Category Archives: Space

Night Sky From The New Back Yard

In the front yard I get to see cool sunsets, but there’s a big street light out there interfering with the view once it gets dark. (Gotta figure a way to turn that off when I need to…) But taking the trash out tonight I note that once you get close enough to the house to be in the shadow of that big street light, there’s a little patch of relatively dark sky there. At least, dark by “in the middle of one of the top 20 metropolises on the planet” standards.

Even with just my cellphone, Jupiter’s nice and bright and of course any camera will pick out that nice first quarter moon on the right. In between, even Spica can be seen.

Just wait until I find and have a minute to start playing with the better equipment!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Crescent Moon & Venus – June 15th

There’s a nice view to the west from the new house. Tonight we had again had a lovely, 2-day old crescent moon to float along in it.

A couple of palm trees off in the neighbors’ yards to provide a bit of foreground for perspective, but not enough to block much of the sky.

Shortly after sunset it’s still bright enough so that a fast exposure can be used and there isn’t much blurring, even with a hand-held picture.

I’m going to like this front yard in the evening.

As it got a touch darker, Venus popped into view.

The pair were lovely together, as always.

Still hand-held (I think I know where the tripod is, but it would be non-trivial to go get it right now as I unpack) but steady enough to show craters along the terminator.

I caught one of the jets coming into LAX on this one. (Middle left.) Often as they’re leaving LAX on a route up the coast or to Asia they come right over our head, but those coming back the other way swing out over Ventura County, hang a left a Malibu, turn base over Dodger Stadium, and turn final over Huntington Park. Which puts them into this view.

Looking forward to the days when I can sit for an hour and watch something like this all the way to the horizon without my brain bugging me with, “You really should be…” Yes, I know. Unpacking. Catching up on my Wing duties and reports. Catching up on my personal accounting. Cleaning up the garage. Loading up the van with stuff to go to storage.

When did sitting on your ass and breathing for an hour get a bad reputation?


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Lights In The Night Sky

Long day. Family events.

This evening we had a lovely gathering for home-made, wood-fired pizzas at the home of a dear friend of my sister-in-law. As evening fell and we sat around their koi pond, the fireflies came out.

I hadn’t seen fireflies since I was a kid in Vermont and Kansas.

It was charming and wonderful.

My watch beeped with a pre-set alarm. I had seen that there was a outstanding pass of the ISS over Virginia tonight. I let people know that it was coming up, and the entire party trooped out to the front lawn to watch.

Through the high, thin clouds and haze, we all watched the ISS go from the northwest, through the zenith, and fade off into the east, while around us floated fireflies.

It was wonderful.


Filed under Critters, Space

Crescent Moon & Venus

It was a spectacular sight.

Even with my cell phone camera it looks pretty good.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

ISS Pass, April 12th

Again there were some clouds, but having learned a couple of lessons yesterday…

Being later and darker, I went back to longer exposures. These are all five second shots, again combined with StarStaX 0.70. Part of the allure to tonight’s pass was the way it was going to be going right past Orion, which is clearly visible just to the left of center.

FYI, the stars aren’t misaligned or smeared because the tripod moved – they’re trailing because the planet moves! Over the course of these twenty-two exposures in 2:02 the tripod was reasonably still, the ISS rose in the lower right and headed toward the upper left, one of those 737s headed into Burbank crossed the upper right corner, and the planet I was standing on was rotating so that it appears that the western horizon in front of me is rising up to meet Orion. (Conversely we could think that we’re standing still and Orion is “setting” in the west, sinking down toward that horizon, but why be conventional?) If you blow the image way up, you’ll see that each of the bright start trails is also really 22 little lots in a line.

Having gone overhead up past Orion (and I notice that I once again bailed about three exposures too soon before moving the camera) I swung the camera off to the south and got in five more pictures before the ISS disappeared behind the coastal clouds.

Practice makes perfect. Now, if I just had some really dark skies I could try some really interesting stuff. I might have to leave Los Angeles behind to find those dark skies, though.


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ISS Passes, April 10th & 11th

It’s that time of year when orbital mechanics and equatorial tilt align to give SoCal a whole week or two of really spectacular ISS passes in the evening. Naturally, despite the time pressure and borderline panic involved with packing and moving out, I’m out taking pictures. And starting to learn a bit more about how to do it better each time.

Yesterday, April 10th, there was one of the best passes I’ve seen in a couple of years. Rising out of the northwest headed straight toward (almost) the zenith, being chased by a Southwest Air 737 going into Burbank. (Four-second exposures, combined using StarStax 0.70.)

Lesson to learn – keep the tripod steady. That’s why the stars are doubled up and there’s that little jog in the ISS’ path.

A single frame as ISS passed nearly overhead with that 737 having finally caught up. Again, you can see that there was vibration in the camera due to the tripod not being secure. The rest of the photos in this sequence were worse, so there was little point in stacking them.

But the best of all, a picture I truly love! Just three frames, four seconds each, but you can see the ISS crossing into night above us. Throughout all of these pictures it’s been nice and dark here on the ground, but the ISS, 250 miles up, has been in bright sunlight. This makes it easy to see, but eventually it will go into the Earth’s shadow, or as we techie folks call it, “night.”

