Category Archives: Space

Total Lunar Eclipse – Totality

When last we saw our plucky hero, he was cursing himself for staying at home where the rising, partially eclipsed full Moon was off behind a whole stand of pine trees. Our intrepid but well-meaning fool was dodging around the yard moving cameras and tripods to try to find holes through the trees to spot the Moon, as well trying to Livestream the whole chaotic mess on Facebook. (It’s still there – scan through the boring parts where I put the phone down to take these pictures, there are bits and pieces that didn’t suck completely!)

As the last bit of bright sunlight fades from the rim of the Moon and totality begins…

…and we see just how dark this eclipse will be. They vary, from being fairly bright to being quite, quite dark. On the darker ones (cause by more dust in the Earth’s atmosphere, blocking sunlight from making it through) the Moon can almost disappear in an urban setting with lots of light pollution. This eclipse was above average brightness.

To bring out the color I go to longer exposures, gathering more photons! Of course, since I wasn’t using my telescope as a humongous telephoto lens (if you thought using a tripod was a pain to use while bobbing and weaving through the branches to find a viewing angle, try it with an 8′ Newtonian on an equitorial mount!) and the camera wasn’t being guided (moving counter to the Earth’s rotation so that the Moon and stars seem to be still in the camera’s field of view) the images tend to blur just a bit.

You can definitely see some of the background stars from the constellations Scorpio and Libra. Once that bright, bright Moon is dimmed down by a factor of a couple thousand, the starts pop right out.

Of course, with the longer, untracked exposures, the background stars blur and trail a bit as well.

This would all be a lot easier to practice if these eclipses happened more than once every few years. Who do I talk to about getting that to happen?

The color was gorgous!

Even in the hazy, light-polluted skies of Los Angeles, this giant, glowing, orange ball in the sky was clearly visible and magnificent!

It’s finally sort of getting out from behind the trees, almost at the edge – and that bottom edge is starting to get awfully bright!

And there we’re done with totality as the bottom edge is awash in bright, reflected sunlight.

From here the brighter section got quickly much larger and more illuminated, while the eclipsed section got steadily smaller and harder to see as anything other than “dark.” After a bit less than an hour, the Moon was back to just being “full” and “incredibly bright.”

Time to wait a few more years for the next total lunar eclipse! Be ready when it comes, they’re pretty predictable, even if the weather won’t be.

 

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Total Lunar Eclipse – Partial

Poor planning. For whatever reason, when I had looked prior to the eclipse at where the Moon was rising and would be, I had it wrong. I thought it would be much easier to see from the back yard. Instead, I was fighting to find holes through the trees all night.

I knew that the Moon would already be in partial eclipse when it rose in Los Angeles. Celestial mechanics are out of my control, but if I had known then what I know now I probably would have packed up all of my gear and gone off to a local park where I had a good, clean, clear, flat, unobstructed view of the east.

C’est le vie!

As it was rising the Moon was orange, but that wasn’t because of the eclipse. That was because the light hitting it was going through a LOT of atmosphere as the sun set on the western horizon. Same thing that makes the sun look orange at sunset. But this Moon was just minutes away from full – it should have been 100% illuminated and round as round can be. Instead, half of it was in the Earth’s shadow, with more slipping into shadow by the minute.

The other effect you see from the Moon being so far down near the horizon and being seen through so much soupy, turbulent air was that it’s lumpy and uneven, distorted by the bubbles of hot air rising off the pavement and buildings of Los Angeles off to the east.

A few minutes later, when the Moon had risen a bit, you could more clearly see that it was still the same old white Moon that we’re used to, but with more and more of its surface covered by the Earth’s shadow.

About ten minutes before totality began, if I exposed for the illuminated part, the shadowed part seems to vanish…

…but if I expose for the shadowed part, the coppery orangish red color of the full eclipse starts to show through.

Pulling back from the closeup view, you can see the trees framing my view (as I was moving all over the yard to find holes to peek through) as well as the city below.

Finally, just a minute or so before totality, a long exposure to bring out the red color of the Moon as well as the city below. (THIS is a wonderful picture which I love dearly.)

Mere seconds before totality, the last little sliver of the Moon’s limb clinging to sunlight.

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Total Lunar Eclipse – Were You Watching?

I worried all day about clouds.

