Category Archives: Space

Mars Delivers

In case you somehow missed it, here’s what it looks like to land on Mars:

And as if that wasn’t enough, for the first time ever we could hear what the wind sounded like on another planet:

And while that’s the icing on the cake for the clever critters who sent Perseverance, she’s also getting to work, raising her mastcam and antennae, sending panoramas back home so that the scientists can start to see what they want to look at and the drivers can figure out how to safely get there:

It was indeed a day of wonders. Welcome to Mars. Again.

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Incoming From Mars

This afternoon JPL started uploading raw images from Perseverance onto their website here. (There are similar links with literally tens of thousands of raw images on related JPL website pages for Curiosity, Spirit, Opportunity, Insight, Pathfinder…)

There’s also news from a few folks on the inside at JPL that tomorrow’s news conference will be something else indeed:

The image shown there was one of four of the very first images released last Friday. Word on the street (well, tweets from folks who would know) is that tomorrow’s images are going to be legendary. You’ll see them sooner or later even if you don’t watch the press conference live, but why not be there to see it live if you can?

11:00 PT, 14:00 ET, on NASA-TV, YouTube, and probably a number of other places.

Time for the world to change again, this time for the better.

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New Wheels On Mars

It was a good day to land an SUV-sized, two-ton, nuclear-powered robot on Mars. I was properly dressed for the occasion.

These are “EDL socks,” displaying Entry-Descent-Landing, otherwise known as the “Seven Minutes of Terror.”

They’re available from sciencesocks.co – they’re also very comfy.

There’s also an image of the launch from Earth on the back, but I forgot to take a picture of that.

The hat I got from JPL years ago. I actually had to miss the landing live due to a long Zoom call that came up at the last minute (okay, I had it on one monitor with the sound off) and during the call I was referred to as “the guy wearing the baseball cap.” It’s so much more than a baseball cap…

Perseverance is down safe and has started sending back pictures and data. The truly annoying hints from a number of folks at JPL tonight (via Twitter) indicate that they have some truly SPECTACULAR images to share coming up. Keep your eyes open for a press conference in the next day or two.

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ISS Sailing Upwind

On Wednesday night, two nights ago, there was a pretty nice ISS pass scheduled. On the one hand, it was the last good one for a while. On the other hand, it was partially cloudy with a storm moving in and WINDY AS HELL!!! By which I mean that when setting up I twice had to grab the tripod to keep it from going over, and it was set firmly on level ground, not on a slope or with any other issue. And it’s not a cheap, flimsy tripod either.

I wasn’t at all sure that I would even see the ISS at all and I wasn’t having fun out in the wind. But I just (finally!) got some really great results in capturing the ISS, so I wanted to see if I could duplicate them. So, what the heck? Try it! What have I got to lose, right? Disc space and memory are dirt cheap, it’s not like I was shooting on film. So, holding down the tripod with one hand, triggering the remote with the other, hoping that the wind and my holding down the camera wasn’t jiggling everything too much, I set out to see if I got lucky.

Blow that sucker up to full sized to see it in all its glory. ISS is coming from the lower left (you can see it just starting to clear the horizon, actually in the bare branches of the tree across the street) toward the upper right through the cross of Cygnus. If you look at it full-sized you can also tell which way is north by comparing the start trails (almost five minutes long) on the left and on the right. North is to the right – the star trails there are much shorter since they’re near the pole.

Swinging around to the north, we see the ISS fading toward the horizon and fading to black in the very last frame. And speaking of star trails (there’s only about a minute’s worth in this picture) that bright star right near the start of the ISS trail is Polaris, the north star. It’s not trailing at all, because as the Earth spins it appears to stand still in the sky. But all of the stars around it will trail, some that way, some this, all in a circle around Polaris.

Another thing I noticed:

In this individual frame the ISS is crystal clear, as is the roof on the house across the street, and the telephone pole on the left. The image is in focus. But those tall palm trees in the lower center? Nope, they were whipping all over the place during this five-second exposure and they’re blurry as hell.

Ditto for this single frame looking north. Telephone pole and our roof in good, sharp focus. The cedar trees were having and E-ticket night with those winds.

I guess that I’m glad I gave it shot!

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ISS Pass – January 17th

This came out SOOOOOO GREAT!!

