Category Archives: Space

Moments Of Zen

It was windy. A pretty steady 20+ knots with gusts to 30+. The wind chimes were working overtime.

And dry. The hummingbird feeders were empty and Little Bastard was pissed. Every time I went out into the back yard he was buzzing me, reminding me that the feeders were empty. I finally took them down, cleaned them, and put more nectar in them.

After dark the clouds and fog of the past several evenings were gone (of course!) and our three current planetary visitors were still lined up nicely.

For those of you needing an assist to ID them:

Keep breathing, folks.

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Filed under Astronomy, Birds, Critters, Photography, Space, Video, Weather

DART Launch From Vandenberg

It’s launch night out of Vandenberg again, but we had a fair amount of clouds and fog forming to our west. We’re about 130 miles from Vandenberg, and if the weather cooperates, we can see the launches very clearly. Tonight wasn’t going to be that night. But I took the setup on a tripod out to the front yard anyway, just in case.

Good move.

It wasn’t as great as when the weather’s “clear and a million,” but it was more than I expected to see!

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Last Night’s 97% Lunar Eclipse

Did you see it?

Here in LA I thought that I might not see it at all, given the clouds that were moving in earlier in the evening, but they were scattered around 23:00 when the umbral eclipse started

But, you deal with what you have been dealt, right? So here’s the first 30 minutes or so of the eclipse from the good camera, shooting thorough the cloud layer about every 6-7 minutes, focusing as best I could (which, frankly, is marginal):

Focus getting worse? Well, yes, because in addition to the high clouds, the fog was starting to roll in off of the coast and out of Ventura County to the west. So it was getting really damp, dew was forming on the lens, and no matter how much I tried to keep it dry and clear, I was getting to this:

Now, I was also running two other cameras including a good video camera, and that stayed clear of dew and condensation another hour or so until the fog completely wiped out the view right around maximum totality at 01:02. I may be able to pull some decent still images off of that. Later. Maybe.

As for the other camera, it was just an old iPhone that I put into time-lapse mode, and that actually turned out sort of cool!

So I gave the photography and video my best shot, but it was what it was. Aside from that, it was (as always!) really neat and interesting to watch the Moon disappear and see a demonstration of celestial mechanics right there in my own front yard!

Did you get to see it?

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22º Halo

I went out this evening to check out the clouds. They’re moving in, which is BAD for Thursday night. (More about that in a bit.) The eleven-day-old moon is bright, but between it and the clouds…

There’s that full 22º halo around the moon, the result of the moonlight being refracted through layers of ice crystals high in the atmosphere.

The long lines on the right are aircraft contrails. It’s very pretty and all, but those clouds are expected to stick around and get worse for a few days.

The problem with that is that there’s an almost total lunar eclipse on Thursday night/Friday morning. It’s over three hours long, with mid-eclipse at about 01:00 here in California. It’s a long one, well over three hours, and pretty much anywhere in North America you’ll have a good chance of seeing it.

But only if it’s not totally obscured by clouds. Obviously.

We’ll see what Thursday night brings for Los Angeles. Tonight all I can see is the moon and (just barely) Jupiter. If this was Thursday night I would be seeing a reddish ring and not much else. Let’s hope for better in 48 hours.

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First Orion Sighting

Orion is a favorite constellation of mine. It’s bright, it’s easy to see and identify, and with nothing more than a decent pair of binoculars the Orion Nebula (the middle star in the “sword”) is an easy catch.

Tonight was the first time this fall that I’ve seen Orion. I knew that it had been rising late in the evening for a few weeks. But from the back yard there are trees everywhere, blocking the view. In addition, we’ve had a lot of fog and clouds for the last week or two.

Tonight was clear and I went out front, across the street, to finally see it rising. More than Halloween or the end of Daylight Saving Time, seeing Orion for the first time is my sign that autumn is here and winter’s around the corner.

Your next clear night, before you go to bed, go take a look at Orion. Tell it I sent you.

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Half The Solar System At A Glance

Yesterday I took a couple of quick photos with my phone of the after-sunset display of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mars lined up across the sky. Tonight I got out the good cameras.

At first in the twilight Saturn was hard to find, but the rest were bright.

As it got darker, Saturn popped out and I started playing with exposures and the limited zoom options available.

I was using the “light bucket” wide angle lens that I love so. With settings of 11mm to 16mm, it’s more of a “wide angle” and “really, really wide angle” lens.

Fortunately, that flaky street light at the bottom was having an “off” night, as it were. In addition, the neighborhood owls were out, calling back and forth. Delightful!

This is probably the best representation of what it looked like to the naked eye. It was starting to get a bit hazy. If you happened to see the Sunday Night Football game with the Rams from Inglewood (about 30 miles just to the left of this view, on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains and down by LAX in the Los Angeles Basin) you would have noticed the fog that was rolling in off the coast. We’re getting it here later, but it takes a couple hours to build up and spill over the mountains into the valley.