It’s been clear and a million for several days – today it was about 90% overcast when I went grocery shopping in the morning and stayed bad most of the day.

It turned out that the trees would be my nemeses. The clouds cleared about 16:00 and it was clear by the time that the moon rose about fifteen minutes after the partial phase of the eclipse began.

I had forgotten just how obstructed the view can be to the east. Here’s the wide view a half-hour or so into totality, viewed through a hole in the pines, with the west end of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley below, along with a video camera and my iPhone which was doing a Live Stream on FaceBook.

Zoomed in as far as the wide angle, “light bucket” lens will take us. Yes, the Moon was that much of a gorgeous, copper red tonight.

Now I’m exhausted and need to grab something to eat before collapsing into bed. I just got all of the equipment back into the house. I took a quick peek at the pictures from the camera with the telephoto lens and I think there’s some really good stuff in there for sharing later in the week.

There’s also that Live Stream on my FaceBook timeline. I pretty much left it running for over two and a half running, but most of that time it was unattended. I would come back to it and narrate and actually point the camera every ten or fifteen minutes, and there’s plenty of me blathering and nattering onward. There’s also long stretches where it may or may not show random anything but I think you can fast forward to the next good stuff. Your mileage may vary.

I hope you got to see the eclipse! If you didn’t, I hope you got to watch a NASA live feed or something from an observatory.

Finally, my undying thanks to everyone who took a minute to tune into my FaceBook Live feed! I hope you found something useful and/or entertaining there.

 

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Tomorrow Night! Total Lunar Eclipse!

About 24 hours from now, the primary part of a total lunar eclipse starts.

You’ll probably be seeing clickbait headlines all day tomorrow, especially online. “How To Watch Sunday’s Rare ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’ Total Lunar Eclipse!!!” While I’ll say that a total lunar eclipse can be beautiful and cool and amazing and awe inspiring, I sort of despise the over the top hype.

First of all, it’s not particularly rare. Unlike a solar eclipse that might happen at a particular spot on the planet every several thousand years, lunar eclipses happen every few years. For example, this blog has now just turned nine years old and I think this will be at least the fourth lunar eclipse that I’ve covered, might be the fifth. It’s a stretch in my book to call that “rare,” but maybe I’m just not easily impressed.

Secondly, unlike a solar eclipse which can only be seen along a very narrow strip across the planet for a minute or two, and which requires some eye protection to safely see the partial phases, a lunar eclipse can be seen by half of the planet at a time and requires nothing other than your eyeballs. If you’re on the lucky half of the planet where the moon is up while it’s happening, go outside, look. No further rocket science is necessary.

Finally, I don’t know what a “Flower Blood Moon” is. The moon during a total lunar eclipse will turn some shade of red, from brownish-red to coppery red to orangish red. That makes it “cool” to talk about a “blood moon,” but since we moved out the hunter-gatherer days a few thousand years ago, I prefer the wonder and beauty of the science and reality rather than this pseudo-Neolithic affectation.

So what should you expect? First of all, for your personal times, go here and put in your location or look up a city near you. For a more general overview of what’s going on, go here.

Big picture? The Earth’s shadow has a very dim and faint outer ring called the penumbra, and a much darker inner ring called the umbra.

  1. The Moon will start to enter the penumbra and it will be almost impossible to tell with the naked eye. You can ignore this part except for looking at how pretty and bright the 99.999999% full moon is.
  2. The Moon will start to enter the umbra (the partial eclipse begins). As it slowly moves in you’ll see a very noticeable, dark shadow moving across the moon until there’s just a sliver of the the moon fully illuminated. This takes an hour or so.
  3. The Moon will be completely inside the umbra (the beginning of totality) and will be some shade of red or orange or brown – it all depends on how the Earth’s atmosphere is, the amount of cloud cover at that moment, the amount of dust and water, etc. The shade, color, and amount of shading is highly unpredictable, one of the fun things to look for.
  4. The Moon will start to exit the umbra (the ending of totality) and we’ll just run this show backwards as the brightly lit portion of the moon starts to grow.
  5. The Moon finally exit the umbra (the partial eclipse ends) but still be in the penumbra for an hour or so. Again, you can ignore this.

