Category Archives: Space

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) – FOUND!

It’s really late, I’m really short on time, but the short version is that being stubborn paid off tonight. The maps and information from TheSkyLive.com helped a ton.

Shooting blind, bracketing the framing, I finally identified that I was aiming too high on the first two sets of photos, so I went back out for a third. Do you see the fuzzy, faint, green dot? That’s the comet.

Here’s a portion of the map from TheSkyLive.com that matches what you’re seeing.

If I shoot short pictures (5 seconds) I don’t get as much washed out sky from the light pollution. But the comet is really faint and diffuse.

If I shoot longer pictures (13 seconds) I get a ton of light pollution washing everything out – but you can almost sort of start to see some of the tail. Maybe.

Here’s the frame from TheSkyLive.com that matches those two photos.

The other problem, as seen from this final frame from TheSkyLive.com, is that we’re close to the horizon, so even if the sky were clear of haze (it’s not) and/or light pollution (it’s really, REALLY not!) we would still be looking through a lot of air. So, three strikes.

But I FOUND IT ANYWAY!

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Comet C/2002 E3 (ZTF)

You might have heard about the “green” comet. It’s been lurking around in the Corona Borealis constellation for a while and is now moving over between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, headed toward Casseopeia. All of those are fairly bright constellations near the north celestial pole, so in theory the comet should be easy-ish to find.

It’s just now growing to be bright enough to be visible to the naked eye – if you’re in a dark location with no light pollution and a cloud-free, haze-free sky. “If” carries a lot of weight in that sentence. The Los Angeles suburbs and the infamous San Fernando Valley have none of those things.

Which is why I’m using binoculars, which in theory at this point should make the comet easily visible – if I’m looking in the right place.

So I’m using a map – this one from TheSkyLive.com is really good. Just make sure you have it set for the correct time and location.

For the past four nights I’ve looked, but haven’t seen it yet. On the other hand, to our north it’s been hazy as all get out, some times tough to even seen the bright stars of The Big Dipper, even with binoculars. With a faint, diffuse comet being that much harder to see, I’m not surprised.

But tonight is much more clear, so I’m going to go back out. We’ll see what we’ll see.

Comet ZTF will be getting more bright and rising higher in the sky for Northern Hemisphere viewers over the next several weeks. If you’re up late, like near midnight, or at least after 22:00, go take a look!

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Saturn & Venus & Moon

One more night. The moon’s passing Venus and Saturn by and the two planets are also splitting. They’re pretty, but they’re not spectacular, while Saturn’s fading fast. (“Fast” = over the next couple of weeks, but still a lot dimmer than it was even a week or two ago.)

Not so much color in tonight’s sunset, but at least the wind’s gone. Mid-sunset you can barely see Saturn.

The moon is now three days old, something like 16% illuminated. Saturn is now well below Venus, much different than just two days ago. You can only wonder what the ancients thought of that, the “stars” moving around in what HAD to be a permanently fixed heaven.

Close up with a longer exposure you can still see the color difference. But Saturn’s apparent color will fade as it gets dimmer, mainly because it will only be visible against a much brighter sunset sky.

As always, the moon’s crescent is so much brighter than it seems when shooting photos. There’s a little bit of detail to be seen there.

But overexpose the illuminated crescent and the Earthshine-lit face of the moon is clearly visible.

Pulling out the iPhone for the wide angle picture, Saturn fades away completely, but now we’ve got Jupiter visible at the top.

Tonight I also had one of the local barred owls in a tree right above me, hooting like a fool, right up until I switched the iPhone to video. Then, dead silence. My video is several minutes long and it didn’t make a peep. I do wonder if turning on the camera turned on some sort of infrared illuminated focusing mechanism and that flashing IR signal was visible to the owl.

I wonder how much of this scene, moon and planets, can be seen by the owl. And what it thinks of it, if anything.

Maybe that’s just us.

Maybe not!

 

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Venus & Saturn & Sunset

Tonight was the closest approach of Venus & Saturn in this conjunction. It happened about three and a half hours before these photos, but I wasn’t able to see until after sunset. That’s life on a small, round ball of dirt and water in the midst of an extremely vast cosmos.

Speaking of sunset…

Boy, howdy! Normally the most spectacular ones I’ve seen have a lot of big clouds, but tonight was a lot of very high haze. Wowsers!

