Category Archives: Space

Harassing Moon

Yesterday morning the Moon was out there harassing the sun, causing a partial solar eclipse for many on the US East Coast and into Great Britain, with a few lucky folk way, way up north getting to see a short annular eclipse. Google it, there are some great photos.

Having finished with messing around with the Sun, tonight the very thin crescent moon was threatening Venus.

I caught it a couple of minutes later than I should have. It was pretty low, but there was a little bit of gap between those trees that I could just peek through from the driveway.

Any earlier and it would have been too bright to see the moon – I know, because I went and looked!

It was beautiful and clear. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a couple of nights like that to take pictures over the weekend?

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Twenty-Seven Hours & Counting

Tomorrow night there’s a total eclipse of the moon, visible from all over the Pacific hemisphere. If you’re in Europe or eastern North or South America, better luck next time. If you’re in Hawaii, you’re golden. In eastern Australia or New Zealand, you’ll see it in the east not too long after moonrise. If you’re in Los Angeles or on the US West Coast, you’ll see it just before sunrise.

Unlike solar eclipses (*NEVER* look at a solar eclipse with the naked eye or any kind of magnification), lunar eclipses are 100% safe to look at with the naked eye, or with binoculars, or a telescope. In this case, if you’re in LA or San Diego or San Francisco or Phoenix or Seattle (you get the idea) your biggest issues will be possible clouds and getting up at 03:00. (I plan on being ready, getting up, checking for clouds, and if they’re there, I’m back in bed!)

Here’s a great site for information on when the different phases of the eclipse start, including detailed information for major cities. This is a short eclipse by lunar eclipse standards. The full phase of the eclipse is only fourteen minutes long, 04:11 to 04:25 in Los Angeles.

After being “clear and a bazillion” for the whole day, I rolled the telescope out late this afternoon and within second it was starting to cloud up.

By the time the moon rose and cleared those trees, it was downright “yucky.” (That’s an official, technical, internationally recognized astronomy term by the way.) I was testing out my equipment for attaching my good DSLR cameras directly to the telescope, using it as a humongous telephoto lens.

The moon was there – the focus wasn’t.

I’m going to blame the clouds. Which is not unreasonable at all, they were an issue.

In addition, right around full moon (we’re 27 hours away, since lunar eclipse = full moon, by definition = do the geometry) most of the moon’s surface looks flat and featureless.

The “good” pictures are always along the terminator, the division between night and day on the lunar surface, where the shadows are sharp.

You can see a tiny bit of that along the top side, where some of the craters on the limb (edge of the visible disk) are highlighted. But not much.

For example, this picture showing the center of the moon with no portion of the limb? Lots of rays and some bright spots, but no shadows with the Sun almost straight overhead.

We’ll see what tomorrow night / Wednesday pre-dawn brings for the eclipse. Keep your fingers crossed!

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Moon & Mercury – May 14th

And Venus.

Last night the Moon and Mercury were close to one another, able to fit into the field of my 300mm zoom lens. Venus was way, waaaaaay down near the setting Sun and while folks with flat horizons were seeing it, I have trees, houses, and a small mountain to my west.

Tonight everything had moved, as celestial bodies tend to do. It’s that whole space-time, circling around in the gravity well thing. Which meant that Venus was a bit higher, and even though it was still too bright to see Mercury, Venus is a lot brighter than Mercury and I could juuuuuust see it above the trees as it was setting.

See it? To the right of the phallic tree, just barely above those trees. If you click on the image to get the full-sized photo, you’ll see it…

This cell phone image, blown up to the limit of resolution looks fuzzy – tomorrow night go out (assuming it’s clear) and if you can, take a pair of binoculars. Venus is very bright, looks like a diamond shining against the gathering dusk. Spectacular.

Sort of like this, with the good camera, just as it was disappearing.

Even without a lot of magnification, similar to what you would see with the naked eye, it stands out pretty well.

But there weren’t any pictures with the Moon, Mercury, and Venus. Too bright as Venus was setting. So I waited until it got darker.

About a half hour later, the Moon in the upper left, Mercury about halfway between the trees to the right of the phallic tree, just below being level with the top of it.

Compared to last night, it’s easy to see how much the Moon moves from one night to the next.