Tomorrow night, those important times are:

  1. 21:32 EDT, 18:32 PDT (the Moon will still be below the horizon on the West Coast)
  2. 22:27 EDT, 19:27 PDT (the Moon will rise at about 19:40 PDT, so you’ll miss the first few minutes, but it’s not that big of a deal)
  3. 23:29 EDT, 20:29 PDT
  4. 00:53 EDT, 21:53 PDT
  5. 01:55 EDT, 22:55 PDT
  6. Go to sleep!

And examples of what it might look like?

A few minutes after the start of the partial eclipse in November 2021.

About halfway through the partial phase, just before the clouds completely covered up everything in November 2021.

Just before totality, September 2015. You can see how the coppery red color is covering about 90% of the Moon’s disc.

Totality from April 2015. You can see how the coloration and depth of the shadow can change from being lighter at the edge of the umbra (right side of this disc) to being much darker in the center (left side).

What will tomorrow look like? Who knows? Let’s hope that it’s not cloudy, wherever you are. Even if it is, I hope maybe you’ll catch a break in the clouds for a few minutes during totality to get a glance.

If you’re totally clouded out, check out some of the online coverage from NASA, Griffith Observatory, Lowell Observatory, or any number of other places that will be trying to livestream it.

Or check out my Facebook stream to see if I’m nuts enough to be trying to livestream it. Crazier things have happened!

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Wandering In Moonlight

First observation – a bit less than 48 hours before the moon goes into the Earth’s shadow and we get a full lunar eclipse, the moonlight is bright but soft, the breezes are calm, it’s comfortable, and an almost perfect evening out there.

Second observation – even when you’re just goofing around, the iPhone 13 will take a NICE picture using nothing but moonlight.

Third observation – some days it’s better to be lucky than good. Even on Friday the Thirteenth! With absolutely zero planning whatsoever, this picture lined up beautifully with the Big Dipper (upside down over my head with the bowl right over my head and the handle curving up toward the tree) and the two “pointer” stars at the end of the bowl pointing at Polaris, the North Star, which is just over my shoulder.

So, yeah, total lunar eclipse on Sunday night. If you’re in the Western Hemisphere and have a clear sky (or even a “clear-ish” sky) you’ll have a good view. It’s relatively early, it’s relatively high and bright. No telescopes or eye protection needed. (This is a lunar eclipse when the moon goes into the Earth’s shadow. For a solar eclipse, where the Sun goes into the Earth’s shadow, eye protection is critical. But this is the other one!) You don’t need to go to any special location.

Go outside. After dark. Look at the sky. Enjoy.

Binoculars might be nice if you have them. Maybe a lawn chair or a blanket. Bug spray if you’re someplace where there are mosquitoes. Or not! The Mark One eyeball works just fine, even if you’re just standing there or leaning against your car.

More information and times and details tomorrow. Showtime on Sunday night. For now, you can start with this.

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They’re Still At It

In case anyone else hasn’t been paying attention (and I know you all have, right?) SpaceX is still launching Falcon 9 rockets like nobody’s business. And that whole thing about reusability?

(Image from SpaceX)

Tonight’s booster launched, flew, and landed for the TWELFTH time. A dozen. And in a few weeks it will no doubt go for number thirteen.

There are multiple other boosters in the fleet at eleven flights, with others anywhere from three or four on up. I haven’t checked, but I think there about ten or so boosters in the fleet, with new ones being added every now and then.

Later this year there are three Falcon Heavy flights scheduled. Those are going to be spectacular.

SpaceX is sending astronauts to ISS, as well as cargo.

And then there’s also the whole Starship program.

Keep on trucking. The road to space is opening.

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Fog & Crescent Moon

Behind me to the east, the front that passed through with scattered rain and hail, snow down to 2,500′ in the mountains.

Ahead of me to the west, rolling in from Ventura County, a cold fog bank.

Caught in between, the three-day old moon, 7% illuminated, the other 93% glowing softly in Earthshine.

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ISS Sailing Past The Moon

A nice, bright ISS pass tonight (there’s an extremely spectacular one tomorrow night at 17:52 over Los Angeles, horizon to horizon, right through the zenith!) and I didn’t have time to set up the camera, but the iPhone 13 does amazing things…

The thing is, without a reference point, video of a bright dot on a black screen doesn’t give the viewer any information on how high and how fast that football field sized spacecraft is going. Tonight however, for about a minute in its nine-minute journey across the sky, the ISS was quite close to the quarter moon. Which gives you a great reference point.

