Jupiter Transits, March 14 2016

Photography, Science Tech

Jupiter Multi-transit Event March 14 2016Left to right: 22:42, 23:03, 23:28 CDT (-5 UTC). Io and Europa, with accompanying shadows.

Hey everyone, I know it’s been a long time since I posted anything. But here’s a post about last night, which seems worth sharing. I was blessed with a very nice and enjoyable night.

I began last night at a leisurely pace. I had noted that it was going to be a nice night as the evening progressed, but even so I must admit that I was less than enthusiastic about going out. Even to me, someone who loves astronomy, the thought of the upcoming day and the lack of sleep prevent me from going out all the times I’d like to. But I continued putting up my equipment. I decided to just put an eyepiece in and enjoy a simpler night.

I glanced at the moon for a good bit, and noted that the atmosphere seemed quite still. It was a comfortable night- warm, perhaps, for a March night but pleasantly so. It cooled off later to the point that I put a jacket on. Biting bugs aren’t quite out yet, so I wasn’t plagued by bloodthirsty, whining drones of chomping insect jaws. I swung the C9.25 over to a star and inspected the intrafocal and extrafocal images for collimation. I noted for the first time in a long time what I assumed was a heat plume, which comes off of a warm secondary baffle in the telescope. The atmosphere, on the Pickering scale, was probably about a 5 (this is a scale of atmospheric turbulence on a scale of ten, by looking at the airy disk and diffraction rings of a star). The air’s transparency could have been better, but I was okay with that because I wasn’t interested in searching out faint objects. After deciding that my collimation was satisfactory, I moved on to Jupiter in the eastern sky.

Immediately upon putting my eye up to the eyepiece (I was at a magnification of 235x), I noted that a lot was going on. I at once saw two shadows and one moon on the disk of the planet. I didn’t immediately see the second moon, but I new it had to be there because of the position of it’s shadow. The entire transit was very near the disk’s limb. I wasn’t sure if the transit had just begun or was just about to end. After watching it for a while, I concluded that it had begun and was rotation across Jupiter’s disk. I immediately decided that this was worth getting my camera out for.

A good bit later, after making the necessary adjustments needed to use my camera, I was again on Jupiter, capturing the transits of Io, Europa, and their shadows. As I have said, I was blessed with a very enjoyable night. There were a couple equipment problems, but nothing major. After the initial setup and I began capturing files, I relaxed a little bit and was able to look around. It’s very peaceful, out there in a field by yourself under the stars. It gives me opportunity to praise God who made them. My wonder for creation is turned into love for the Creator.

By the time my laptop battery was about to die, I had capture 33 gigabytes of data. Today I was able to process all of that and turn it into some images. I ended up with 14 frames, which I was able to turn into a time-lapse animation. Each one came from a 10% stack from a 10,000 frame video. I also made a collage of 3 frames spaced about 20 minutes apart, which you see above.

And here is the time lapse.

Saturn Success!

Photography, Science Tech


Hey everyone! Unfavorable weather and busy schedule continued to dominate spring this year, so much so that I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get a chance to photograph Saturn this season. A few good nights came up however, and I am most happy that I was able to give Saturn a shot.  There are a couple details that I’d like to point out  (north is up): Obviously, the rings are the main attraction on this planet. The large gap in Saturn’s rings is called the Cassini Division, and where the rings pass in front of the disk of the planet, you can actually see through the division to the surface of the planet. On the globe itself, notice the “belts”, zones, and variation in colors. The belts, similar to Jupiter, are formed by fast jetstream winds. One interesting detail is Saturn’s strange north pole hexagon. Saturn’s NPH can be resolved with a little difficulty by astrophotographers here on earth. In my photograph, the hexagon is the green patch at the north pole– if I look at it just right, I like to convince myself that I can see the hexagonal shape.

Saturn can be a challenge to photograph. Being small, it needs a lot of magnification (or focal length). For perspective, normal daytime photographers consider a 600mm or 800mm lens a lot of focal length. This photograph was taken at a focal length of 5,875mm, nearly 6 meters! The focal ratio was F/25. As you can imagine, this is one of the reasons astrophotography is so challenging.

Astrophotos Amid the Rainy Season, March and April

Photography, Science Tech
Nocturnal Cows

Nocturnal Cows

Several nights have yielded some nice results for me over the past month even though spring brings a lot of clouds and rain around here. I enjoy the nights I’m able to get out, even if some of them are plagued with equipment quirks. Jupiter is steadily  receding, growing smaller and setting earlier every night, so Jupiter season is starting coming to a close. But it’s not quite over yet! I’m still shooting. The nice part is that it crosses the meridian at a convent time, and is still large enough to enjoy nice detail. So, here’s what I think is my best Jupiter to date, with the Great Red Spot. Taken on March 30.

