Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fall Colors 2013

click on image for larger view

In October I found this wonderful driveway to someone's home lined with beautiful Fall colors.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Comets on a Moonlit Morning

Click on image for a larger view

Rick Henderson,the president of my astronomy club, the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, put out a note on our Yahoo-Group that he was going out to Powell Observatory to look at comet Ison on Monday morning (Nov. 18). As it so happened, I was planning on trying to photograph the comet that morning also, so I headed out about 3 a.m. and arrived at the parking lot next to the observatory (the parking lot has a good view to the eastern horizon). I set up two cameras, one pointing to the southwest setting it to shoot wide angle images of whoever showed up. The picture above shows me setting up my 300mm lens and camera on my iOptron Sky Tracker and tripod. Powell Observatory can be seen in the background as well as the bright Full Moon with Orion to it's left.

By the time comet Ison was high enough to see, a crowd started to gather. About 11 ASKC members showed up with various binoculars and telescopes. In the photo above, Rick Henderson has his 8" Meade scope set up. Denise Moser can be see looking through her binoculars at comet Ison. Lights from other people parking their cars light up the scene. As soon as I set up my 300mm lens, I started taking pictures of comet Lovejoy, a comet that was brighter than was expected. As can be seen by my telephoto lens, Lovejoy was pretty high up in the sky, sitting between the Big Dipper and the constellation Leo.

Comet Lovejoy is a very nice comet. It's fan-like tail is easily seen in binoculars and fairly easy to photograph. I took about 40 images, each 15 seconds long at ISO 1600. I wish I could have gone longer, but the bright Moon prevented that.

Comet Ison was about 10 degrees above the eastern horizon when I started shooting it. I took quite a number of images, but lost all but 8 shots. Each image was 8 seconds long. It took me quite a number of hours using various techniques to bring out the tail on Ison. I was amazed at how long the tail was, extending past the bright star Spica and out of the frame. Half way between the nucleus of the comet and Spica is a piece of the comet that shows up as a tail disconnection. Below are two images of the raw files, with no processing at all. As you can see, no tail is visible in the raw image, but it is there after I coaxed it out.

RAW image of Comet Lovejoy

RAW image of Comet Ison

Comet Ison is much dimmer than it was expected. Not easy to see, even in binoculars, much less with the unaided eye. The comet is now heading for a rendezvous with the Sun on Thanksgiving day. If it survives it's close encounter with the Sun, I am crossing my fingers hoping it will be a bright comet with a long tail in the morning sky. But comets are worse than cats and they do what they want to do.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Halloween Star and an Exploding Comet

Click on image for larger view

This is comet 17P/Holmes near the "Demon Star", Algol. I took this picture almost 6 years ago, a year before I started this Photo Blog, so many have not seen this image. I put this up for two reasons.

  • First, there is a fairly new comet that is very similar to comet Holmes. Both of them are "exploding" comets. Back in October 24, 2007, comet Holmes shocked astronomers with a spectacular eruption. In less than 24 hours, this extremely faint comet (17th magnitude), brightened by a factor of nearly a million and became a naked eye object. At the time I took this photo in January, it had expanded into an object larger than the Sun. The new comet, C/2012 X1 Linear, is now doing the same thing. It was seen to first explode on October 20th of this year and amateur astronomers have seen the comet's brightness increase 100 times. It is not as bright as Holmes at this point, but can be captured by astrophotograhers. See the middle of the page on for pictures and where it is located in the morning sky.
  • Second, in the above photo, comet Holmes passed near the bright, naked eye star Algol, in the constellation Perseus. Algol is usually the second-brightest star in Perseus, but only when it is not being eclipsed by it's companion star. During the eclipse, which occurs regularly every 2 days, 20 hours and 49 minutes, Algol dims from 2.1 magnitude to 3.4 and lasts roughly 10 hours. This "dimming" can be seen without the aide of a telescope, so more than likely it was known in ancient times, but the variability of Algol was first recorded in 1667.
What makes this a good "Halloween" star is the mythology involved with this star: Perseus, the mythical Greek hero, used the Gorgon Medusa's severed head to turn the sea monster Cetus into stone. Algol represented the "evil eye" of Medusa to the ancient Greeks. An evil eye that winks at you for 10 hours approximately every 3 days.

We know Algol as the "Demon Star", derived from Arabic "ra's al-ghul", meaning "head of the ghoul". In Hebrew folklore, Algol was known as "Rosh ha Satan", or "Satan's Head". In Chinese astronomy, it is known as the Fifth Star of the Mausoleum and also had the grim name "Tseih She", meaning "Piled up corpses". What better star than this for "All Hallows Eve"?

