Friday, December 14, 2012

Geminid Meteor Shower

What a wonderful night of meteor watching!  This year's Geminid Meteor Shower, on December 13-14, has got to be one of the best in a long time.  I set up my camera in my backyard and started shooting around 6:30 p.m. and didn't stop until about 4:30 a.m.  In those 10 hours I shot 1,155 pictures.  I didn't know how many of those images had meteors in them until I got some sleep.  Four hours later, I started going through each one, and I was amazed!  I got 37 meteors, quite a few airplanes and a few tumbling satellites.  Here are a few of the better ones.  Above is a Geminid burning up in the Earth's atmospher at 1:09 a.m., just below the Orion constellation.

This Geminid, at 1:17 a.m., below the bright star Sirius, starts out as a faint streak then explodes into a burst of light (click on the image for a larger view).  This particular meteor shower's debris is from a comet "rock", an asteriod called 3200 Phaethon.  Most showers are from debris streams left over from comets, however, in this case, this comet is dead, but the debris stream is still alive and well.

Here we have the Winter Milky Way between the Geminid and Orion on the right.  Geminids seemingly come from the constellation Gemini, just out of the picture at the top.

At 3:16 a.m., just as clouds started rolling in, a nice bright Geminid streaks at upper left while Orion is exiting at upper right.

This is not a meteor, but a very slow moving and tumbling satellite.  The picture is a combination of eight images.  Each exposure lasted 20 seconds plus 1 second interval, therefore the satellite traveled from top to bottom in 2 minutes and 48 seconds.  The gaps are from the 1 second intervals between ead shot.

Technical Data:
  • Camera: Canon 4Ti on a tripod
  • Lens: Canon 10-22mm f/3.5 (set at 10mm f3.5)
  • ISO: 3200
  • Exposures: 1,555 shots, each 20 seconds
  • AC adapter in place of battery
  • Dew Heater powered from a 110v/12v transformer wrapped around lens for dew prevention
  • Canon Intervalometer for unattended exposures
  • USB connecter from Camera to laptop for automaticlaly downloading images

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Creates a Ring Around the Moon?

Looking up at the Full Moon tonight, I saw a wonderful ring around the Moon, so I grabbed my camera with a wide angle lens, put it on a tripod and took several images.

These rings, or halos around the Moon are caused by sunlight reflecting off the Moon then striking ice crystals high in the Earth's atmosphere, where it is refracted into a 22 degree halo. These ice crystals are usually in very high cirrus clouds, around 20,000 feet above our heads.

Technical Data:

  • Camera: Canon 4Ti
  • Lens: Canon 10-22mm f/3.5 (set at 10mm f/3.5)
  • Exposure: 8 seconds
  • ISO: 200

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Moon, Venus & Jupiter and the Morning Sky

Click on the images for larger views

Gloria and I spent a very nice all-nighter at the Astronomical Society of Kansas City's Dark Sky Site.  We were hoping to photograph some aurora that were predicted, but did not appear.  The night before, I was intrigued by the great image my good friend and astrophotographer Dan Bush took.  But that didn't deter me from taking some other images on this wonderfully clear night.  The above image was taken just before morning twilight and just after the crescent moon rose above the tree tops.

ASKC members Keith Rawlings and Jim Kethum were the only other observers that night.  Their observing tents can be seen glowing with red lights.  Up and to the right of the moon is Venus and Jupiter.  The day before, the moon was sitting between these planets.  The Hyades star cluster form a distinctive "V" shaped group of stars, which makes up the head of the Taurus, the Bull.  The bright star in the Hyades is Aldebaran, which marks the glaring "eye" of the Bull.  Above the Hyades is the beautiful Pleiades cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, and as Messier 45.

To the left of Taurus is the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer.  Auriga is usually portrayed with a goat over one shoulder.  The bright star Capella, meaning little she-goat, marks Auriga's left shoulder.  The three small stars to the right of Capella are known as the Kids of Capella.

Above Auriga is another constellation, the Greek hero Perseus.  The brightest star in Perseus is Mirfak, meaning "the elbow" of Perseus.  The area around Mirfak is a wonderful area filled with many star clusters and great for scanning with a pair of binoculars. To the right of Mirfak is a star called Algol, whose name in Arabic means "head of the demon".  Algol is the best known example of an eclipsing binary star.  A companion star passes in front of Algol every 2.87 days blocking part of the light from Algol making it dim almost a full magnitude for about 10 hours.

