Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ISS Jumps Over The Moon

Click on the Image to see a larger image

The local weatherman mentioned that the International Space Station was going to pass across the face of the Moon tonight.  So I checked the one source that is easy to use for getting this type of information: heavens-above.com.  It told me that the ISS was going to pass north of the Moon from my location, about 30 miles south of Kansas City.  Putting in some locations further north, it looked like some people north of Kansas City might see it cross the Moon, but not me.

I decided to take some pictures of it anyway, so I set up my Canon Xti on a tripod, attaching my 10-22mm wide angle lens on it.  I auto focused on the Moon, then turned off auto-focus.  I took a few test exposures to find out the best one to use.  The ISS took about 5 minutes to go across the sky, rising in the West and fading into Earth's shadow in the South.  One minute exposure at f/3.5 and 1600 ISO was way too bright, making the scene look like daylight.  A 5 minute exposure would turn the image white.  Lowering the ISO and/or increasing the f/ratio would make the sky darker, but it would also dim the stars and the ISS, so  I settled on 15 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 800.

It took 14 images to get it as it cleared the tree tops until about 3.5 minutes later when it faded into the Earth's shadow.  I processed the 14 images in a free program called DeepSkyStacker, which stacked all of the images on top of each other and produced one image.  Images created this way make a RAW file, which is very dark, so I had to put it into Photoshop to stretch it into the image you see above.  If you look close, there is a small gap along the track of the ISS , this is caused by the small amount of time between each exposure.  The shorter streaks are of course stars trailing because of the long combined exposures.

It turns out that a friend of mine, Joe Wright, who lives way north of Kansas City, said it did go across the Moon where he lives.  He tried to take pictures of it, but says his camera failed.  Better luck next time Joe.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ring of Fire! The Annular Solar Eclipse of 2012

Better late then never.  I've been so busy since the Annular Eclipse last May 20th, I haven't had a chance to work on the images, but I finally have them done.  I created a video of the event, which can be seen on YouTube.

My wife, Gloria, and I left Castle Rock, Colorado bright and early at 4:30 Sunday morning, the day of the eclipse.  We arrived in Sante Fe, NM around noon, where we ate a great lunch at the Tune-Up Cafe, a very small cafe we wanted to try after watching a TV show about it on the Food Network show Drive-ins, Diners and Dives.  The small, clean diner was getting crowded, but we got a table before the lunch crowd came in.

A few more miles further south we arrived in Albuquerque to a clear blue sky, although I could see some clouds starting to build over the mountains to the west of the city.  I called Elizabeth Brown, a fellow Astronomical Society of Kansas City club member, to see where she and other club members were.  Elizabeth and the rest of the group rode a train from Kansas City and were now driving back to Albuquerque from visiting the Very Large Array.  The VLA is a set of very big radio telescope that you may remember were prominently displayed in the movie "Contact" starring Jodie Foster.  I've never been to the VLA, and I had no time to visit this time around.  Hopefully some day.

I told Elizabeth that we were going to drive west of the city into the country side in search of a better looking horizon instead of buildings .  I drove along I-40, which is also the old Route 66 highway.  I ended up in the town of Laguna, where I took a side road going north closer to the center line of the eclipse.  About 15 miles later I ended up in Seboyeta, a very small town and a dead end and nothing I liked for a good horizon.  We headed back to Laguna and then further west staying on a side road next to I-40.  A few miles before we got to Grants, NM, I turned south on a road to the entrance of El Malpais National Monument, where we quickly saw a view of a huge valley with mountains off in the distance.

El Malpais is a huge area of molten lava trenches, caves, cinder cones and shield volcanoes.  I wold love to visit this place some day, but not on this day.  Instead, I parked and set up my tripod and camera.  I used my Canon 300mm f/4 with a 1.4 extender making the final focal length 420mm at f/5.6.  Focus is pretty simple with this lens.  I use the camera's auto focus mode on the edge of the sun, but then turn of auto focus, otherwise, once I center the sun the focus points of the camera may not be near the edge anymore and the camera will try to find focus and never find it.  This was the scene looking west, with plenty of clouds, but no time to look for a better place.

Soon after I was set up, a young woman drove up and set up a tripod and camera a few yards from us.  Gloria went over to talk to her for a bit.  When she came back she told me that she was also planning on taking pictures of the eclipse, but she did not have a solar filter.  I'm pretty sure she didn't get anything, because the sky was just too clear to shoot the Sun without a solar filter.

The first bites of the sun by the moon came right on time, but a few clouds also took some bites right near first contact.  You can see this on the video.  A few more clouds came and went, but for the most part, it was clear.

Some time before the mid-eclipse a car drove up with a young couple stopping to get a view of the eclipse.  They did not have solar filters so we let them use some extra solar filter glasses that we had.  Second contact came right on time, but just as the Moon was moving to the center of the Sun some clouds ruined our view and my pictures of a perfect ring of fire.  You can see the clouds breaking up the ring on the video.  They did not go away until after third contact.

Just as the couple drove off, another car showed up.  A woman, a man and a young girl were using solar filter glasses.  I invited them over to have a look at the eclipse through my camera, which gave a much better view.  They were local people who said they drove here for a better view of the eclipse as it set in the west.  It was nice to be under the shadow of the Moon and share one of natures great events with them.

We watched the rest of the eclipse cloud free and soon the Sun was touching the edge of the far mountains in the west.  Watching the partially eclipsed Sun slide behind trees along the mountain horizon until the last bit of Sun disappeared was worth the whole trip.  Below is an image of that scene.

By the time we got back to Albuquerque it was dark.  If you've ever driven east into Albuquerque in the dark, you'll know that the the city lights spread out in the valley below you is a fantastic sight.  It's like watching the city lights from a low flying airplane.

It was a very good Annular Eclipse, but now I can't wait for the Total Solar Eclipse in 2017.  Total eclipses are far superior to an annular.  This is because during a total, you don't need a solar filter to view or photograph it.  Watching a total solar eclipse is one of the greatest sights you will ever see, which pictures can't do justice to the feeling of seeing a twilight sky with stars visible and a dark hole where the sun should be.  The horizon all around you has the color of one huge sunset.  One can see why people in the far past would be afraid when they saw the Sun disappear being replaced by a round dark hole surrounded with a streaming corona and pink prominences.  Click here to see the track and where you need to be in the Moons shadow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Venus Tranist 2012

Click on each image for a larger view

The US Midwest received some really nice weather for the Venus transit.  I am one tired fellow, probably from too much Sun, but it is a great feeling to have seen this once in a lifetime event.

I set up my Orion Maksutov-Newtonian telescope last night so that I could polar align the mount.  Aligning the telescope mount to the north celestial pole allows the the mount to track the stars and the sun.  I placed my Canon Xti in place of the eyepiece and hooked up a USB cord to the camera and my laptop.  I put my laptop inside of a box to block the glare from the sun then took hundreds of images.  The first two image above are from the 1000mm focal length telescope.

About 7:30 p.m. the trees in my yard started blocking the sun, so I took the camera off the telescope, grabbed my 300mm lens and tripod and headed to a better location.  I drove West of Cleveland, MO into Kansas and found some farmland with a good horizon.  After setting up my tripod and camera, I realized that the farmer across the street was on his combine cutting and trashing wheat creating a huge amount of dust.  It was too late for me to move, so I just stuck it out taking the third image above.