Click on image for a larger view
During the Fall and early Winter, Algol can be located high in the north east sky after sunset.

Chart created with SkySafari Pro.
Comet Holmes image was taken with a 300mm f/4 Canon lens on a Canon Xti DSLR piggybacked on telescope. 29 - 2 minute exposures.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Comet Ison Oct 6, 2013

Click on image for larger view

Comet Ison, pictured here in the early morning sky of October 6, is expected to be visible to the unaided eye in November and possibly a very bright comet after it goes around the Sun on November 25th. The image was taken through my Orion 190mm Maksotuv-Newtonian telescope. Twenty two images, each 2 minutes long, were taken and combined to create the image. At the time it was not an easy object to view visually, but could be seen at the eyepiece of a telescope. 

The green color you see in the comet is normal. The color is created when subatomic particles from the solar wind strike the gas (coma) surrounding the nucleus of the comet. Molecules of cyanogen and diatomic carbon are excited and made to glow, just like the gas in a fluorescent lamp glows when electricity excites it. The tail of the comet is also made up of gas and dust being pushed by the same solar wind.

As it gets closer to the Sun, the coma will get larger and the tail longer and more prominent. Even though it is fainter then expected at this time, if we are lucky, comet Ison will hopefully put on a fantastic show 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunset Panorama

Click on Image for a larger view

After raining most of the day, it started to clear late in the afternoon for  a wonderful picnic with the many friends of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City at Powell Observatory. We were witness to the colors of a wonderful sunset. The image is taken pointing to the southeast, where the clouds had been pushed by the dry front in the west promising a clear sky for stargazers.

Taken with my Canon 4Ti, the image is reduced from a large file consisting of 7 images stitched together in Photoshop. Each image was taken in a vertical position with an 18mm lens. The vertical angle is 63 degrees high and the width is about 60 degrees across.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Colorado Rainbows

Rain sometimes brings "rainbows". Since I just happened to be visiting family during one of Colorado's extreme weather conditions, I saw a few nice ones. I wasn't in the areas where flooding occurred, but I was driving close by. The two bows in the pictures above were taken as I was driving on Highway 285 somewhere near Bailey, Colorado, heading towards Denver.

This one had crepuscular rays going through it making for an unusual looking rainbow. I was heading north on I-25 from Walsenburg to Pueblo and just had to stop to get an image.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nova Delphini and the Moon

A nova was discovered by Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata, Japan, on August 14. Because of clouds, I couldn't get it's picture until August 16. The above image shows the nova in the constellation Delphinus. Another constellation, Sagitta (the Arrow) appropriately points to the new star.

A nova is usually a White Dwarf that has a close orbiting companion star that is dumping hydrogen onto the surface of the White Dwarf. After many layers of hydrogen accumulate, the bottom layer explodes in a runaway hydrogen-fusion reaction.

I used my Canon 4ti at ISO 800 and my 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon lens set at 70mm. Twenty exposures, each 15 seconds long. Tracking was done with my new iOptron SkyTracker.

I couldn't help but to take an image of the gibbous moon sitting close by the nova. The same equipment was used, but the exposure was much shorter and I zoomed the lens up to 200mm. Exposure was 1/200 at f/8, ISO 200.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Satellite Is This?

The image above is of a very bright satellite (not a meteor). This is usually called a satellite flare, and most satellite flares this bright are Iridium Flares. They are named after the Iridium communication satellites that produce this events. Most Iridium flares last for 10 or 15 seconds. What is strange about this flare is that it lasted for about 1 1/2 minutes. I know this because the image you see is from a combination of 3 images, each 30 seconds long (taken from the Milky Way time lapse video). The other odd thing is that I cannot find which satellite did this. I used an App called "Satellite Safari", which seems to be pretty accurate, since I can find much fainter satellites on other images. If anyone can figure out what satellite did this, please let me know. Here are the facts about the image:

Camera is facing South
Date and time: July 6, 2012 between 4:45:05 and 4:46:41
Field of view is about 95 degrees wide by 73 degrees high
Traveling from right to left through the constellation Pisces

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Green Spiraling Meteor

Click on the image for a larger view

While looking at the thousands of images I shot for the Milky Way time lapse I came across one with a fairly bright green meteor. One thing very cool is that I can see that it has a waviness to it instead of the normal straight line.  Apparently the tiny pebble was oddly shaped causing it to spiral and vaporize as it hit the upper atmosphere at an extreme speed.