Jupiter 2015-03-30

But there’s more! Jupiter rotates quite quickly: about once every 10 hours. You can actually watch it rotate over the course of hours. And with such quick rotation, we can do some cool things. I took two photographs, within about 10 minutes apart. Jupiter rotated a little bit, but noticeably, within that time. Since the two photographs have a slightly shifted perspective, I can put them side by side and create a 3-D stereo pair. If you’re familiar with stereo pairs, give this one a try! You should get a neat globe effect.

Stereo Pair

Some lunar shots, also from the 30th:





Sinus Iridum

And finally, here’s another Jupiter. This one has some interesting features- it has a lunar shadow in transit. To Jupiter’s right, you see one of Jupiter’s moons: Io. On the face of Jupiter, you see the shadow that is cast by the moon.

Jupiter Io Shadow Transit

Fun With the ASI 120mc!

Photography, Science Tech

Jupiter 2015-02-11

Hey y’all, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve done with my new ASI120mc camera! You’ve already seen a photo from it; the ISS lunar transit which I shared in my last post was taken with it. However, I’m going to share some “less exciting” photos. Most of them are of the moon. Why is that? The moon is large and bright, and thus is a good starting target to practice with. Also, the terribly turbulent atmosphere has ruined most of my planetary attempts on Jupiter by squashing the finer details, while the moon always has large details that will show up. The one time I did get good conditions, I got an image I was pleased with- that’s the photo you see at the top. But, be sure to check out my other photos by clicking the thumbnails below!

Crater Aristillus (Feb 27)

Crater Tycho (Feb 27)

Vallis Alpes (lunar Alpine Vally)(Feb 27)

Crater Eratosthenes (Feb 27)

Mons Pico (Feb 27)

Crater Copernicus High Contrast Crater Rays mosaic (March 8)

Crater Endymion mosaic (March 8)

Mare Crisium mosaic (March 8)

ISS Lunar Tranist

Journal, Photography, Science Tech

ISS Transit

Hello everyone!

Determination and careful planning will sometimes pay off.

I’m sure just about everyone knows what the International Space Station is. The huge satellite is even quite visible from earth. Shining like a bright star, it glides silently overhead. You can see it, if you know when and where to look. Every once in a while, it’s trajectory takes it right in front of the moon… visible from certain minute strips of earth’s surface. Usually, you must be willing to move around a bit to see one.

That is what I did. Using the fantastic online calculator calsky.com, I noted that a lunar transit was going to occur within 20 miles of my house on February 7th. A quick glance at an extended forecast proved promising weather. Such an opportunity! I immediately applied myself to the challenges. A location on the transit centerline must be found. Not only that, I had to find a place where I could safely setup for the 1:30 AM transit. I chose a place with a large, empty parking lot.

Night before the transit: I and my dad (I want to thank my dad for coming along, being there and helping… thanks Dad!) caught snatches of sleep as we waited for our agreed time of departure. All my equipment was safely and carefully stowed in the car. I mentally went over and over a checklist, thinking of every possible thing I would need. OTA, check. Mount and accessories, check. Battery box, check. Printouts of time, lunar locations, etc. Check. Laptop and hard drive, check. New ASI120mc astronomy camera, check. We drove away, right on time. I set up at our location, and was pleased that I had forgotten nothing!

7 kilometer-wide line of visibility. 56 arc-second angular diameter satellite. 0.087 by 0.117 degree camera telescopic field-of-view. A 0.67 second long transit.

The minutes ticked down to the transit. I checked, double checked, triple checked my lunar location to the predicted path. Seconds flew by in a hurry, counting down to the transit at 1:30:39.51 AM. I checked the focus again. Then I glanced at the computer’s clock. 1:29! I frantically started the capture. The time that seemed to fly seconds before now slowed itself to a dragging crawl. A full eternity of 30 seconds elapsed while my dad and I stared intently at the screen of my computer. The clock hit 1:30. I stood up from my hunched position with a sinking feeling and a sigh. “We missed it,” I remarked aloud. I had prepared myself beforehand for this. I knew there was a huge probability that something would go wrong, and that I wouldn’t get it. I stopped the capture, and immediately went to the capture folder.

I opened the video. Neither my dad or I saw anything during the capture, but we both wanted to see it. 1, 2, 3, seconds in, and just wavering lunar craters. 4 seconds… 5… 6… 7… “There it is!” I said when an unmistakable black blot flicked across the frames. Against all the odds, I had captured the ISS on 3 frames.

Processing all the data to get this image was also quite a challenge, but I won’t bore y’all with it. Enjoy the photo.