I wish this photo could event begin to show all of the layers upon layers of different shades of orange and pink and peach colors that could be seen.

While spectacular, it was also enough clouds to be obscuring what I wanted to observe, i.e., Venus and Saturn. By this time I should have easily been able to see Venus, as bright as it is. But, no joy. I wasn’t at all convinced that I would be able to see Saturn when it got a bit more dark. But I went out anyway a half hour later to see what could be seen.

Stupid moi! I had sort of forgotten about that whole “moon” thing that’s two days past new moon and just the tiniest of slivers hanging there just barely above the horizon.

The other factor which I hadn’t taken into consideration was the wind. It is freakin’ howling out there, as you can see from the palm trees. I’m glad that I shot a lot of pictures, since most of them are blurred as all get out, even with the use of my heavy, “good” tripod.

It was great to see the moon slipping below the Calabasas hills, at one point with the lit crescent part below the ridge but still with part of the Earthshine-illuminated upper arc still visible. I would share that with you but all of those pictures look like I was taking them from a trampoline mounted on a roller coaster, so you’ll have to trust me on this one and use your imagination.

As it finally got dark I could see Saturn, but it was definately dimmer than last night, caused by the thin, high cloud layer. But you can see how Saturn has moved relative to Venus, past it to the right and down toward the horizon. (Of course, remember that it’s your relative view that’s changing, we’re all seperated by almost a billion miles and they only look “near” each other since we happen to be at a particular spot in our relative orbits as we all circle the sun.)

Darkness finally, cold (into the upper 40’s, which is cold for SoCal), and the gales blowing, it was easier to see Saturn.

Remember, if you didn’t get a chance to see this tonight or last night, if you get a clear Western sky about an hour after sunset, go look anytime over the next week to ten days. The two will be separating with Venus going ↖ away from the sun and Saturn going ↘ toward the sun and getting dimmer and lost in the glare of the evening twilight. But you’ve got a few days if you’ve missed it so far. Binoculars will help, if you’ve got them.

And don’t forget Jupiter overhead, or Mars back behind you near Orion.

Get outside! Take a look!

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Venus & Saturn

If you have a clear Western horizon and no clouds one of the next couple of nights, take a look about 45 minutes to an hour after sunset.

(Photo by Steven Willett)

In Texas tonight, they had a more colorful sunset than we did, but up at the top center you’ll see two objects. The bright one at the bottom is Venus. Just above it, dimmer, is Saturn.

 

From Los Angeles’ west San Fernando Valley, there was a much more blase sunset, but the planets were no less bright, even on a cell phone.

With the good camera (Canon DSLR) and a telephoto lens you can start to see the bright white color of Venus, as well as the softer, more yellow color of Saturn. If you have a small telescope or even a decent pair of binoculars, the rings of Saturn can start to be seen.

 

These two have been getting closer for weeks. Venus is rising into the sunset sky, it’s apparent motion taking it away from the sun, while Saturn’s apparent motion will be taking it behind the sun from our viewpoint, so it’s sinking quickly into the evening twilight. In about two weeks it will be almost impossible to see, being too close to the sun to be seen after sunset.

Tomorrow night, just after sunset on the North American East Coast on Sunday, January 22nd, will be the closest they’ll appear to each other, both easily visible in a telescope or binocular field of view. But you’ll still see them near each other on Monday, or Tuesday, or the next several days. Just a little bit further apart every day.

But, like I remind you with all of these events, no matter what the mainstream media would like to tell you about, “***TONIGHT***, there’s this ***AMAZING*** THING going on!” it’s not just tonight. Or tomorrow. So if it’s cloudy this weekend for you, but nice on Monday or Tuesday, go look anyway. Be a rebel!

And while you’re out there and you’ve seen bright, white Venus and dimmer, yellow-ish Saturn on the Western horizon after sunset, look up, near the zenith.

That really bright object almost directly overhead? That’s Jupiter. And if you have binoculars or a telescope, the Galilean moons are easily visible.

If you stay up a little past sunset, out in the east where you see Orion (one of the easier constellations to find), look just to the west of Orion and you’ll see the Pleiades cluster (lovely!) and between it and Orion you’ll see a bright-ish red object. That’s Mars.