Check Heavens Above to see if you’ve got an ISS pass in your area. If so, go wave at the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard. It’s awesome, you can feel the awe.

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Groundhog Day Launch

Well, sorta.

It is Groundhog Day. And yes, as always, we watched the movie. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Sooooooooooooooo much to love on so many levels.

SpaceX did launch out of Vandenberg, 116 miles as the crow flies to our northwest. And the booster came back and landed at the launch site, which was spectacular. Watch the video!

For most Vandenberg launches they take a southerly route off the California coast, and particularly for evening or night launches the booster comes into sight, climbing up over the hill to our west about a minute after launch, and then being visible through first stage shutdown and separation, second stage ignition, and first stage boostback burn, with the second stage sometimes (at night) being visible all the way to the southern horizon where it’s all the way down past Cabo San Lucas.

So today, I decided to go out, climb up on the roof so that I could get a better view, and see if I could do a Facebook Live video to show the world the glory of a Vandenberg launch as seen from the west San Fernando Valley!

That might not have worked out so well.

Yeah. So windy. I had no idea that most of the time the wind noise was drowning out every word I said.

And given that it was a day launch it was hard to see much. Given the Return To Launch Site (RTLS) nature of the launch (as opposed to landing on a drone barge at sea off the Mexican coast) I suspect this wasn’t a southernly launch. (Given the security and secrecy around this launch of an intelligence agency satellite, they won’t be confirming.)

And what you probably can’t hear (I couldn’t when I watched) is that at some point there was a loud crash behind me as the wind blew over the ladder that I had used to get up onto the roof. Oops!

Fortunately, the Long-Suffering Wife was at home and able to lift the ladder back up. All was well.

Except for the fact that we didn’t see the rocket.

Later in the year will be more Vandenberg launches. Maybe I’ll get up to see one in person this year, or maybe I’ll climb up on the roof in the wind and the dark for EXTRA excitement.

Stand by!

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My Weekend – January 30th

I hope you all had a pleasant and relaxing weekend. For me – mixed results.

I got a lot of work done on a project for the CAF SoCal Wing, and while it’s “work,” and a fair amount of it, that whole gig is wrapping up so the sooner I get it done the sooner I can reclaim a bunch of my time, so that’s a net good thing.

I checked my car periodically to see if it will work, i.e., let me shift out of “park.” In six or seven checks over the last two days, it locked up three times, the rest of the time was fine. Anyone want to bet that once I get it to the repair shop this week it won’t do it AT ALL for the repair guys to diagnose?

The Kings are on the road and playing well! It’s a pleasant surprise. Perhaps they have a legit chance to get into the playoffs for the first time in about four years. They lost in an overtime shootout yesterday in Philadelphia but won today in Pittsburg.

We did not go to space today, for the fourth day in a row. SpaceX is trying to launch a satellite but after three days of lousy weather today was perfect. Right up until the point where a cruise ship sailed into the restricted area where debris could fall if there was a failure on the rocket, so the launch got scrubbed at T-0:33. They’ll make a fifth try tomorrow.

Then, of course, after a roller coaster ride of a season, where at one point we were 3-4 and folks doubted we would make the playoffs, let alone win our Division, let alone make it to the AFC Championship game, but we had turned it around to the point where we were favorites to go to our third Super Bowl in a row, getting to here with that mind blowing last second comeback and overtime win last week – after all of that, we choked after building an early 21-3 lead and lost in overtime this week.

Yeah, that sort of sucks. A lot. I’ll live, I’m an adult, I understand that 31 of the 32 teams all finish the season with a loss, I remember that there were years and years when an 8-8 season was a triumph and we never even fantasized about making the playoffs at all, and now we’ve been in the AFC Championship game for a ticket to the Super Bowl four years in a row, we’ve cashed that ticket two of those four years, and we won the Super Bowl in one of the two appearances. (*deep breath*) Nonetheless, this stings.

After a bit of “destruction therapy” (crushing soda cans for recycling, they make a very satisfying “crunch” as they collapse into little hockey puck sized bits of jagged aluminum) it was time to go out with the old:

…and in with the new.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in sixteen days! (Assuming they can settle the lockout/strike issues by then.)

Let’s hope that the week ahead will be productive and non-stressful for all. (HAH!) It’s time for the stress levels from politics, COVID, and “life” to back away from that red line on the meter.

 

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