Looking at those frames (go ahead, click on the photo, blow it up nice and big on your monitor) you can see that not only does the ISS image get dimmer but it also turns red and orange as it quickly flies through the “sunset” rays of the setting sun. It’s just like our sunsets on the ground, but much faster.

Tonight (April 11th) there were a couple of new issues. Some I can control, some I can’t.

First of all, obviously, were the high clouds. Nothing to be done about that. But the other big issue is the earlier hour. This pass was over an hour earlier in the evening than yesterdays, so the sky was much brighter. I had to adjust.

Because of the whole moving thing I was short on time and just took a WAG (Wild Ass Guess) on the exposure. If the dark sky exposures were four seconds, maybe one second would work?

Well, not a terrible WAG, but next time I might want to go down to 3/4 second or even 1/2 second. In this image you can see the ISS, but the contrast between it and the background sky is much less distinct. (And I was up at the park instead of in my front yard, so the setup time on the tripod was even shorter and obviously less successful.)

Once out of the worst of the haze down near the horizon the contrast got better. The other thing you notice with shooting and stacking a series of one second photos vs a series of four second photos is that the gap in between the images is a MUCH higher percentage of the total time. It looks like the reaction time to shoot the next photo is almost a second itself. In addition, pushing the button manually like that causes even more vibration – next time I’ll use the remote.

The other issue with hitting the button on the camera manually is that it’s easy to get out of sync and miss your timing, leaving a big gap in the sequence.

Heading back toward the eastern horizon, ISS again disappeared into heavier haze and muck.

The other thing that’s truly notable in looking at the four images side-by-side is how much darker it got in the five minutes or so between the start of the sequence and the end. I wouldn’t have thought in advance that it would be so noticeable.

Despite the so-so outcome of the images, the pass itself was lovely to watch with the naked eye.

Remember, to see the ISS in your sky (it’s really simple, you just need to know when and where to look) go to one of the NASA sites that can tell you, or better yet, go to Remember to put your exact location in the box on the upper right to make sure you’re seeing passes and maps displayed for your location.

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Filed under Photography, Space


After we had a reminder that we live in earthquake country the other day I was talking online with someone about the experience of living through a big earthquake and how the worst part for me was the aftershocks.

I hate aftershocks.

The absolute worst were not the ones five minutes, five hours, five days after the big shaker. It was the ones five months and twenty-five months later, usually just about when you suddenly thought to yourself, “Hey, self, it’s been a while since we had an aftershock or an earthquake!” Just when you thought you were safe. Just when you thought that your life could get back to normal.

It has often occurred to me that there are similar patterns (which I hate similarly) to other monumental events in life.

For example, many years ago when we were visiting Montreal, our rental car was broken into. Among other things stolen were my briefcase with an assortment of documents, credit cars, my checkbook, and so on.

I got a new rental car, got back to Vermont, wasted some vacation time in the local library (mom’s house didn’t have internet) cancelling accounts and getting new credit cards sent and so on. It was a pain in the ass (much like a major earthquake) but in a day or two I thought we were back to normal.


Once I thought I was safe, once I thought things were back to normal, the “aftershocks” started. I go looking for some document or piece of camera equipment or credit card or something – only to realize it had been in that stolen briefcase and now not only wasn’t there when I needed it, but that I had yet another mess to clean up. It got gradually better with time, but it was a pain.

I think of this tonight because I suddenly recognized that it’s happening again. This time the “major life changing event” isn’t an earthquake or a theft, but the fact that we’re selling our house and into full pack and panic (not necessarily in that order) mode.

Over on FaceBook and Twitter there are starting to be postings about the best places in the Lompoc, CA area to see the Insight launch in four weeks. Insight will be launching from Vandenberg AFB about three hours north of Los Angeles, headed to Mars.

I would love to see that launch. It’s currently scheduled for a Saturday and because of that, unless the launch date slips, I’ve got it penciled into my brain as a day to spend three hours driving north to watch a rocket launch for five minutes and being 10,000% worth it.

Better yet, there’s a NASA Social for the launch. A three-day long NASA Social, including up-close VIP seating for the launch itself. I’m not sure how I would get the Thursday and Friday off work (*cough* maybe I’m coming down with something already?) but I would figure out something. So I applied a couple weeks ago, and for the first time in several years I didn’t get turned down outright. (I’m not complaining, I’ve been to five NASA Socials and figure they’re spreading the wealth around.) I didn’t get an invite, but I did get put on the wait list in case one of the primary invitees can’t make it. That’s got me very excited!


We’re in escrow and have months worth of work to do in the next fifty or so days. I get home from work, usually at 19:00 or 20:00 or later at this time of year (audits, tax returns) and now I’m up until midnight every freaking day packing and panicking, while also trying to squeeze in the occasional minute or two of CAF work. And I’ve got a five day trip to Toronto to squeeze in there as well.

Barring a literal “act of God” there is no way I can afford to take a whole Saturday off to go see the launch, and that’s a zillion times more true about the idea of taking a full three days off for the NASA Social.

Just when I thought I was safe. Just when I thought there might be the tiniest sliver of normalcy to be found in the chaos…


There will be more. They may keep getting bigger and/or more frequent.

I hate aftershocks.

Now if you’ll pardon me, it’s only 23:40. I have at least two or three more boxes to pack tonight before I can go to sleep.



Filed under Castle Willett, Disasters, Space