If you have a telescope that’s just a little bit bigger than a beginner’s model, about halfway between Mars and Jupiter you might see Uranus, a blue-green object. But you will need that telescope.

If you have a decent telescope, probably 8″ or bigger, look just to the west of Jupiter to find Neptune, which will be a deep blue color.

But remember, even if you don’t have a telescope or binoculars, even if all you have is your Standard Issue Mark I Eyeball, you can see Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and of course, that fourth planet that’s easily visible in this picture.

Earth. Third rock from the Sun. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

Enjoy your sightseeing!

 

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Artemis

That was freakin’ beautiful!

NASA’s Artemis I mission finally launched tonight, heading off planet to the moon on an uncrewed mission to prove the technology behind the Artemis rocket, the Orion spacecraft, and the ESS service module. There have been delays, hurricanes, cryogenic fuel leaks, and a gazillion other hurdles. Tonight the last of the hurdles were overcome and Artemis flew!

The mission has a long way to go – it has to get to the moon, orbit there for several weeks running tests on hardware and systems, then coming back to test the heat shield in a landing off of San Diego.

I went out to check out the Santa Ana winds in the back yard and see if I could see any sign of a brush fire that’s popped up above Lake View Terrace. No sign of flames, but through that smoke in the distance was the rising moon.

There’s the target! I regret that it’s taken 50+ years to get here, but from here let’s keep going!

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Tonight’s Full Lunar Eclipse

Posting a bit earlier in the day to give everyone who might need it a heads up. There’s a full lunar eclipse tonight.

If you’re in the US midwest or on the east coast you can see the beginning of it just before dawn. If you’re on the North American west coast (about from the Rockies west, map here) you can see most or all of it in the middle of the night. If you’re on the Asian east coast you can see most or all of it just after sunset. If you’re in Hawaii, you’re golden, you can see it all overhead at a relatively comfortable hour!

Assuming your sky is clear. Here in SoCal…

Light rain started around midnight and is supposed to go through Wednesday morning. While we’re grateful for the rain (the first measurable rain since March and we’re entering the third? fourth? fifth? year of a critical drought) the timing is less than optimal.

This is the last total lunar eclipse in about three years, so if you get a chance, take a peek!

Start times for different events:

UTC EST PST
First contact with umbra
(the deep part of the Earth’s shadow)
09:09 04:09 01:09
50% partial 09:44 04:44 01:44
Start of totality 10:17 05:17 02:17
Mid eclipse 10:59 05:59 02:59
End of totality 11:42 06:42 03:42
50% partial 12:14 07:14 04:14
Final contact with umbra 12:49 07:49 04:49

Remember, all you need to see a lunar eclipse (other than a clear sky or a hole in the clouds) is ye olde Mark I human eyeball. Binoculars or a small telescope might let you see more color or detail, but the naked eye works just fine. (It’s a solar eclipse that you never, EVER want to look at without protection.)

How dark will this eclipse be? How colorful? Will the moon look red, orange, brown? Who knows, they’re all different. That’s the great part of it! If you snap a picture, feel free to share it!

And that whole “signs & portents” thing where the full moon starts to turn dark and then blood red in the sky on the eve of the US midterm elections. It’s strictly a coincidence. Totally by chance. It means nothing. At all. No danger being foretold. None.

Just make sure you go out tomorrow and vote anyway, just to make sure. Seriously!

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Daytime Crescent Moon

It may be daytime, but often the moon’s still up there. Today it was 26 days old, rose at 03:11 last night, set at 16:35 this afternoon. But at 11:48 it was almost overhead and only about 12% illuminated.

Very low contrast, tough to see, and I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been looking for a plane that was flying around in the same area. With my eyes set on focusing at a distance for the plane, the crescent moon just popped out of that blue background.

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ISS Pass – October 07th

Probably the last ISS pass for this current group. There’s one more on Sunday night over SoCal, but it’s much lower to the horizon and dimmer, barely getting up out of the coastal haze and atmospheric schmutz.

Tonight however was pretty good. Unlike the previous passes which I’ve shown this week, which went from northwest almost straight up through the zenith and toward the southeast, this one was much “flatter,” going from the northwest to the south and staying much closer to the western horizon.

(As always, click on the photo to see it full sized!)