These are all normally called Fall and Winter constellations, seen in evening skies in November and December.  But I took this picture at 3:37 in the morning, when most people are sound asleep.

Above is a closer view of the moon, Venus and Jupiter trio.  The dark side of the moon is easy to see during a crescent phase such as this.  The bright side of the moon shines from direct sunlight, but the dark side shines from light reflected of earth then to the moon and on to our eyes.  It is therefore called "Earthshine".  Notice the interesting cloud between Venus and Aldebaran.

Technical Info:
Upper Photo - Canon Xti, zoom lens set at 18mm f/3.5, 30 seconds of exposure, ISO 1600.
Lower Photo - Canon Xti, zoom lens set at 41mm f/5, 15 seconds of exposure, ISO 1600.

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:  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.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Getting Ready for the Annular Solar Eclipse

This is a test shot of the sun with a new solar filter I just created for my 300mm camera lens.  I did this to test the lens and filter combination to make sure there was no problems for the upcoming annular solar eclipse on May 20.  I will be driving to Albuquerque, New Mexico to hopefully catch the "Ring of Fire".

This is the same lens and filter combination taken the same day, but when the sun was starting to set behind one of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  The 1st image was taken when the sun was much higher, so the color is quite different from the reddened image of the sun at sunset.  The exposures were quite different also.  The 1st was 1/1600 at f/5.6 ISO 100.  The 2nd was 1/40 sec at f/8 ISO 200.  The slower exposure for the 2nd image is all due to light extinction from the earth's atmosphere at the lower elevation.  All that atmosphere also causes the higher wavelength blue light to be blocked and only the longer wavelength red light to get through.

This is the setup for the above images:  A homemade solar filter over the front end of my Canon 300mm f/4 L IS lens.  There is also a 1.4X Extender to make the focal length 420mm f/5.6.  It is attached to my trusty Canon Xti camera.  All on top of a ball and socket and tripod.  I will also be taking a 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens just in case I get lucky and get a chance to shoot the eclipse without a filter with some foreground scenery.

This is the filter I made for the 70-200mm lens.  Very simply made from Baader solar filter material and thin poster board.  I used double-stick tape to hold the filter between two sheets of poster board.  I then rolled a couple of sheets of poster board around the lens to create a tube and used double-stick tape to hold that in place.  The tube is glued to the board holding the filter with a bead of white glue.  Even though the Baader filter material looks wrinkled, it has very high optical quality.

If the weather is clear, my next post will show the results.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Venus and the Pleiades Star Cluster

Last evening I took a few 2 second shots of bright Venus near the Pleiades star cluster.  Then I spent a few hours on the computer creating a short animation showing clouds streaming by and a nearby tree blowing in the wind.  I put it up on YouTube

Monday, March 26, 2012

Venus, Jupiter and Crescent Moon

Click on the Images for a Large View
I always enjoy seeing the lovely crescent moon in the evening sky, especially when it joins with some bright planets.  Seeing the different positions Venus and Jupiter are from the last time I photographed them shows you why the ancient Greek astronomers called them "asteres planetai", meaning wandering stars. for they do seem to wander about the sky.  The two images were taken with the same zoom lens on a tripod.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Venus and Jupiter Conjunction One More Time

Click on the Image for a Larger View

I just had to get out one more time to see and image them this evening.  This time from my home.  There was just enough haze and clouds to add some nice color to the sky and put a glow around the planets.  I hope you got a chance to see them.

Venus and Jupiter Conjunction

Click on the Image for a Larger View
It's been almost 5 months since my last post on this PhotoBlog.  Five days after that last post, October 22nd, I fell of a ladder and found myself in the hospital with a broken ankle and wrist.  So it's been very tough to get around.  I finally felt good enough to set up my camera a take the above image from a friends front yard.

This is Venus (the brighter one) and Jupiter as they came close together in what astronomers call a conjunction.  They are 3.1 degrees apart on this date, March 12.  The next day they are closer, but only by 1/10 of a degree.  Standing here on Earth, they seem fairly close to each other, but that's only an optical illusion.  Venus is actually about as far away as the Sun (93 million miles) but way off to the left of the Sun, while Jupiter is about 5.3 times (586 million miles) further away on the other side of the Sun.

In the days to come they will be going further apart, but starting on March 24th, a beautiful crescent Moon will be just below Jupiter.  On the 25th, the Moon lies between the planets and on the 26th, it will be just above Venus.  I'm hoping for some clear skies and some warm weather for picture taking.