A cropped image of the crescent moon, three and a half days past new moon.

Similarly cropped image of overexposed moon, showing the dark portion of the moon in Earthshine.

Full-frame crescent moon in Earthsine.

It will probably be a couple of days before Venus climbs up high enough to be seen in the dark sky with Mercury, and by that time the Moon will be close to or past a quarter moon, way out of this picture. Just as well, the forecast is iffy for the next couple of evenings here.


On the early morning before sunrise on Wednesday, May 26th, there will be a total eclipse of the moon. (See examples of what it will look like here and here.) You won’t see it if you’re on the US east coast or Europe, but you will probably see some or all of it in eastern Asia or on the west coast of North America. In Los Angeles, the partial eclipse begins at 02:45 AM, totality begins at 04:11 AM, maximum eclipse is at 04:18 AM, totality ends at 04:25 AM, and the partial phase ends at 05:52, right at sunrise.

As they say, mark your clocks and set your calendars!


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Moon & Mercury – May 13th

Most folks never get a chance to see Mercury. It’s only visible, dimly, in the early evening sunset or just barely before sunrise.

If you’ve got a clear western sky for one of the next few nights, it’s a great chance. Mercury is rising about as high as it ever gets, for the next night or two the crescent moon will be nearby (although getting further away and more full every night), and in a few days Venus, VERY bright, will be climbing up from the horizon below it, to also serve as a beacon to tell you where to look.

In these first three pictures, the moon is to the upper left of the phallic tree across the street, Mercury on the right side of the tree.

As always, expose for the brightly lit rim of the moon and the rest of the lunar disk is dark, but overexpose just a bit and you start to see the dark portion of the lunar surface illuminated by Earthshine. Finding the right spot in the middle – that’s art.

And then, just before Mercury goes down into the coastal clouds and fog rolling in or behind that tree, move a few feet to the left to find a spot between the trees where you can see them both.

Let’s hope that tomorrow’s clear and a million at sunset as well!

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Sixty Years Ago And Six Hours Ago

Sixty years ago today I remember my father dragging me out of bed well before dawn and having me watch the black & white TV coverage of Alan Shepard’s 15-minute suborbital flight.

(All images: NASA)

After hours and hours of delay (including the infamous incident with no provisions for certain bodily functions in long, long unexpected delays), Shepard became the first American in space.

America wouldn’t put an astronaut in orbit until February 20, 1962, seven and a half months after Shepard’s flight.

It was a first step for the United States and NASA, desperately looking to catch up with the Russians in the Cold War symbolism of the Space Race.

Six hours ago, SpaceX finally was able to successfully fly and land one of their Starship spacecraft.

SN15 (Serial Number 15) succeeded after the previous four test vehicles (SN8 through SN11) either landed hard and exploded, landed upright and then caught fire and exploded, or never even made it to the landing pad in anything less than a gazillion pieces (after exploding).

But today was the day they did it. Space is hard.

In a couple weeks they’ll test SN16. It might explode, it might not.

In a couple months they’ll be testing SN-thirty-something. It will have a ton of improvements and probably by that point be starting to carry a full crew interior and life support systems.

By the end of the year they’ll be testing the “Super Heavy” boosters which will be designed to boost the Starships into orbit before landing themselves much like the current Falcon 9 boosters do. (In the next week or so, possibly as early as Friday or Saturday, they’ll fly a Falcon 9 for the tenth time.)

Within a year or so they’ll be flying Starship SN-fifty-or-sixty-something into orbit, and then landing and re-using and re-launching ALL OF IT.

Within two or three years (okay, maybe four or five) they’ll be flying Starship vehicles to the moon, with crews of dozens at a time.

Within ten years (I know, they say four to five…) they’ll be sending cargo Starship vehicles to Mars. Crewed vehicles will follow to Mars soon after.

Where will they be in sixty years?


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Flowers – April 25th

Yesterday I showed that the pink roses were back. In addition to the one that had fully bloomed there was a bud just starting to open.

I don’t know if this one, on the same bosh, will get a chance to display it’s whole rosy goodness. There’s a little rain coming through tonight (which we desperately need) which might mess with it, but more to the point, there’s some strong winds coming through.