I have searched for other images of spiraling meteors but have not been able to find one. Apparently these are very rare. I found several sources of visual reports, but no photos. The earliest report was from a 1949 article in  Popular Astronomy Journal.

Surely this can't be the only image of a spiraling meteor!

The Milky Way Timelapse and How I Created It

The Video can be viewed at various resolutions. Once the video is running, choose them by clicking on the symbol that looks like the Sun at the lower right of the video. If you have a fast internet connection, it is best seen at 1080p and on a big monitor (Full Screen).

Here is a time lapse video from 3 nights in early July, 2013, of over 2000 images of the Milky Way. Shooting these was fairly straight forward. I set my Canon t4i with my 10-22mm f/3.5 lens on a tripod (the lens was set to 10mm at f/3.5). I used an intervalometer to shoot 30 second RAW exposures, all night long (about 7 hours each night), with a 2 second delay to allow the camera to file the image to the 32 Gig card. I also used an AC adapter so I wouldn't have to worry about a battery dying in the middle of the night and I used a dew heater around the lens to keep the dew off. The dew heater is a home made heater made from resistors and powered from a 12 volt power supply.

On the last night of shooting, I used a  new toy that had just arrived in the mail. Between the tripod and the camera, I placed an iOptron SkyTracker. Normally, the SkyTracker is polar aligned and will follow the sky as tracks from East to West allowing me to take longer exposures with no star trails. Instead of polar aligning, however, I pointed the polar axis straight up. This allowed the camera to follow the Milky Way in azimuth, that is, horizontally from left to right. I didn't know if this would work, but I was pleasantly surprised. It worked better than I thought it would.

Once I had the images, I improved their look by working on them in Canon's Digital Professional software. It allows me to make adjustments to one image, then the software makes the same adjustment to the rest automatically. I converted the RAW images from high resolution images to much smaller, and workable, JPG images. To make the time lapse video I used ProShow Producer. It is normally used to make slide show type videos, but I figured out how to make it produce a time lapse sequence. This was done by telling the software to run each frame for zero time with an interval of .1 seconds between each frame. ProShow allowed me to add music and text to the video. Finally, Proshow has a menu choice for YouTube videos. It makes the video then uploads it.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Video of the Geminid Meteor Shower

Click on Image for a Larger View

Last December, I posted several images of meteors taken from my backyard of the Geminid Meteor Shower. Now, I have done something slightly different with them. Above is a combined image of several of the brightest meteors on the night of Dec. 13-14, 2012.

As I mentioned last December, I took 1,555 images in 8 hours and 27 minutes. Since then I have been learning how to created time lapse videos, specifically for comet PanSTAARS. With those newly learned skills, I created a time lapse video of the whole night. All of the images take about 1.5 minutes to play, but I have done some other things to the video to make it more enjoyable, so it is now 5 minutes long. It is available on YouTube . It is best viewed on a large monitor and at 1080p (click the HD icon at the lower right of the video).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Following Comet PanSTARRS

Click on the images for a larger view

I have been having a lot of fun these last couple of weeks with comet panSTAARS.  The image above was taken on March 18, about 8:30 p.m.  Just as the camera shutter opened for 2.5 seconds, a car's headlights lit up the road and the houses. Normally, headlights are not what I want to see, but in this case it was a happy  to have them. The lens used was my 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon, ISO 1600 and +2/3 exposure compensation.

Although this comet is not as bright as it was hoped to be, I've never seen it without optical aid, it is good enough to capture with a few seconds of exposure and will be in the northwest evening skies heading further north every day. Unfortunately, as it climbs higher in the sky it is also moving away from us and getting fainter. During the last part of May the comet will be about 5 degrees away the North Star.

The above image was taken 5 days earlier, but with more clouds in the sky. This was a 2 second exposure using my 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon lens at 70mm, ISO 800. The shots I took from both days were used to make a time lapse video. You can see it on YouTube here.

The first picture I took of the comet was March 12.  At this time a 1.5 day old moon was just to the right of the comet making for a nice composition. Notice what looks like a star with a shadow above the comet. This is actually an airplane. The airplane and a flock of geese can be seen flying in this time lapse on YouTube I created from that day.

On the same evening, using my 300mm f/4 lens I took the image above which shows the planet Uranus below the comet. They look fairly close together, but in fact are very far apart. The comet was 104 million miles from us and Uranus was 1,953 million miles away.