That, unfortunately, puts us down into the realm of street lights (upper left) and 737s heading into Burbank. It was also early enough after sunset so the sky wasn’t terribly dark. The ISS track starts at the horizon just to the right of that stand of tall palm trees and goes up to the upper left, above the telephone pole.

But look in the upper center, just to the right of the 737 track and to the left of that brightly lit power cable overhead. See that horizontal streak of five segments? That’s got to be something going overhead in a north-south orbit. And given the way it just appears and then disappears, I’m guessing it’s an Iridium satellite where you get brief “flares” off of their huge solar panels. But that’s a guess.

As soon as the ISS disappeared out of the frame and into the glare of the street light, I took a quick sprint down the block and set up again.

My concern here was keeping the frame aimed high enough to avoid the worst of the glare from the next street light. In retrospect, next time I’ll aim lower and pick up the lights of Woodland Hills and Calabasas and just deal with the street light.

The ISS disappeared off to the south, headed down the coast of Baja, to South America, the South Atlantic, then back up toward Africa, the Middle East, and China.

No secret, unexpected, flaring Iridium satellites in this picture – just lots of traffic into LAX. Welcome to my world!

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ISS Pass – October 05th

When last we saw our plucky hero, he had seen the ISS pass that faded into an orbital sunset right above his head and was urging everyone in SoCal and adjoining regions to watch this ISS pass tonight:

Image from Heavens-Above.com

Click on the image to see it gloriously full-sized.

One of my best to date I believe. The sky was a little bit brighter than last night (being closer to sunset) so I switched to 4-second exposures instead of 5-seconds. I had my setup location correct in respect to the point where the ISS rose up from the horizon, so it came up in that gap between the trees and thus saw it about a minute earlier. In addition, I had a good (i.e., lucky) guess on where the top of the frame was, so the final frame was perfect and I didn’t shoot any additional frames beyond that and waste time going to my second setup position.

It only took 28 seconds to fold the tripod, run down the little hill in the front yard in the dark without tripping and splooting and dying, cross the street, set the tripod back up, and start shooting toward the west. Not bad, decent planning.

The big question I had here was whether or not I would get the final shot showing the ISS fading into orbital sunset.

I did! This crop of that last image just before the ISS went behind the trees (already fading due to the view through the smog and haze and bright lights of downtown Los Angeles and the beautiful San Fernando Valley) clearly shows it turning orange and fading in brightness over that four seconds.

Then it was a sprint back to the front yard to go looking for the Dragon spacecraft with Crew-5, astronauts from the US, Japan, and Russia, which launched this morning. Unfortunately, I was thinking their flight profile would be similar to a Soyuz launch, where the Soyuz reaches orbit pretty close to the ISS and catches up over just a couple of hours. That was a bad assumption.

   

This is the SpaceX “Follow Dragon” site and, assuming it’s fairly accurate, when I had just seen the ISS come over and was expecting Dragon to be right behind, Dragon was actually over southern China, on a path toward northern Japan and Alaska.

But wait…

They have to be in the same orbital plane, which means that Dragon will be over SoCal in about 25 to 30 minutes. Right?

So I went out at the appointed time…

…as Dragon was supposed to be coming up on the San Francisco area and headed right toward SoCal.

I kept shooting pictures until…

…ISS was supposed to be well to our south, off of Baja.

Did I ever see the Dragon? Nope, no sign of it. On the other hand, there was a very bright moon, a little haze for all of that moonlight to reflect off of, and the Dragon is much smaller than the ISS and doesn’t have any of the HUGE solar panels that the ISS has and thus is much dimmer.

Maybe the photos showed what the eye couldn’t see? Nope. No joy.

So enjoy the photos of the ISS pass, and go to Heavens-Above.com to put in your location and see when the ISS (or other satellites) will pass through your skies.


Finally, if you’re curious, on the first big picture above, look for the Big Dipper at the bottom, just above the trees, then follow the “pointer” stars at the end of the “bowl” to see that one star that’s a dot, not a streak. That’s Polaris, the North Star, and it’s a dot and all of the other stars are streaks because the Earth is spinning. Polaris never moves because it’s directly above the pole, but all of the other stars will show longer and longer streaks the further out they are from Polaris, because they move in the sky more as the Earth spins.

In the second big picture above, the really bright “star” at the bottom left between the trees is Jupiter, and that huge glare on the right side is the Moon.

 

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