Category Archives: Video

The Great Conjunction – December 22nd & The Clouds Return

We had a good run! What was it, eight days in a row of clear and a million-ish? Including yesterday, the actual day of the conjunction?

But by this afternoon, it looked iffy.

By this evening, it looked doubtful.

And by forty-five minutes after sunset, when I normally start shooting?

There were a couple of minutes when I could just barely spot Jupiter through the clouds using binoculars, but I never saw Saturn at all, and I never saw Jupiter with the naked eye. The clouds were just too thick, and getting worse.

Now it looks like we might get clouds and even some rain (which we desperately need!) over the next few days. We’ll see.

In the meantime, y’all can keep your eyes peeled for clear skies in your neighborhood. Just after sunset – look to the southwest – better with binoculars – going to be around until mid-January, slowly pulling apart but still beautiful.


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Video

The Great Conjunction – December 21st

Merry Solstice, y’all! And a Happy Yule to everyone!

Today was the day, Jupiter and Saturn closer than the width of the full Moon. About 1/10th of the width of the full Moon, to be exact. Hasn’t been visible from Earth like this for something like 800 years, won’t be visible again for another 60 years.

To the naked eye, once it got dark you could separate the two, but they were definitely a “double planet.”

View with the 70mm setting on the 70-300mm zoom lens. (Remember, click on the images to see them full sized.)

Zoomed in a bit, which I took as much because there was a plane there as for anything else. (Yes, I’m easily amused.)

As soon with a 300mm zoom lens. You can compare this with pictures taken and posted here over the past couple of weeks. Three of Jupiter’s Galilean moons visible – Europa is very near Jupiter on the lower right, Io is very close on the upper left, Callisto is further out on the upper left. Technically Ganymede is also visible since it was passing in front of the planetary disk of Jupiter, but you might have trouble seeing it with the Hubble Space Telescope, let alone using my 300mm off-brand telephoto lens.

I did not take any still photos through the eyepiece of my 8″ Newtonian telescope using my iPhone. Instead I had an idea late this afternoon when I was seeing so many friends across the country saying they were clouded out and couldn’t see a thing. My telescope was set up, but instead of using my phone to take pictures, I used my phone to have a 40+ minute Facebook Live session!

The question wasn’t whether or not it was a stupid idea – the question was whether or not it was stupid enough!

I’ve uploaded the whole thing, warts and all, no editing. There were times when I was taking pictures with the DSLR and you get to listen to me blather on with nothing more to look at than the back of the camera and the neighbors’ dark yards. There was a time when someone from down the street wandered by and I offered them a look, so I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in “the show.” You’ll hear me answering questions that came up on the chat and talking to old high school friends, family members, and friends from work.

It’s sort of a hot mess. (That’s why God invented the fast forward and rewind buttons!) I haven’t looked at it yet, just lived it live, but I had a tremendous amount of fun doing it.

The video that came from me holding the phone camera up to the eyepiece – meh quality, at best.

Saturn is elongated, you can see the Galilean moons, but that’s about it. Go check out the saved broadcasts from Griffith Observatory, Lowell Observatory, and others for the good stuff.

The Moon looked nice as I was shutting down after Jupiter and Saturn were setting. But the image quality could be much better with the right equipment. (New life goals…)

Remember, this was not a one-day thing or something that’s over. As much as the two planets have been coming slowly together for the past several weeks, they’ll slowly drift apart over the next several weeks. They’re also both moving toward the point where they go on the other side of the Sun from our viewpoint, so by mid-January they’ll be gone, reappearing in the morning sky in mid to late February. But that leaves three weeks for you to go out and see it yourself with your own eyes (and your own binoculars) when you get a clear evening.

Finally, there were a lot of really good photographers with really good equipment posting their photos today. Hundreds and thousands of them. Like these:

Let these planets a billion kilometers away be the sparks in the night that inspire and sustain you on this shortest day of the year, but also the longest night of the year.

“We love the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

It’s not just words. The days get longer, and we still have the winter upon us to get through, but the cycles will continue and the warmth and light will return.


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Video

The Great Conjunction – December 20th

About thirteen hours to go… The actual instant when it’s the closest will be during the day tomorrow on the US West Coast. By the time it gets dark here we’ll be about eight hours past. Not to worry – it won’t be enough of a difference for you to notice if I didn’t tell you. As for tonight, it was clear and a million in SoCal.

