photographic one. It comes along with two probably contradictory lessons.

John Scalzi has said, “The failure mode of ‘clever’ is ‘asshole.’” While I’ve agreed with this for years, it never came home quite so personally as today, when I in a moment that I regretted thirty seconds later, tried to make a joke which sounded much more clever in my head than it came out of my mouth.

This was not the world’s worst faux pas by any means, but it did leave a couple of people looking at me like, “Huh? Was that supposed to be funny?” It bothered me the more I thought about it all day.

The second, related, lesson is, “Don’t beat yourself up unnecessarily.” Before I left I went and found the person who I had made the comment to and apologized. Their response was, “Huh? What are you talking about?” I thought for a minute that I was hallucinating or something, had to remind them of where it was and who they were talking to and what I had said before they said (in essence), “Oh, that? Nothing wrong with that, was there? Didn’t give it a second thought.”

This is not to say that if you stick your foot in your mouth and truly do say something that portrays you to be an asshole that you shouldn’t repent and sincerely apologize and attempt to make amends. (Are you listening, GOP?) But before you beat yourself up all day for being offensive, make sure you actually offended someone.

Finally, if you take a longer, handheld exposure with the iPhone, can you see Jupiter at the upper left, near the edge of the picture? Yes. Yes you can.


Filed under Astronomy, CAF, Photography, Space

REALLY Full Tonight

And I got out the good camera for the occasion.

Remember I said you could see Griffith Observatory? It’s over to the right from this view. This is the big peak in Griffith Park, with the Hollywood sign just on the far side to the right of that radio/TV tower. (Click on the image to view it full sized.)

Ooooh, looky what I found! Just five hours short of full, that’s about 99.99% illuminated and coming up through the evening haze.

Play with the exposure time and you get some detail, craters and “oceans.”

Remember that hill and radio tower?

You could almost reach out and touch it.

Pull back a little bit and you can see the lights coming on across the San Fernando Valley.

Looking for the owl. (Didn’t see, or hear, him.)

Is that a dot in the upper left, at about the 10:00 position? No, that would be a plane taking off out of Burbank! I was shooting a series of bracketed shots and you can clearly see the plane coming up from the lower left, going in front of the moon…

…and then taking off a bit to the upper right before looping back around to cross over Van Nuys Airport and head north toward Northern California or the Pacific Northwest. (I’ve taken that takeoff many a time!)

Lots of hubbub online about “a full moon on Friday the Thirteenth!!” Give me a break. Just enjoy the beautiful moon and the view – you don’t need anything more than that.

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Filed under Astronomy, Los Angeles, Photography, Space

Luna Rising

Do you see it?

Way out there, on the horizon. If you have binoculars you can see Griffith Observatory. Right over it.

It’s not quite full – that’s still fifteen hours away, at 21:33 PDT. But it’s 99% illuminated, so the casual observer wouldn’t notice.

The the naked eye it leaps out at you – the iPhone camera takes a bit of coaxing to reveal it. Then again, the iPhone camera didn’t evolve over a few hundred million years out in the Serengeti, where the light of the full moon could give an advantage to predator – or prey.

It’s cleared the hills down there in the haze.

99%? Close enough.

Time to howl!

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Filed under Astronomy, Castle Willett, Photography, Space

ISS Pass – August 06th

It’s been a few weeks, and while there have been some nice passes earlier this week, seems that this “adulting” thing has gotten out of control and I’ve had no time to “waste” on things like looking at the night sky.

I fixed that tonight.

The only question was whether I could remember all the lessons I taught myself again last month.

(Image from – why aren’t you using them?)

  • Prep and know where I’ll be looking (NE as the ISS is rising, almost due west as it sets, going past the bowl of the Big Dipper, past Lyra near the zenith)
  • Know in advance how big the frame is so I know when to switch to the next setup
  • Set the lens wide open (f 3.5)
  • Set the exposure length (5 seconds)
  • Set the focus
  • Lock the focus so the camera doesn’t try to auto-focus and ruin everything on the first shot
  • Start shooting early and finish late


(Images combined using StarStaX software.)

Like a boss! There’s the Big Dipper and while the view to the west is just a quarter shade too bright in five-second exposures, it’s not bad. The ISS came up out of that tree exactly where I thought it would. The Southwest Airlines 737 into Burbank on the other hand was not listed on

Timing was perfect. I “wasted” six pictures (30 seconds) before the first frame that showed the ISS and I shot only two pictures after the ISS departed the upper right corner of the frame.

Flip to the next position, take your time, set it up. Think for a second – is the ISS headed exactly where you thought it was going to go? Maybe make the tiniest of adjustments to the left. And….action!

Just about perfect! I shot two pictures prior to the ISS entering the upper left and two more after it had set in the lower right.

There were a few clouds down over Hollywood and downtown LA, but not enough to make a huge difference. Click on the picture to blow it up to full size (I’m giving you the full-sized, no-compression image, so use it!) and you can see that the ISS was fading into shadow on the last few frames.



Do you see the surprise bonus? That other track, going from the middle right (due south) to the upper left (due north) would be a polar satellite that I caught by accident!

I’ll take it. I might actually have this thing down.

Now to figure out how to do it with the camera mounted on my telescope mount tracking the stars – that would keep the stars from trailing. (The trees and ground will blur, but not the stars.)

Next goal!!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

ISS Pass – July 19th

Good planning.

I knew exactly where it was going to rise, where it was going to set, how high it was going to be. (Thanks, Heavens Above!)

I knew where the edge of the frame was. (Just past that honkin’ big tree, good landmark!)

I knew where to move the camera when it exited the frame so that I could see where it was going to go over the horizon to the northeast while being in the shadow of the telephone pole to block the light from that street light.

Check the focus.

It’s earlier and the sky’s brighter than it’s been the last couple of days, so go back to one second exposures instead of five seconds. Can I do two second exposures? Maybe, but don’t push your luck, stick with what has worked.

Trust the data.

Trust the plan.

I was ready.

Go ahead, click on that image and enlarge it! Look down there in the lower left corner where the first three or four dozen dots are almost lost in the coastal haze out over Malibu. Trust the data, indeed. There it is in the first frame, just peeking over the neighbor’s roof, exactly where I expected it to be! Then look up in that upper right corner, where on frame #6085 it’s just leaving the frame…

…and 24 seconds later, having moved the camera and lined it up, frame #6086 shows it coming into the frame here in the upper left! Nailed it!

One thing I wanted to see the picture for because it was really obvious to the eye – look at the bottom center where the ISS is just about to go over the horizon. See how throughout its path it’s about the same brightness, fading just a little as it got into the haze off toward Bakersfield? But just about there it got noticeably brighter for about 12 seconds? The data’s there. It happened.

My guess is that, being at the end of the daylight portion of the orbit, the big solar panels were maneuvering into position to pick up the sun coming around on the other side and in doing so they flared. Just my guess, but it fits.

The only downside tonight was that the focus was just a tiny little bit off. Not much, but enough to be a little annoying since almost everything else was perfect.

It’s been a great week for ISS passes here in LA!


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space