Category Archives: Space

Ice Rings

I went outside to take out the trash, grateful that it had stopped raining, even though it was cold. (As always, that’s “LA cold,” not “real cold.” In other words, 51°, not 11°!) Once I got out I could see that it wasn’t as dark as I had expected, with some moonlight and the clouds breaking up a bit after a week or so of steady rain.

Between the cold, the moon, and the layers of icy, high level clouds, there was the most amazing colored 360° moonbow surrounding the moon overhead.

The cellphone doesn’t do a spectacular job on this type of photo, mainly because of the extreme contract in brightness and the lack of anything solid to focus on.

But you can get an idea of the moonbow. Not as vivid as a rainbow’s colors, but still quite beautiful!

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Venus & Jupiter

As we saw about a week ago, we have a couple of bright planets in our western sky at sunset. Jupiter’s motion is taking it toward the sun from our viewpoint, so it will be heading toward the morning sky in early 2020. But Venus’s motion has it going the other way, heading toward greatest elongation on March 25, 2020. Tonight as their paths converged was their conjunction, or closest approach.

See them there in the sunset, below the wires and above the trees across the street? (Plus Saturn above the wires to their upper left – see comments below about where it’s going.)

They stand out to the eye at sunset, both very bright. Venus is in the lower left, Jupiter in the upper right.

You might have to move around a bit to get a good view between any buildings, trees, or other obstacles on your horizon. If you can get a pair of binoculars, they’ll be amazing looking and you should easily be able to see some of the Galilean moons around Jupiter.

Through the telephoto lens you can lose the perspective with the ground, but you might be able to see Venus as a crescent and detail on Jupiter.

As for those aforementioned Galilean moons, if you take the picture above and click on it to see it full sized, you can see a hint of them being captured. In a line on about a 45° angle, a couple of pixels to the upper left, one on the lower right…

Here’s what it looks like on my monitor.

Here’s the big thing that I’m always repeating at events like these, especially since so much coverage comes from pathetic click-bait run websites – THIS WASN’T AN EVENT THAT ONLY HAPPENED SUNDAY NIGHT!

If you didn’t get to see Jupiter and Venus tonight, go look tomorrow night, or any time the rest of the month, or even into early December! The two planets will be moving further apart from one another from our perspective, but Jupiter will be clearly visible (moving closer and closer to the horizon every day after sunset) until at least December 5th or 7th or even later if you have a clear horizon and dark skies.

Even after that, Venus will be getting higher in the sky every night after sunset until March 25th, and will still be visible through the end of May! Plus, Saturn!

Look at that first picture in this post, the wide angle one – see that dot way up above the phone wires, over to the left a bit from Jupiter and Venus, sort of above the TV antenna on the neighbor’s house? That’s Saturn, trailing behind Jupiter on its way toward our morning sky. It will be passing Venus the week of December 9th, in about two weeks. So watch for a repeat of this sort of spectacle in your evening sky.

Get out there, folks!

These are not things that *BANG!!*, happen, and they’re gone. To be clear, some astronomical events are – eclipses, for example, or occultations where a star, planet, comet, or asteroid disappears behind the moon, planet, or asteroid. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Events related to the planets moving around in the sky drag out over WEEKS! Today might be the closest – but they were close yesterday and they’ll be close tomorrow.

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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?

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Filed under Astronomy, CAF, Photography, Space

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.

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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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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

EMHE Build – Day One

Up at 3:00, onsite at 5:00, out in 102° heat for nine and a half hours, an hour-plus drive home, then a couple hours of dealing from home with other emergencies on the site. And tomorrow I get to do it again.

But the bus was there for the big kickoff…

Lest you believe that I’m a hard core, card carrying curmudgeon with no soul who’s incapable of finding any good in a tough situation (which BTW has a very high probability of being 100% correct) I would note that there are very early morning ISS passes this week. I was able to easily spot this morning’s pass in the dawn’s early light and showed a handful of co-workers and volunteers who had arrived early. And tomorrow I get to do THAT again as well.

These may be the first morning ISS passes I’ve ever seen!

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