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

At the 70mm setting on the 70-300mm zoom lens, you can just see a bit of separation still. And a plane going by above it, trailing a red streak in this 1/8 second exposure.

Up close at 300mm zoom, there are moons of both Jupiter and Saturn, as well as a background star that happens to be in the right spot to look like a 5th moon of Jupiter.

(Image from Sky & Telescope’s Jupiter’s Moons app)

Here’s what we’re supposed to be seeing…

…and here’s the center of that second image of mine, blown up to full sized and labeled.

What about through the telescope?

Oh! My! God!! I truly wish I had the equipment to show you how fantastic and amazing it looked. In addition to what I can show here below with my last minute, half assed, gee, let’s see if this might work efforts, in the eyepiece it was razor sharp, crystal clear, with horizontal bands being visible on Jupiter, the rings separated from the planet on Saturn, and Saturn’s second largest moon, Rhea, clearly visible as well as Titan.

So I started playing around with the iPhone camera settings… What did I have to lose?

(Late note – I realize from comments I’ve gotten on Facebook that I haven’t explained yet that the views below, seen through the telescope, are flipped bottom-to-top. THEY ARE! In the images above, which were taken with a camera, bright Jupiter is on the bottom and dimmer Saturn is on the top. In the images below, it’s the other way around. That’s because the optics and mirrors in a Newtonian telescope flip the image – no time to get into it here, Google it if you need, but just remember to see if it’s an image from my telescope or from my camera to orient yourself to how you might see it yourself.)

With a slightly longer exposure you can see the Galilean moons and Saturn is definitely elongated.

But if you go for a shorter exposure and don’t worry about the moons, the rings and planetary disk on Saturn start to come out!

Somewhere in the middle, you get a little bit of both. This is a real tease, making me want to get better at these and get the gear to do it right.

Finally, what happens if I try to use the iPhone video through the telescope’s eyepiece? Why, then you get something like this, which was taken when the planets were getting closer to the horizon and down in the thick air. That means it jumps around a bit and goes in and out of focus, but that also means that there are moments in the 8-second video when you can see things clearly.

Tomorrow night is the moment of conjunction – but of course, that doesn’t end this event. It just means that after weeks of slowly coming together they’ll pass that instant when they’re the closest and then start moving slowly apart. They’ll be visible in the evening sky until about January 10th or so, at which point they’ll be too close to the Sun to be seen. Saturn goes behind the Sun on January 23rd, Jupiter on January 28th, before they both re-emerge in late February in the pre-dawn sky.

Clear skies, happy viewing, I hope all of you get to take a look tomorrow (or in the days following) to see this magnificent sight!


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Video

The 2020 Christmas Tree

We all know that the year sucked. But we’re desperately trying to keep some sense of normalcy in our Christmas decorating – primarily because it’s a last ditch attempt to submit to the horror and ennui.

Today was the day we put up the tree. I tried to play with the process a bit in some Facebook posts.

The first thing I noticed is that it seemed much shorter than in previous years. First troubleshooting step is to assume operator error!

Taller now, but seems to be strangely darker and less festive than nominal…

Very much better, complete with white lights, colored lights, bubble lights, and the most eclectic mix of ornaments covering nearly forty years that you’ve ever seen. No “theme” here (I remember a year as a child when my mother went nuts on a theme and got a white flocked tree, no green at all, and then put red spherical ornaments all over – it was very Malaria Trump-ish) other than the theme of “This Is The Willett Family History.”

One new ornament that I just got (after seeing a pilot/JPL acquaintance on Twitter get one and show it off):

Finally, this year we got the tree set up properly in the middle of the living room show window that looks out onto the front yard and street.


Filed under Christmas Lights, Photography, Video

Hummingbird Song

What do hummingbirds sound like when they know the words?

The “humming” sound that hummingbirds make comes from their wings beating at 50+ strokes per second. Many (most?) folks think that hummingbirds to not have a song like other birds, but that’s not true. I’ve often heard them – it’s a sharp, almost electronic sounding, clicking noise.