Switching to the 300mm telephoto lens we have the usual image of the crescent moon (with a little bit of detail on the illuminated side) and Venus.

Crank up the exposure and get a little Earthshine.

And just for giggles, I took a 300mm zoom picture of Jupiter. (Click to blow it up to full sized!) It’s got company – the four dots in a row, two on each side, are:

Callisto (outside left), Io (inside left), Jupiter (center), Europa (inside right), and Ganymede (outside right). What Galileo wouldn’t have given for this basic, simple camera and telephoto lens!

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Arc Of Planets

A spur of the moment, handheld photo with the iPhone, so it’s a touch blurry and all, but still…

(click to blow it up, it’s worth it)

And for those of you who aren’t current on your planetary alignments…

I’ve already got the good camera with the “light bucket” lens on the tripod for tomorrow night. The moon should be close to Venus for an even tighter grouping. If it’s clear out in your area, go take a look just after sunset.

Just make sure to remember to account for Daylight Saving Time in the US. And if it’s late in the Chiefs-Packers game, go out during a commercial. (Priorities, folks!)

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Sunsets

It Was A Good Night To Go To Space

SpaceX launched it first Falcon 9 in quite a while out of Vandenberg tonight. Vandenberg’s about 125 miles to the northwest from where I am in Los Angeles, up on the Central California Coast.

There have been some FREAKIN’ SPECTACULAR launches out of Vandyland as seen from LA, particularly when they happen just after sunset and the huge clouds of gas from the rocket catch the fading sunlight…

Tonight’s launch was a little bit later than sunset, so it wasn’t clear what we would see. But what the heck, eh? Let’s get out one of the good video cameras instead of the iPhone, set it up on a tripod…

The audio you hear from SpaceX’s launch webcast is lagging by about 30 seconds behind what’s really happening. So you see the rocket start to come over the horizon behind the mountains to our west and climb toward main engine cut off (MECO). There are a couple of spots where you see it “blank out” for half a second – that’s it going behind the palm trees across the street.

While this video stops after MECO, with binoculars I could watch the second stage go all the way to the southern horizon, by which time it was well to the south of us, probably way down off of Baja.

Next, it’s time to go see a launch. The ULA and NOAA are launching an Atlas V with Landsat 9 soon – it was supposed to be September 12th (good thing it moved back, I’m still swamped), then September 16th (still swamped), and now NET (No Earlier Than) September 23rd (I won’t be swamped!). We’ll see if I can sneak away for a day. That will be even MORE spectacular.

I’ll probably tell you about it if/when it happens…

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Take The Time

We can get way too tied up with work and deadlines and stress, and skip the little things that might only take a minute or two but which can make all the difference in the world to our quality of life and sanity.

Such was the case tonight when I got so caught up that I nearly missed this – Venus in the lower left, the three-day old crescent Moon above, just 4° away.

We got the work done, hit the deadline, it’s satisfying and rewarding – but then I urged others to go outside and look.

They’re smart, good people. They did. You should too.

Seek out the little, beautiful things. Tomorrow night the Moon will have moved, but it will still be beautiful, and if you look up and to your left towards the south and the zenith, you’ll see bright Jupiter, and between Jupiter and the Moon you’ll see Saturn. If you have even a pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to see a couple of Jupiter’s moons, and craters, mountains, and mare on the Moon. If you have even a small telescope you can see the rings of Saturn and maybe Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

But maybe it will be cloudy or raining! So sit in the garage or on the porch and listen to the rain, not just the rain-ish sounding 45-second loop on that meditation or relaxation app.

Or listen to the wind through the trees, or the wind chimes, or the surf on the shore. Even the sounds of traffic on a nearby freeway will sound like surf. (“Ish…”)

Whatever – don’t wait for a rainbow or lightning to see you out. Go searching for the beauty and force yourself to let your shoulders slump, your jaw unclench, you gut to untighten.

C’mon – you did all of that budget re-modeling and you built all of those massive, interlinked Excel files! Surely you can figure out how to relax for a few minutes!

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That Time Of Month Again

Two days past new moon, and the thin, bright, crescent moon is making the evening sky in the west extra beautiful.

Every month there’s a good chance that something else relatively nearby (on an astronomical scale) will be up there with it.

This month it’s Venus, up there to the left. (Ignore the lens reflection of the moon up there on top, it’s an illusion.)

In theory, Mercury’s there right below the moon, about a smidge above the mountain in the lower right corner, but you won’t see it in these images. It’s still way to close to the Sun and will set before it gets dark enough to be seen. If you want to see it, go look back in May when they were all there together and a little higher and closer together.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Sunsets