Category Archives: Space

Forty-One Hour Old Moon

I don’t know that I’ve kept strict records, but this has got to be about the earliest I’ve ever seen the new moon. One day, sixteen hours, fifty-nine minutes as of the middle of this series of photos – forty-one hours, give or take.

I saw it first through binoculars – it was so faint in the still illuminated sunset sky that it was another ten minutes before I could see it with the naked eye.

As light as the sky was and as dim as the moon was, there was very little contrast between them.

In a minute though, Venus popped out, still fairly high in the sky. (Remember Venus?) I ran to get the other camera, since they were still fairly far apart.

Venus in the upper left, the moon just above the tree tops at the lower right. (Click to enlarge.)

Contrast got a touch better as it got darker, but the moon was still very close to the sun, which meant it was setting soon after the sun, before it could get very dark.

Tomorrow night it will be higher, closer to Venus, still up when it’s darker. And we start the cycle over again.

Go check it out!

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Mars At Closest Approach

Yep, there it is!

(Click to embiggenate!)

Looking very bright, very red. Beautiful, along with Venus (which set about an our after sunset), Jupiter (still up fairly high and bright), Saturn (about halfway between Mars and Jupiter), and the moon (rising an hour or so after Mars tonight).

This was the biggie tonight, the closest Mars will be to Earth in decades! If you missed it, if it was cloudy, if you just had to work, well…

…it will all (except for the moon) look about 99.99% EXACTLY THE SAME tomorrow night. And the night after that, and the night after that, and the night after that…

So if you missed it, if it was cloudy, if you just had to work, then go look tomorrow, or next week, or whenever it’s clear and you’re free. The moon’s position in the sky moves significantly from night to night (28 days to go all the way from full to new back to full, so 360°/28 = 12.8° a day, or roughly 1/14th of the distance from horizon to horizon per day) but while the planets move, it’s really rare for them to move very quickly.

Enjoy. Take the time to find someone like me with a telescope and ask nice if they can take a look. Get even a decent pair of binoculars to see Mars’ disk and the Galilean moons of Jupiter.

Don’t do clickbait. Ignore the websites that say “TODAY!” is the day like Mars suddenly appears out of a dark sky for 24 hours and then vanishes.

T’ain’t so. Be smarter than clickbait. Spread the word!


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Post-Eclipse Full Moon Rising

Earlier today there was a spectacular lunar eclipse, the longest one of the century. In North America, we saw none of it because it happened in the middle of the afternoon from our viewpoint, which means we were on the sunny side of the the planet, not the moony side.

We’ve seen our share of lunar eclipses over the years – I’ve got pictures here and here. But not today.

Yet when the full moon came up an hour or so ago, it was still a deep shade of orange and red. WHAT DARK SORCERY IS THIS??!!

Similar look and effect, different cause. The eclipse makes the moon look red and orange and dark because it’s passing into the shadow of the Earth. Los Angeles and Southern California saw the moon look red and orange and dark because we’re seeing it through clouds of smoke from some large brush fires off to the east.

I found my tripod, so the pictures are better. Some of the “blobs” on these images aren’t lunar, but leaves and branches as the moon rises and we’re looking through the trees from our back yard.

It most certainly is a pretty sight. This evening during dinner one of the big hawks came and perched out in the open on one of these branches. I decided to sit and eat dinner instead of jumping up and grabbing the camera. This may or may not indicate “progress.”

As the moon got up a bit the extent of the smoke and haze became apparent. We haven’t seen the mountains in a couple of days, but given what the folks in the fire zones are dealing with all over the state, we’re good.

I hope you got to see the eclipse if you’re on the other side of the planet and the skies were clear!


Filed under Astronomy, Castle Willett, Photography, Space

Front Yard Star Party

Front Yard Star Parties – They’re Not Just For The Weekend Any More!

Even though it was Tuesday, I had the scope out tonight. The Long-Suffering Wife had been talking about our previous views of the moon and Jupiter last week and had invited over a few friends to take a gander – and to show off the new house as well. (It was a two-fer!)

It’s a little later in the month so the moon is still low in the east at sundown, so setting up the scope by the house or in the back yard wasn’t going to work. But down by the end of the driveway we could peek over the house and see the moon between the trees.

Even before sundown, even with the sky not yet dark at all, the moon was gorgeous.

Even with just a quickie photo using my iPhone held up to the eyepiece.

Our friends that showed up enjoyed the viewing quite a bit – hard to say if it was the adults or the kids who liked it more. Once it got dark the moon was fantastic to look at, Jupiter clearly was showing a few prominent cloud bands and all four Galilean moons were strung out in a line and clearly visible. But the show stealer was that “little star” right next to the moon – turns out that was Saturn, rings visible clearly.

The the neighbor family with the three dogs wandered by – EVERYBODY had a good time and got an eyeful!

There’s nothing like hearing the oohs and aahs of people looking through a telescope and seeing Jupiter or Saturn or sunrise on the rim of Grimaldi for the first time!

We’re gonna call this one a big success, despite a few high clouds, that tree that tried to keep getting in the way, the 90° and humidity even an hour after sunset, and all of the bugs.


Filed under Astronomy, Castle Willett, Photography, Space

Venus & Luna Part Ways (For This Month)

Two days ago the moon was about a hand’s-width below Venus at Sunset.

Yesterday they were right next to each other.


It’s almost like the Earth isn’t flat, space is really really big and ruled by laws of physics that we can figure out, and that if you use that really fancy math (using ALL of your toes and fingers, and maybe some of your friends’ as well) you could predict this.

Who’d a thunk it?