Normally I hear a couple of clicks at a time – today, even inside the kitchen with the screen door open, I could hear one hummingbird just going nuts, emitting just a constant barrage of clicks. I could see it darting around the fruit trees and figured that by the time I got outside it would have stopped or it would have flown off, but that didn’t happen.

Warning: you’ll have to turn it up a fair amount, I couldn’t get too close and it’s not that loud of a sound.

This is an edited down video for filesize management, only ten seconds. He had been going on like this for several minutes before I went out, and the entire video I have is almost two minutes long before he finally flew off, still clicking.

I’m not sure what all of the ruckus was about. Mating? Predators? The feeders were empty? (They weren’t.) Ants in the feeders again? (They weren’t.) Thanks for keeping the feeders filled? (You’re welcome!)

Carry on, little hummer dude! Click away to your heart’s content!

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Windy Again

I woke up to the winds howling.

Out in front, it was a rough night for the flag.

We’ve seen this before. It has in the past been symbolic to me of what’s happening to our yard/city/county/region/state/nation/planet.

Looking around at today’s news, I think I’ll leave it for now. Maybe next week. After Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Depending on the news.

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July Can Take A Hike

As in, take a long hike off a short pier. Preferably into deep water with an anvil in your underwear. (Not a euphemism.)

As every month in the past four years or so has gotten steadily worse with only occasional bright spots (surgeries survived, great new job, fun trip in late 2018, Super Bowl champs, comet!) it’s gotten almost ridiculous how events come up some days and your only reaction is, “Really? REALLY??!! Where did THAT plot twist come from? That’s not believable, even Lot didn’t have that many bad things happening in such a short period!”

Yesterday we got the little earthquake to remind us to check our emergency bags. Today I was reminded why as much as I love flying things, I sort of hate hearing multiple helicopters and sirens. It might be a car chase or some other police activity, but you get to know the difference in sound between police sirens and fire truck sirens, and the helicopters sound different too, so at some point fairly quickly your subconscious says, “Maybe you should stick your head out the front door?”

Never good. Maybe it’s just a house or a car or something small…

Or, not. Good thing that it’s only 104°F out there and 14% humidity…

Fortunately Ventura and LA County Fire Departments are jumping on these little brush fires really fast and hitting them hard. This one was about two miles from us and even in this second picture which is only about a half hour after the fire started, you can already see the big fire-fighting bombers circling and dropping Phos-chek.

It was out in a couple of hours and it only burned 27 acres with no homes lost, so that’s a win.

But it’s time to review our evacuation plans and our 30-second, 5-minute, 15-minute, and 60-minute checklists.

It’s going to be a long summer. On top of COVID, fascism, and *waves hands vaguely* everything.


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Cosmic Double Header In Reverse

As we had last night, there was a bright, glorious ISS pass to go along with better and better views of Comet NEOWISE. But orbital mechanics being what they are and out of my control, tonight we’re doing them in reverse order. First we have the gorgeous ISS pass, and then it gets dark enough to view the comet.

The ISS pass was wonderful to watch, but difficult to photograph because it started at 20:30 and it’s still too bright at that point to do what I did yesterday. Yesterday’s images were five seconds long because it was dark. Similar images today would have been nothing but white from border to border, completely overexposed. The camera wanted to do 1/4 second exposures at the most, but I’m the PIC (Photographer in Command, in this case) so I set it for 1 second exposures and hoped for the best.

The results were marginal looking to where the ISS was rising in the west, but pushing the contrast in Photoshop at least allowed the station’s path to be seen, coming out of the glare of twilight toward the upper left corner. At least I’m getting a lot better on planning where to point the camera!

Headed over the horizon to the northeast the sky was darker, so there wasn’t as much tweaking necessary in Photoshop. You can also see where one of the big jets out of LAX was headed off to Asia at one point during the sequence. That bright star visible right next to the ISS path about half way is Vega, a very bright star, just starting to be visible as night falls.

I had to wait another half hour for it to get dark enough to see the comet. Again tonight it’s higher than it was yesterday, staying up longer while it gets darker, and easier to see. Again I’m emphasize if you’re looking – BINOCULARS! It looks fantastic.

This is a fifteen second view…

…and this is a twenty second image toward the end of the evening, shifting around the yard to try to dodge those trees blocking my view. These were both taken with the telephoto lens at 75mm.