Okay, following the near heart attack from today’s Chiefs playoff game (if you don’t know or care, our MVP All-Star got injured, we won anyway but it was close) and “everything else,” I noticed that there was a nice ISS pass tonight. And it was clear and a million. Time to play with the wide-angle lens.

(Image from Heavens-Above.com)

Rise in the southwest, well after sunset, nice and high and bright, right past the shoulder of Orion, fade to yellow-orange-red-dark as the ISS goes into night right next to Castor and Pollux in Gemini.

So, first of all, the wide-angle lens. Unlike the telephoto lens (70-300 mm) and the replacement normal lens (I got it a couple years ago when the 15+ year old original lens started to break down – 18-55mm zoom just like the ones that normally ship with the Canon DSLRs) this one has a great reputation for astrophotography since it has a very well calibrated hard stop to focus at infinity. If you need the back story, look back through the astrophotos here for the past year where I’ve whined and bitched about how the focus for astrophotography on the other two lenses can be a crap shoot. It’s been very frustrating.

I used the telephoto for all of the Great Conjunction photos and I’m at least at a truce with it where I can make it work. But that “normal” lens? What a pain. It was time to try out this wide-angle lens.

Oh. My. God. I might just be in love.

Here’s one 5-second exposure from the sequence. The ISS is that streak departing the frame at the upper left after having entered right by the telephone pole in the lower right. The bright white light in the middle right is the moon. Just below the center right of the picture is the idiot streetlight, along with all of the lens flares coming up from it. And just above the light is a streak from a jet coming out of LAX.

But blow it up – click on the image to see it full sized. See how all of those stars are perfectly in focus pinpoints??!!! Just off the left edge, partially in the tree is Orion. You can even see that the middle star in the “sword” is a nebula, not a star. Just above and to the right of the ISS streak is the “V” of Taurus, and above and to the right of that is the Pleiades cluster. (I can also see the next thing I need to work on to improve the image even more, but I’ll leave the details for later. Let’s just say that I’ve never had a series of images so good that that particular flaw was visible, but now that I do I’m pretty sure I know how to get rid of it…)

I am very pleased!

Then I put 39 consecutive 5-second images together using StarStax…

BLOW IT UP AND SEE IT IN ALL OF ITS GLORY!!

There’s the ISS coming from the lower right to the upper left, and that outbound LAX jet coming from bottom to top. The moon and stars are all trailing since they got picked up on every single image over the course of three minutes and fifteen seconds and the planet was rotating. But LOOK AT HOW SHARP THOSE STAR TRAILS ARE!!

So, this is something I like a lot. At the same time, it points toward the next steps.

First, fix that little issue with the nature of digital cameras, fairly easy, and I’m pretty sure I can do it in Photoshop. I’ve seen the tutorial, I just have to find it again.

Secondly, mount the camera on the telescope now that I have it working again also. Not to use the telescope as a honkin’ huge telephoto lens, not at all what’s needed for this application. I need that wide-angle view! But mount the camera on the telescope and then have the equatorial mount compensate for the Earth’s motion while I’m taking the 3+ minutes of images, so all of those star images line up. The last time I did that and had it working I was using my Olympus OM-1 camera and shooting on slide film.

This might be the end of some of the frustration and the start of some fun!

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The Moon’s Back!

Well, actually it’s front, since that’s the only side we see from here…

Tired and stupid Dad jokes! Because I’m a tired and stupid dad! (Why does “tired and stupid” sound correct but “stupid and tired” doesn’t?)

And ZOOM! It’s not just for tired and stupid working from home meetings any more! The Moon’s that tiny little crescent near the horizon? So, ZOOM!

It’s amazing, it’s back here (more or less, for various values of “here”) every four weeks! And it’s much more fun to see here in the evening than it is to get up pre-dawn and see it curved the other way about six days earlier. (Or twenty-two days later.) Pre-dawn astronomy is only for particularly special events, like comets, or eclipses, or once-in-a-lifetime alien mothership visitations!

 

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The Great Conjunction – December 30th

I had none of this planned. It’s simply worked out that way. I don’t know if it’s a sign. It might be. Probably not. I’m not sure I believe in signs. I’m not sure I don’t.

