Category Archives: Space

Random Old Photos – August 21st

So, okay, nothing random about it. Five years ago today we were dodging clouds and finally ending up in southeaster Nebraska, in the parking lot of a Sinclair gas station at the intersection of US Highway 136 and Nebraska Route 4, between Filley and Beatrice.

Going back through the photos from that day, I don’t think I’ve shared this one because it’s blurry and out of focus, poorly exposed. But it shows a phenomenon called “Bailey’s Beads” where in the last fraction of a second before totality the Sun’s extremely bright surface can be seen through mountain passes on the edge of the Moon’s edge.

I’m sharing it to day as a reminder to me and a lesson to anyone else who’s interested, that events like total solar eclipses are chaotic, fluid, and fast. You can plan and practice and prepare and check your equipment until you’re numb. The more of that you do the more that you’ll increase your odds of success. But that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. There’s a luck factor in addition to not knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t know something, it’s hard to prepare for it.

On April 8, 2024 there will be another total solar eclipse crossing the US. The longest totality and the widest path will be in Texas, but as the path of totality sweeps up through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine it will include cities like Dallas, Little Rock, Evansville, Indianapolis, Dayton, Akron, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Burlington.

Somewhere along that path, hopefully in a spot with crystal clear skies, on the center line, as far south as possible to get as much totality as possible, I’ll be there with lessons learned and a second chance. And I’ll have practiced and prepared and planned and with a bit of luck I’ll get a fantastic, focused, and fabulous picture of Bailey’s Beads. And the corona. And the partial stages. And shadow bands.

And I’ll also remember to take a minute in the midst of it all to simply look and be awestruck.


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Final 2022 Supermoon

Well, at least until they start pushing a normal, average moon as a “supermoon” just for clickbait.

What it absolutely is is a full moon, about two hours past full. So, a 99.9% full moon.

Remember, the Moon’s orbit isn’t perfectly round, so sometimes when it’s at full moon, directly opposite the Earth from the Sun, sometimes it that instant it’s a bit closer, sometimes a bit further away. Most of the time it’s about average. On those handful of times per year when it’s closer than average, the clickbait mainstream media trumpets it as a “SUPERMOON!!!

If the clickbait mainstream media wasn’t doing that, the odds of you noticing the difference would be tiny. Miniscule. Extremely unlikely.

Astronomically small. (Sorry, not sorry.)

What tonight’s supermoon is also doing is wiping out our ability to see about 90% of the Perseid meteor shower. You need a nice, dark sky to see the most meteors. The full moon is thousands of time brighter, so you can only still see the very brightest of the meteors.

Enjoy the beautiful moon! Good luck with the brightest meteors!



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Late Afternoon Moon

Every now and then someone goes off on social media about how they’ve seen the moon during the day and it’s NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE (LIKE, EVER!!) so this is obviously a sign of the impending apocalypse or a glitch in the Matrix or a conspiracy by the Illuminati or something.

These people are usually mocked hideously (as they should be, because, jeez!) but it does make me wonder just how clueless some folks can be about the world around us. I understand that not everyone can have a college degree in the sciences or be the next “Jeopardy!” super champion. But where exactly do we set the bar for awareness of “common knowledge” facts about the reality that surrounds us 24/7/365?

I think it’s safe to assume that by their teenage years everyone should have noticed that the moon is often visible in the daylight hours. Water is wet, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, fire is hot, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and the moon is often visible in the daylight hours.

(Too early for spoilers on the Luke thing?)

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Happy Landiversary, Curiosity!

Ten years ago:

From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Ten years ago, Opportunity made this terrifying, improbable ride from space to the surface of Mars, successfully plopping itself down in Gale Crater to look for evidence that Mars once had liquid water on its surface and the possibility of an environment which could have led to the evolution of life.

The SUV-sized rover was designed to last one Martian year, or 687 Earth days. Anything after that was gravy.

Today was day #2,965 of gravy as Curiosity continues to operate, explore, and climb while it sends back thousands of pictures and other data from the surface of Mars.


(And going strong.)

Happy Landiversary, Curiosity! And congrats to everyone at NASA and JPL who continue to Dare Mighty Things.

Curiosity has taken over 500,000 images. What’s it looking at tosol?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The ChemCam is looking at rocks.

Want to see a recent, more conventional image?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Click on it to see it full-sized, it’s a big image.

Carry on, Curiosity. You’re doing great!!


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ISS Pass – July 15th

As expected, the late ISS pass tonight was very low in the sky.

There’s the Big Dipper up there again, but instead of passing through the “bowl” of the dipper, the ISS path just barely passes above the trees.

Better yet, click on the image to blow it up to full sized – look at all of those planes, especially right down by the horizon. That’s all of the big jets coming into LAX from the Bay Area, the Pacific Northwest, and Asia.

No joy on seeing Dragon. With docking only about eight or nine hours away I figured that it would be close, but I didn’t see it at all, even watching for about ten minutes after ISS went by.

Finally, the other screw up was forgetting to check the camera battery. Instead of catching the ISS going just barely above those trees all the way to the far horizon, I just saw it for a few minutes.

Keep watching the skies!

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ISS Pass – July 14th

It’s been a while since we did this.

(Final image compiled from 68 images using StarStaX)

Aside from it simply being great to see the ISS pass over, with the launch of a SpaceX Cargo Draon less than four hours ago I was hoping that I might see the Dragon following the ISS.

I didn’t.

