Tag Archives: astronomy

A Total Eclipse of the Sun

Darlene and I managed to meet up with Glenn, Michele and Seaerra in Eastern Oregon this past week to experience the total solar eclipse together.  We snagged a nice dispersed camping spot in the Malheur National Forest in an area I had scouted out back in June and we arrived four days early to get ahead of any potential crowds.  As it turns out, we were in a remote enough area to only see a scattering of other campers.

We were also very lucky with the weather as there were a number of distant wildfires filling the skies with smoke days before and then it turned cloudy Sunday afternoon.  But on Monday, the day of the eclipse, we had clear blue skies!  (And smoke-filled skies the very next morning.)

A short video montage of the eclipse viewing experience (2.5 minutes)

And yes, seeing a total solar eclipse is truly an amazing experience.  There’s the hour or so of build up beforehand as the light turns queer and dim and the heat of the sun fades away but then, as the last thin crescent splinter of sunlight disappears, you pull off your eye protection and… boom!  The sun’s gorgeous corona suddenly appears streaming all around the pure black disc of the moon.  It’s an incredible sight to behold.  The sky was dark enough to reveal a couple of planets and a few brighter stars.  The sky doesn’t go completely dark because of both the sun’s wispy corona and scattered sunlight from 35 miles away or less in every direction, outside the shadow of the moon.

The view was entirely captivating but, before we knew it, our two minutes of totality was already ending: a small bright bead of light starts to form which quickly brightens to create the stunning “diamond ring” effect.  And then back on with the solar filters and glasses.

I had several cameras set up and recording different perspectives: one with a telephoto lens, one on a drone hovering out-of-earshot, one focused on the scene of us and one on my telescope to capture a much closer view (an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain with a focal reducer to widen the view) and I’m so glad I did as we were able to see several solar eruptions in progress around the edge.  Gorgeous!

Darlene and Michele also took some nice pics and video with handheld cameras.  Click through for the full gallery of pictures and videos:

     

Here’s Michele (my sister-in-law)’s take on the experience: Midnight Sun


Update:  Somebody asked me about our white sheet spread out on the ground and whether we had managed to see the elusive “shadow bands”.  The answer is no, but this question prompted me to go back to the video that was rolling the whole time to see if I could find them.

They’re supposed to be very faint, thin, moving shadows (aka, “shadow snakes”) that are difficult to see and more difficult to record.  We had looked specifically for them on the sheet about a minute before totality and then of course we were completely distracted by the amazing show in the sky afterward.

However, examining the video recording more closely and turning up the contrast, I think I may have found them:

Shadow bands?

 

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Perseids at the Pinnacles

Darlene and I made an overnight visit to Pinnacles National Monument last Thursday to catch the Perseids in a clear dark sky again.  While enjoying the show, I took a few long exposures and caught a couple of meteors:

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Burning New Moon

Caught a super thin crescent of a new moon chasing the sunset a couple of days ago:

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Looked like it was on fire as it set behind the ridge – here’s some video through my telescope
(at 4x normal speed):


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“Oh my god, it’s full of stars!”

I’ve looked into telescopes a bit now and again, spurred by some new cool astronomical event but never actually took the plunge until just recently, near the end of 2013, with the approach and subsequent demise of comet ISON.  This time I was committed to doing the research and actually ordering some gear… and, given my love of photography, astrophotographic gear too!  Oh my, what a deep hole I’ve found here… what have I got myself into?!?

Things started out a little rough as my mount arrived in November with a manufacturing defect that I didn’t know enough to figure out immediately and required some back and forth with Celestron’s tech support to narrow down.  Then I had to package it all back up and send it back and wait for a replacement.

But here it is, it’s an 8″ Celestron EdgeHD 800 on an Advanced VX mount – lovely!  (It’s a Schimdt-Cassegrain on a German equatorial mount.)

My Celestron EdgeHD 800 telescope set up on my upstairs deck

I’ve long wanted to get a telescope, as in a real telescope, not that silly cheap thing I got as a kid in the 70’s.  I’ve tinkered on and off with desktop and mobile apps for exploring the night sky, explored a bit with a nice pair of image-stabilized binoculars and attended the occasional star party here and there.  (The one held on the slopes of Mauna Kea was pretty cool!)