Comet Lovejoy

Journal, Photography, Science Tech


I’ve been looking forward to Comet Lovejoy. To a stargazing enthusiast, reading reports of a great comet while under cloudy skies is like hearing of buried gold beneath a rock… but lacking a shovel. Anyways, January 17 found a beautifully clear Alabamian winter’s day giving way to a vibrant evening. Venus and Mercury quickly followed the sun beneath the trees (above), giving a lovely background to the orange horizon that rose up and faded quickly into deep, majestic blue. Soon after the sun set, I set my sights further into the solar system; Lovejoy was begging to be photographed. My Nikkor 50mm lens framed the comet and it’s long, slender tail quite well.

Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy (C2014 Q2) made quite a show! Having just jumped into cometary astrophotography, I’m pretty satisfied with my results. It made a pretty scene with M45, the Pleiades, just beneath it. Another first for me was using Deep Sky Stacker to stack a series of exposures. This is hard with cometary astrophotography, because not only is the sky moving due to the earth’s rotation, but the comet is moving relative to the background stars as it shoots through the solar system to swing around the sun.

Comet Lovejoy


New Equipment… the Losmandy GM-8

Science Tech

GM-8, after a (wet and dewy) night’s observing

The urge to have new or different equipment is very often hard to resist; everyone has had the “grass is greener” feeling at one point or another about something. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a gear junkie.  I like to read about, try, and fiddle with gadgets. I will also admit that equipment will sometimes give me a headache trying to deal with it, or that I’ll modify, change, and attempt to improve things beyond help. But for me, at least some of the time, part of the fun in photography and astronomy is all the cool stuff I get to play with.

So, with that in mind… enter my new telescope mount, the Losmandy GM-8.

My previous mount was the Celestron CGEM. It was a pretty good mount; it was large, heavy, could carry a respectable payload and had excellent computer GoTo alignment that sent that payload to any object in the sky with outstanding accuracy. It wasn’t perfect, of course. One issue I didn’t like and was unable to adjust out was “slop” or play in the Right Ascension axis. I sold my CGEM to fund the GM-8, which I bought used.

The GM-8 is a swell little mount, as I found out last night. Comparing it to the CGEM is a little bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, though. First of all, the one I bought doesn’t have computer GoTo. That’s ok, I actually wanted that because I like to find things on my own. The GM-8 is also rated to have less payload than the CGEM. The CGEM is said by Celestron to be able to carry 40lb, compared to the 30lb spec for the GM-8, which puts it in the same class as the AVX/HEQ5 mounts. However, the C9.25 rides just fine on it.

My first thought as I unpacked it from the box was about it’s size: it was obvious at first glance that it belonged in a lighter weight class. To me it seemed almost small, as I was accustomed to the large, bulky head of the CGEM. I have read complaints about the tripod for the GM-8; however, upon setting it up, I got the impression that it was a nice, well made tripod. When the legs are retracted it sits very low to the ground. Extending them brings it up to a nice hight for SCTs. I really like the large, easy to use knobs on it. I found them easier to use than the lock levers on the CGEM tripod. The wiring for the motors is external, instead of internal like the CGEM, but I found that it posed no problems. The counterweight shaft is very large and very adequate. The two 7 lb. counterweights are small, and unfortunately both of them together at the end of the shaft were not enough to counterweight the C9.25, leaving me to jury-rig a temporary weight in addition. Last night I took it out for testing. I really enjoyed the fact that I could move the mount without having to touch the clutches, and that it resumed tracking as soon as you stopped. As far as I could tell it performed very well. It needed careful balancing; I assume this is because it is a smaller, lighter payload mount. It carried the C9.25 fairly well. It tracked very well, and I can’t wait to use it for lunar/planetary astrophotography.

Milky Way Season Again!

Photography, Science Tech

Milky Way

Hey y’all, it’s that time of year again… time for the spectacular Milky Way Galaxy to put on a show. I hope everyone gets a chance to get out under dark skies and see the Milky Way for yourselves; there’s nothing quite like the beautiful cascade of stars and nebulae of our home galaxy. Well, enjoy my latest astrophotos! Behind these photos was a 1:00 AM shoot, with plenty of biting bugs and next-morning drowsiness. Oh, not to mention getting locked out of my own house! Either I’m insane, or I love what I do. Perhaps both…

And if you’re outside at night this week and especially next week, look for meteors! The Perseid meteor shower peeks next week, but the moon will be up and shining brightly, making this a less than optimal year for the Perseids (the Perseids are one of the best annual meteor showers of the year). Oh well, we’ll have to hold out until the winter show this year, with the Geminid meteor shower climax. (The Geminids are also one of the top annual meteor showers of the year, but it’s always freezing).

Milky Way