That cold front in general and the winds in particular will not only potentially mess with this young rose, but is likely to cause a weather delay in tomorrow’s Atlas V rocket launch out of Vandenberg up the California coast about 150 miles.

I had hoped to go up to see that launch, but given the weather, the way I’m feeling after this weekend (which is a good thing, mind you, but still), the odds of a scrub and delay, my workload this week, my appointments for the rest of the week – it’s a lot, so I’m thinking the smart move might be to skip seeing another launch.


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The Dark & The Light

If you’ve seen my pictures of comets and conjunctions and ISS passes and so on you’ll remember that there’s a really bright, annoying, pain in the ass street light right at the south corner of our front yard.

Suddenly, about a week ago, it went out.

That’s it in the lower left, silhouetted in the dim moonlight and light pollution. No idea why, no clue when they’ll be by to fix it.

So, NOW!! Quick!! Before they fix it! Get out the telescope and cameras! (Although the view of Woodland Hills is nice…)

Except that, OF COURSE, every night since it went out has been cloudy and dark and it’s a big deal to kinda, sorta, maybe see the moon poking through the holes.

Who says that the gods don’t have a sense of humor?

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Aircraft On Mars

I’m assuming that everyone has heard that Ingenuity flew on Mars today, the first controlled, powered flight on another planet. But just in case – here’s the flight, as seen from the Perseverance┬á rover, parked a hundred yards or so away:

The Martian atmosphere is only 0.06% as thick as Earth’s, which is why most experts had always figured this wasn’t possible. But if you make your vehicle light enough and you spin counterrotating blades fast enough…

Powered up, lifted off, climbed to 3 meters (10 feet), hovered, did a 90┬░ turn to the right, hovered some more, got buffeted about a few feet by the wind, corrected and came back, descended, landed, powered down. Perfectly textbook!

Looking straight down underneath Ingenuity, the navigation cam saw the helicopter’s shadow just a split second before touchdown. You can see the tips of the legs in the upper corners.

As always, it is truly a joy watching the team celebrating after they spent years of their lives planning these missions, building these spacecraft, and now seeing the results of their success.

Congratulations to the team at JPL, NASA, and the anthropomorphic spacecraft 153,000,000 miles from Earth and making history!



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Sixty Years Ago This Minute

Sixty years ago this minute, at 06:07 UTC, 23:07 PST, 02:07 EST, the first human being left the planet.

It was the height of the Cold War and the Space Race was 1% about exploration and 99% about ideology, superiority, and world domination. The Russians had shocked the world by putting the first satellite in orbit in 1957, leaving the Americans in the dust. Everyone knew that the next step would be to put a man into space. (And make no doubt, while today we talk about “crewed” spacecraft and “piloted” spacecraft, in 1961 it was a “manned” spacecraft.)

The Americans had introduced the Mercury 7 astronauts on April 9, 1959, but progress on the launch of the first Mercury astronaut had been troublesome, and public. American rockets blew up on national television.

The Russian space program was cloaked in secrecy. If they had problems, no one knew about it. But when they had success? Yuri Gagarin launched on Vostok 1 for a 108 minute flight, one orbit around the Earth, and became an international star and a name that would go down in human history.

We’ve come a long way. Tonight, ten humans from the US, Russia, and Japan, men and women, black and white, are on the ISS, and it’s been 20+ years of constant habitation.

Happy 60th!!

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Rising Full Moon – March

It was orange, and about 99% full, and bright, and orange, and right there outside the back window and over the hill and the San Fernando Valley.

The iPhone algorithm wants to make the whole scene bright, so it’s a long exposure and horribly overexposes the moon. The good news is that it saves some of the color.

The “good camera” (Canon Rebel XT DSLR with a 75-300 mm Tamron telephoto lens) set at 75mm does the same thing, but I can override that, manually focus, and so on. I just wish that I had had the time to grab and set up a tripod, but it was a complete spur of the moment opportunity.

But the really good part about digital cameras instead of film is that photons are dirt cheap, so if you shoot enough hundreds of photos in the five minutes you have, statistical fluctuations say that you’ll get one that’s decent. And that’s what I got – one.

I’m going to call that a win.

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