And I wanted to take advantage of the somewhat darker skies I now have here in the hills above Santa Cruz – at least darker compared to my old condo in San Jose – that swath of light from Silicon Valley and the Bay Area is at least somewhat shielded by the coastal mountains here.  I’ve got a nice, super-convenient, south-facing deck off of my upstairs master bedroom with an open view of most of the sky (except to the north, beneath the celestial pole).  And once I get a little more experienced, it’ll be fun to pack up the gear and take it to some remote dark locations.

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It’s pretty overwhelming how much there is to learn, particularly when you get into astronomical imaging, but I am certainly enjoying the endeavor.  As such, I’ve decided to put together a little newbie’s guide to backyard astronomy to summarize all the information I’ve been gathering and the choices I’ve been making as to gear and setup:  A Newbie’s Guide to Telescopic Adventures

So here’s a bit of first light through it – imaging a portion of the Orion nebula.  Mind you, I’m just starting to get into this and this is just a newbie’s single, 16-second exposure to catch a bit of color:

Orion Nebula (M42), Nikon D7000, 16 seconds @ ISO 6400, 8″ EdgeHD, .7x reducer lens

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A Newbie’s Guide to Telescopic Adventures

 

Thank goodness for the wealth of easy information sharing on the web.  Would’ve been quite different diving in back in the early 90’s.  Of course the gear has advanced a lot too.  So here I am sharing the experience of jumping in relatively new.  And how foolish for a newbie to write a guide for other newbies?  Well, you’ve been warned – though I’ve long had an interest in astronomy, I’m really only just now getting into this very deep!

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Perseids at the Pinnacles

Darlene and I camped out on the east side of Pinnacles National Park this past Sunday to watch the Perseids meteor shower. We had some fairly dark skies as Pinnacles is in a somewhat remote location. The glow of lights from Hollister and Salinas (about 25-ish miles away) were apparent to the north but the Milky Way was still quite visible. And the crescent moon set nice and early. We spotted probably several meteors per minute.  There were a few clusters of four or five.

I made a little video of some time lapse images I captured during the night:

As it was a Sunday night, getting a campsite was easy – most of the sites were vacant — not so on a Friday or Saturday night!  There was lots of wildlife though… of the more natural variety.  We had multiple visits from human-habituated deer, rabbits and a coyote in our campsite.  (I don’t count the yellow jackets!)  We went for a hike to see the nearby talus caves and saw a couple of bats but part of the caves were still closed to protect the bat colony.  (Talus caves are formed by rocks and boulders falling into a narrow area to form a ceiling and block out the sky.)  On Monday, we hiked the High Peaks loop and happened to run into an old coworker from FileMaker.  We also saw some turkey vultures and possibly some California condors.

 

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Moon-Jupiter Conjunction

A nice conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter tonight — meaning that they appear very close together in the sky.  With binoculars, you can see our moon, Jupiter nearby (appearing as a small disc) and several of Jupiter’s moons (several points of light around Jupiter) all at once.  Pretty cool.

I tried to capture what I could see through my binoculars using my 400mm lens plus a 2x teleconverter on my DSLR but I wasn’t able to get a sharp image with my lightweight tripod, even with a delayed shutter release.  (I have been meaning to get a heavy tripod for this sort of thing.)  So this was the best I could do before the sky started to get a little cloudy with moisture — and I never got so far as finding an exposure to catch Jupiter’s moons as well:

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Aliens!! Hiding in the Sun!

I found the alien spacecraft hiding in front of the sun today!!  It’s still there now as of 5 pm June 5th, slowly moving across the face.  Alert the media!

Strangely, neither Pan or Hera seemed particularly concerned about this news, but at least Hera seemed to be paying attention.

 

(Okay, yes, for the benefit of finding this later, it’s a transit of Venus.)

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Eclipse Watch

I drove up to a spot near Lake Tahoe for the annular eclipse on the evening of May 20th, 2012.  Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead and get the necessary solar filters to do any photography work — and checking around the couple of days before the event proved fruitless.  But at least I had binoculars so I could set up a projection to watch it.

My little arrangement makes me think of the robot from the movie Short Circuit.  Hmm, I suppose Wall-E too.

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Lunar Eclipse

This morning’s lunar eclipse…

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I liked how I could just step out on the balcony to see it too.

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