Getting pretty low, moving faster now. Any earlier and it’s too light. Any later and they’re down in those trees.

One last look before we move on and see what 2021 has to offer. Io and Europa are in the upper left but so close to Jupiter that you can’t really spot them. A bit of haze in our atmosphere tonight and the resolution disappears. Callisto and Ganymede in the lower right, with Saturn a billion miles further away.

(Image from Sky & Telescope JupiterMoons app)

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The Great Conjunction – December 29th

Lower, brighter, separating…

…but, damn! I am loving how these look now that I’m smarter about using my equipment!

Click it, zoom in on those moons!

(Image from Sky & Telescope JupiterMoons app)

Got all four of them! Nice and sharp for this gear.

Remember, if you’ve got clear skies you can see Jupiter and Saturn in the evening twilight for another week, maybe ten days. Go, look!

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The Great Conjunction – December 25th

Merry Christmas, y’all!

I hope that everyone had a safe, fun, perhaps even wonderful day. I know that many of us wanted more than just about anything to be with family and friends today, but chose instead to stay home and be safe. Thank you for that, not just for everyone else who might have been kept safe by that decision, but because YOU might have been kept safe by that decision. It sucks, but next year will be better. We’re already making our plans and if you’re safe now, you’ll be around and healthy to make your plans for Christmas 2021.

It was pretty much clear and a million here all day, right up until about sunset. Even then, about 2/3 of the sky was clear, but to the west…

Very pretty, but if you’re familiar with the pictures from the last several weeks, right in between those two sets of wires and right above that biggest tree – and right behind those clouds! – is where Jupiter and Saturn are.

The clouds were moving, coming from the west in bands. Sometimes Jupiter, being very bright, would pop through.

But even if you could see Jupiter, Saturn was tough. It doesn’t take much of a cloud layer to wipe it out. So I tried to be patient, wait out their imminent setting, and shoot through the thinner clouds between the heavier cloud bands.

Patience paid off, sort of. Not excellent, but given the conditions, acceptable. You can see that Saturn is now below Jupiter, closer to the Sun, after starting a couple weeks ago up above it.

The haze and high clouds made it tough to see Jupiter’s moons. That halo around Jupiter is from the clouds, and it wipes out what should be a clear view of all four Galilean moons. (Click to see full-sized image.)

(Image from Sky & Telescope’s JupiterMoons app.)

Ganymede? Check. Europa? (Um, maybe, not really?) Io? (Maybe just barely outside of Jupiter’s glow?) Callisto? Check. Okay, two of the four for sure.

Were they there to be seen? Yes, most certainly. I had pulled the telescope out as well and I could clearly see all four moons. The human eye is GREAT in high dynamic range situations and finding detail.

Here as well, the moons are wiped out by the haze in trying to take a picture with my iPhone through the telescope lens. But look how far apart they are compared to four days ago at conjunction! Tonight was probably the last night that they’ll be visible together through my medium magnification eyepiece. (This picture and the next one are flipped top to bottom so they match the views seen above – Jupiter on top, Saturn on the bottom.)

Shoot enough pictures fast enough and you might get lucky – this was the best for tonight. Saturn’s definitely elongated, almost sorta-ish able to see the rings (which were clearly visible through the eyepiece to the naked eye) and through the haze, you can also almost sorta-ish see three of Jupiter’s moons.

Remember, another week to two weeks or more to see these gems in the sunset sky. They’re moving apart, but they’re still beautiful.

If you don’t have clouds.

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The Great Conjunction – December 22nd & The Clouds Return

We had a good run! What was it, eight days in a row of clear and a million-ish? Including yesterday, the actual day of the conjunction?

But by this afternoon, it looked iffy.

By this evening, it looked doubtful.

And by forty-five minutes after sunset, when I normally start shooting?

There were a couple of minutes when I could just barely spot Jupiter through the clouds using binoculars, but I never saw Saturn at all, and I never saw Jupiter with the naked eye. The clouds were just too thick, and getting worse.

Now it looks like we might get clouds and even some rain (which we desperately need!) over the next few days. We’ll see.

In the meantime, y’all can keep your eyes peeled for clear skies in your neighborhood. Just after sunset – look to the southwest – better with binoculars – going to be around until mid-January, slowly pulling apart but still beautiful.

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