The reason that Dragons, Cargo and Crew, have an “instantaneous” launch window is because they launch into the ISS’s orbital plane as the instant that the orbital plane crosses over the launch pad. Getting high and getting fast are critical to rendezvous with an orbital target, but you’re maneuvering in three dimensions. Going “sideways” once in orbit, switching from one orbital plane to another, can be expensive in terms of fuel. But that orbital plane will cross right over you twice a day, so if you launch right then, you just have to go high and fast, not sideways. Restricting your chase to two dimensions simplifies the rendezvous considerably in terms of both complexity and fuel costs.

Because of that, when two objects in the same orbital plane pass overhead, you’ll see them playing follow-the-leader. If you see a set of Starlink satellites within a day or two of launch they’ll look like a string of pearls sailing across the sky. Similarly, if you see the ISS just after a Dragon, or Soyuz, or Cygnus has just left, or just before it arrives, you’ll see the bright ISS with the dimmer, smaller spacecraft following the same path.

It’s math. Physics. Orbital Mechanics!

Tonight, alas, the Dragon probably isn’t close enough since it just launched and won’t catch up to ISS until Saturday morning. Dragon will be in that orbital plane and will be cruising along that same path, but by the time it happens it won’t be in sunlight above Los Angeles. There’s another pass tomorrow night at 22:01, but it will be low to the horizon and might not even get above the level of those trees. But we’ll see what we can see. For now, enjoy tonight’s pass!

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2022’s Biggest & Brightest Full Moon

As we know, the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle, but an ellipse.

So while we get a full moon every 28 days, sometimes it’s closer to Earth, sometimes further away.

When it’s closer, it’s slightly larger and brighter than average. Tonight’s full moon is the closest, and biggest, and brightest of 2022.

Rising through the costal clouds and LA’s smog and haze, it looked a little on the orange-ish side, although not as orange as it got during the lunar eclipse a couple months ago.

As it got a little higher it got a little brighter and much more it’s normal white color.

The media loves to go off with clickbait terms like “SUPERMOON!!!” and we know how I feel about that.

It finally cleared the trees. What amazes me is the quality of the iPhone image – look at the top, just to the right of the trees and you can see the stars at the “head” of Scorpius, even in the bright moonlight.

Time to go out and howl for a bit, joining with the coyotes down in the canyon.

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Random Old Photos – July 12th

Okay, maybe not entirely random…

Yesterday’s spectacular first image from JWST and today’s additional images and spectra and data of course had me thinking about my 2015 NASA Social in which I got to be one of the first to see the Hubble Space Telescope 25th Anniversary image as well as visit NASA Goddard where JWST was being assembled.

To see my full posts and pictures of that trip, either enter “NASA Social For Hubble25” in the search box at the upper right, or use the “Archives” box in the lower right to go to April 2015.

It was a fantastic trip!

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There was some pretty significant news from the astronomical world today. If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, you’ve probably seen this image a LOT this afternoon:

Image from NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

This is a “deep field” image from the newly commissioned JWST. I’m giving you the full-sized image, so feel free to click on it and blow it up to explore the details. The bright spots with the six-pointed star image are foreground stars (the reflections are internal to the JWST) but everything else is a galaxy. Thousands of galaxies.

In addition, you can see some that are smeared out into curved lines, some with mirror images side-by-side. These are galaxies that lie behind a much bigger galaxy or even a black hole but the light from them has been bent by the graviation of the larger object stretching the fabric of space. There are some gorgeous, bigger (i.e., nearer) spiral galaxies, as well as some tiny, dark red spots that are the oldest galaxies in the image, back close to 13,000,000,000 years old, close to the beginning of the universe.

This image was released by the White House tonight at a press conference with the President and Vice-President. JWST is going to be a big deal, as far beyond the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) as HST was beyond ground-based telescopes thirty-two years ago.

Better yet, tomorrow morning there’s a NASA press conference where they’ll be giving us our first views of other new images from JWST. I know you can see it on NASA-TV, it may also be viewable on other sites.

And if you want to see bits of JWST hardware in the clean room at Goddard Space Center from my NASA Social there in 2015, check out this memory.

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Full Strawberry Supermoon Rising

As you’ve no doubt heard, there was a “supermoon” tonight. All that really means is that there’s a full moon, which happens every 28 days like clockwork. But as the Moon orbits Earth its orbit is elliptical, not circular, so some times at full moon it’s a touch closer, sometimes a bit further away, so sometimes it looks a bit bigger, and sometimes a bit smaller. It’s not that big of a difference, but clickbait’s gotta click.

As with the lunar eclipse last month, moonrise here is through the trees to the southeast and up from behind the Santa Monica Mountains, about in the Sepulveda Pass and Encino area. On the lower half of the frame, especially on the right, you can just start to see a few of the lights of Tarzana and Woodland Hills.

The moon was looking very red and smoky at moonrise. Guess why??!! Yep, between the normal junk in the air at sunset along the coast, LA’s smog, and a growing amount of smoke from the first of the season’s brush fires, there’s a lot of crap in the air. But once it got up above the mountains, it was definitely a full moon, about fourteen hours or so past full at this point.

Expose to bring out the trees and you SERIOUSLY overexpose the moon, which despite being dusky and orange and down in the atmospheric soup, is still reflecting a TON of light. A really good photographer or graphics artist would take this picture and the one above, taken seconds apart, and simply insert that moon into that bright spot and get something spectacular that looks pretty much like what the human eye sees. I, unfortunately, am not that photographer or graphics artist.

But occasionally I do get lucky. In my last set of pictures for the night, at the right point in the sequence (bracketing the exposures from about 1/1000 second to about 4 seconds, knowing that a couple in the middle will be exposed properly) a 737 out of Burbank Airport turned right 180º after takeoff (probably toward Northern California), passed over Van Nuys Airport (-ish), and right between me and that full strawberry supermoon. Click on the image to see it full sized… can you see it? Just inside the left side, at about the nine o’clock position?

Better lucky than good!

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