Seeing if I could zoom in (better close ups of the comet) and take longer images (gather more light, but it’s a balancing act because the Earth’s moving and the image will smear if you’re not tracking) I tried to see what happened and got this at 300mm zoom and a ten second exposure:

It’s a little smeared and disappearing down behind that tree, but if you blow it up to full sized you can see how the comet’s tail is spread and curved. No chance with this rig, this low, and this light polluted to see the blue ion tail.

But that wasn’t my main goal for the night. From the time that the comet started to be really visible in the twilight (21:08) until it went behind that tree (21:25) I had cameras set up to take one photo after another, fifteen second exposures. Then I used that trick I learned in Photoshop…

This is the “regular” lens with a taller image, so that you can see the Big Dipper at the top. The comet is at the bottom, between those trees, heading down and to the right. I love this little video, the really clear, easily recognizable constellation spinning at the top, and how some of the stars in the Big Dipper “blink” as they go behind the power lines.

But I said I had cameras set up – plural. The big lens was also running!

Watch how it gets darker as time goes by and the stars in the constellation Lynx (below the Big Dipper) start to come out and the comet’s tail just gets brighter and more prominent as twilight fades!

This is easily my best work yet. I didn’t know how it would turn out, and there’s plenty of room for improvement still, but I’m very excited with how this turned out.

I’m posting the full-sized videos above. (I hope – it’s really late.) They’re also on my YouTube channel, but at reduced resolution.

And what happens after you’re done with that? Well, the first video is made up of forty-seven images, but that’s from a series of fifty images. I didn’t know exactly when the comet disappeared behind the tree. And that forty-eighth image?

The comet can just barely, almost, maybe be seen behind that tree – but the helicopter that came by missed its opportunity to photobomb my work!

But tomorrow’s photobombing, if I can pull it off, could be on a par with tonight’s results.

Stand by and happy hunting!

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More Bird Fun

Not necessarily with our recently departed terrordactyl chicks…


I was out in the back today, looking up in the trees at the end of our yard and into the trees down the hill. (This picture will be relevant later as well.)

There were crows out and about, at least a murder and a half, making a wonderful racket. Finches everywhere (along with the mockingbirds, humming birds, mourning doves, thrushes, sparrows, etc), with most of the finch activity being between trees and way, way up at the top of these. But I noticed a couple, maybe three, maybe more, that looked small, maybe without a full head of feathers, hopping and fluttering between branches about 25-30 feet up.

Could have been fledgling flight school. I’m just sayin’.

Meanwhile, the folks at Cornell who run the wonderful Merlin Bird ID app shared a couple of videos of their red-tail hawk fledglings, and while I don’t typically share other folks’ videos here, given the subject matter it seemed appropriate. Watch the reaction of the two siblings as gravity and a gust of wind win and life choices are questioned:

BTW, he was fine!

Back on this coast, while I was burning mean (too literally) on the Fourth of July BBQ, there was a bird call that I’ve never, EVER heard before. And it was *LOUD* and close, up in those trees that I showed you at the back edge of the hill.

I’ve condensed about five or six minutes of sound into just the parts where it was calling, about every 30-45 seconds. No clue.

But wait, there are apps that will ID bird song, right? (The Merlin app doesn’t.) So let’s run that through one of those! Right?

Canada Goose? REALLY? I mean, I’m not Audubon Society Hall of Fame candidate, but this bird was CLOSE, really LOUD, and moving around up in the trees. First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Canada Goose in a tree, and if one was there and just twenty or thirty feet from me I sure as shit would have seen it!!

Shall we try again, maybe focus on that second set of calls that seem different from the first one?

Yeah, well, if I had somehow missed the Canada Goose, I still wouldn’t have missed the human being with the noise maker in the tree…

I checked the supplied sounds for the California Quail and they’re at least sort of close-ish to what I heard, but quail don’t perch in trees either.

The mystery continues…


Filed under Critters, Photography, Video

Mama Finch Getting Fidgety

Something might be happening in the finches’ nest – instead of simply sitting there all day, wishing she had Netflix, today Mama Finch was fidgeting and fussing with the eggs underneath her.

Maybe tomorrow is Birdy Birthin’ Day?!


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