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Conjunction Sunset – July 15th

As I “warned” you last night, tonight Venus and the Moon were at conjunction in the sunset skies. (I realize I keep using terms that might not be familiar to some folks – a “conjunction” is just when two celestial objects come close to one another from our point of view as one or both of them are moving about in their orbits.)

Tonight I brought the telescope out into the front yard for the first time at the new house.

We’re having that good LA “heat wave” weather where it’s pretty much clear as a bell, no coastal clouds this early in the evening, and no brush fires (yet!) filling the skies with smoke.

Even I was surprised at how soon after sunset you could see both the crescent moon and Venus.

As it started to get dark, I was hoping that some of our new neighbors might mosey by to see what the new weirdo on the block had in his driveway. Sadly, none did.

The close conjunction was stunning to see with the naked eye. Through the telescope Venus was a bit over half illuminated, where the moon looked as amazing as always. With the terminator (the line between night and day) so close to the limb of the moon, the contrasts and shadows really bring out a lot of detail and depth.

Through the telephoto lens (a Tamron 70-300 zoom on a Canon Rebel xTi) you could see both the moon and Venus together. Exposures were a pain because that thin slice of the moon is so bright compared to everything else, but you can see a touch of detail.

I also looked at Jupiter and its moons, and tried briefly (in vain) to find a couple Messier galaxies in the haze near the moon and the horizon. Then one of the local neighborhood cats stopped by, mainly I suspect to see if I had any food. I didn’t, it left, and the mosquitoes came.

Before I packed up I decided to try again to see if I could just hold the iPhone camera up to the lens of the telescope and take a picture. What’s the worst that could happen?

Turns out that can work okay!

Tomorrow night the moon will be well above Venus. Next month when the meet again Venus will have started back toward the Sun and when the Moon is near they’ll be barely above the horizon less than an hour after sunset. There may be very little to be seen from here due to that big peak over there. We’ll see.

I hope you got to see the conjunction tonight! If you didn’t and you have a chance, go see it tomorrow, even if the Moon will have moved up away from Venus a bit. It will still look brilliant and awesome!


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Venus & Luna Are At It Again!

Those two! Talk about your monthly meetups! It’s almost like it was foretold in the stars or something.

Star crossed lovers! (HAH!)

Sorry. (David Attenborough voiceover: “He was NOT sorry.”)

Ahem. Where were we? Oh, yes…

The moon having gone around a full month since last month’s encounter, and Venus still being big and bright in the sunset sky, and all of them staying more or less on or near the ecliptic since there’s that whole physics and Newtonian mechanics and Kelperian orbits thing going on, the two very bright and very pretty planetary bodies are converging into a conjunction once again.

By the time that I got out there, the moon was very near the horizon, it was getting nice and dark, and this is a pretty decent representation of what it looked like to the naked eye. Except, of course, to the naked eye it was AWESOME!

If all you do is glance at the moon, you see the crescent.

With a decent telephoto lens, as seen above, you can see some detail and craters, particularly along the terminator line.

But if you take your time and let your eyes adjust to the darkness, you can see quite a bit of detail on the “dark” surface of the moon, illuminated by sunlight reflected off of the Earth and then back to your eyes. It’s called “Earthshine.”

(Someday I’ll figure out how to get rid of that annoying internal reflection that mirrors any bright object in an otherwise dim picture – but this is not that day.)

Now that I’ve found that tripod that I was bitching about all through June, I can take longer exposures without a lot of blurring. Sort of like this one, which might be already one of my favorite picture I’ve ever taken:

Click on it to view it in full screen. It’s not überfantastic or likely to get me invited to work at NASA or JPL next week (although if any offers come in I’m more than ready to discuss them!) but even with simple 2.5 second exposure on a tripod, a number of bright stars started showing up in the image.

So I went hunting and web surfing to ID some of them.

The bright star midway between Venus and the Moon is Regulus, or Alpha Leonis. “Alpha Leonis” means it’s the brightest star in the constellation Leo. (The second brightest would be Beta Leonis, the third brightest would be Gamma Leonis, and so on.) Regulus is about 77 light years away and is at least a quadruple-star system.

I’ve also tagged (hopefully correctly, but if you lose Final Jeopardy betting on my accuracy it’s your own damn fault) Eta (η) Leonis, Gamma (γ) Leonis, Epsilon (ε) Leonis, and Rho (ρ) Leonis. (This also just gave me a really good excuse to spend the last half hour teaching myself how to enter those Greek letters as HTML code into my WordPress document, which is probably not nearly as much of a “waste of time” as my anal brain would like to be telling me it is. “Play” – I recommend it!)

You’ll notice that some of these stars also have other names. For example, Gamma (γ) Leonis is also known (“commonly” or not) as Algieba. Many star names of today come from Arabic since Arabic astronomers dominated the field while Europe was in the Dark Ages for a few hundred years. Other civilizations have all had their own names for all of the bright stars (Algieba was known in Chinese as 軒轅十二 , i.e., the Twelfth Star of Xuanyuan, who was some Chinese deity dude) but most of the Arabic names have stuck.

You’ll also see a couple of stars named “HR 3980” and “HR 4035” – these are stars which didn’t rate Arabic or Chinese or Greek names, so instead they’re stuck with boring, precise, antiseptic names from our modern society. (As I’m typing this, Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” is playing on the Saturday Night Safety Dance – “Science! Science! Science!” from the extended play disco version is probably an appropriate response to “HR 3980.”) When you see a stellar designation like this it will refer to a catalog of some sort, in this case the Harvard Revised Photometry Catalogue. (“Science! Science! Science!”)

Keep an eye on the sunset sky over the next couple of nights, tomorrow night in particular! Tomorrow night the moon will be very close to Venus and


(Okay, yeah, I had to go do a quick search to see what the HTML code for that is as well. Let the “screwing with the way the web site looks” begin!!)


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