Comet Neowise 2020

2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Universe. I work to keep that in mind as I live from day to day.

From my front porch every evening this summer Jupiter and Saturn have been some of the brightest objects in the sky. Using Gloria’s telescope I’ve been able to clearly see the rings of Saturn and the storms of Jupiter along with many of their moons.

Even with nothing than a regular set of binoculars Jupiter is so close to Earth that the moons are clearly visible without much aid. With a zoom lens, camera and tripod one can take a picture of them without much difficulty.

Then there is comet Neowise. This one snuck up on us. Somehow we can put landers on the moon but not know when a comet is orbiting the sun. Granted, the last time it was here was 6,766 years ago. And it won’t be back for another 6,766 years.

That being said, I wanted to find this comet and see if I could capture it from my own front yard. The biggest problem I have with some of the astronomy stuff is that it happens at like 5 in the morning. That’s not always appealing to me. I’ll do it but it would be way more convenient if it was like around midnight.

And, as it turns out, that was going to happen. All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks and I could get a view in the northwest sky as it set with the sun after 10pm.

The first time I saw it was with binoculars. It was so much larger than I was expecting that I had overlooked it for 30 minutes. And it was much more faint than I was expecting especially as it was dodging in and out of the clouds. With my older eyes and the less than ideal viewing conditions this was going to be challenging to take a clear photo of this thing at night.

With a 600mm lens I knew that I could only keep the shutter open for about 5 seconds to keep the blur at a minimum. That means the ISO has to be fast and the aperture wide open. This is going to produce a grainy/noisy photo and if it’s not tack sharp it not going to come out well.

Focusing in the night sky is not easy. Because my eyes are not the best at determining the focal distance like they were when I was 16 I have to use the camera to help me by focusing on stars in the sky and getting them sharp and then assuming that the comet will be sharp in that background. One tiny camera shake and the photo will be ruined.

300 images later, I picked the 3 I liked the best.

Color image of Comet Neowise.

The color image above shows the green core of the comet against some of the stars on a very cloudy night. I was never afforded a totally dark sky view of the comet while it could be seen from here.

Color image of Comet Neowise just above the horizon.

When the comet was behind the clouds I turned my camera around to see if I could take a decent photo of Jupiter and maybe some of it’s moon. Keep in mind I only have a Nikon camera and lens on a tripod so this is not a telescope or anything fancy.

Jupiter and 4 of its moons.

The picture of Jupiter doesn’t look like much at first glance. But I was shocked that I could get such a good photo of the planet and some of it’s moons. If you zoom into the photo you will see that one of the moons is blue. I think this is Europa which has high water content.

If you didn’t get to see it this trip around the sun unfortunately you are now going to have to take my word that it was there. Or use better camera gear than I have.

It was a fun evening I shared with my family. Interesting time in an interesting year looking at cool astronomy objects.

If you get bored, look up. The comet is about gone but many other object are up there. The sky can offer some interesting things to think about. Maybe give you break to think about other things for a while.

Cygnus Launch

On Saturday November 2, 2019 NASA launched an Antares Rocket as a resupply mission to the International Space Station from the Wallops flight facility in Wallops, Virginia. Wallops is about 160 miles from my home.

Wallops is fun because I can see the rockets as they start to enter orbit once they get pretty high in the sky (like 80,000 – 100,000 feet). In the evenings it is very easy to spot them but hard to photo. This is my first attempt to see if I can see them during the day.

Friday night I did the research on when the launch was going to be performed. They had a 5 minute launch window to complete the launch. I really wanted to drive to Wallops for the launch but knew I would not have the time due to my work schedule. I’ll save that trip for another time. My mission this time was to see if I could actually see the rocket from my home and do my best to photo the rocket on the horizon.

The morning was very clear and cold but hazy. The sun was very bright making the haze even worth. I didnt think I’d be able to get a decent photo of the rocket. During the event I am listening to an Internet stream from NASA giving me details of the launch in progress. So I had a decent idea of when I might see the rocket.

I decided to use my drone to photo my “process” before and during the launch. It would also serve as a queue on where to sync up the video after the event. I start the video about 2 minutes before launch. Here is that video:

Looking through a 600 mm lens is like looking through a very powerful telescope which makes it quite hard to find your subject “randomly” when you are holding it in your hand looking through a tiny view finder window. You really have to focus. And then focusing on such a faint subject so far away takes a little skill. Even so I was quite surprised that I could seen the rocket so clearly once I locked on the image through the long lens. It wouldn’t last long. Maybe 30 seconds.

The photo I took looked pretty good. Until I got it on the computer I didnt realize that it was in perfect focus and you could see the engine firing through the smoke of the contrail.

Cygnus NG-12

It turns out that I have to wait until the rocket is just about done with its first stage burn at an altitude of about 100,000 feet before it comes into view. For future launches this is helpful to know. And now that I’ve seen many of these launches I know exactly where to look on the horizon.

It was fun to participate in the event even if it was from afar. We’ll get out there soon during one of the launches in the future. Hopefully to get photos that are a little closer.

Total Lunar Eclipse

Well, it took me 22 days to write my first post in 2019. Happy new year to you!

All this “Blood Moon” talk hyped up this event which is really just the earth passing in front of the sun casting it’s shadow on the moon (lunar eclipse). It does glow an odd color when in totality. That’s about it though. All the drama in the “news papers” made it more than it really was.

I did get a nice photo of the moon in totality.

The “Blood Moon”, January 21, 2019

At my home in Virginia the sky is always very clear if there are no clouds. This night happened to be one of those super clear nights so taking a picture of the moon would normally be a piece of cake. Enter the 40 mile an hour wind, 10º temperature and the location of the moon at 90º to the horizon.

The photo was taken with a 600mm lens which is not the smallest, lightest lens in the world. Attached to the camera and a tripod it’s steady but unwieldy. The wind was so strong that I had to use f-stops much higher than I normally would so the photo was not blurry. Had this been in the summer, for instance, I could have laid on my back and peered into the sky indefinitely. Not this night!

I did three sessions each about 5 minutes long. At the end of each session I could not feel my fingers! This photo came at the end of the last session after I dialed in the light and shutter speeds that I could use with a shaky camera(man). It wasn’t until I saw it on my computer that I knew I didn’t have to go out for a fourth session. Shew!

The camera was pointing straight up in the sky making it very difficult to focus on the moon and set the camera up to take the photo. But I finally managed to get a good one. It would have been fun to spend more time outside but it was just too uncomfortable.

Some astronomers have captured a meteor striking the moon during totality. That would have been cool to witness.  You can find that on the web if you are interested. I don’t think it was fake news. It’s always possible these days.

Lunar eclipse are fun but if you really want to see something cool make plans to see a total solar eclipse! That’s a sight to see for sure. The next one in the USA is on April 8, 2024. I’ll be there!

I hope you have had a nice day today.

Sunset in the Shenandoah

If you know me you know I’m a sucker for sunsets.

If you know I like sunsets then you probably also know also like sunrises but I can’t seem to get up early enough to see them. Getting up early is not something I generally do on my own. I usually arrive there from the day before.

It would be way more convenient if the sun would rise around 10am. If it did, I could get up, get some tea, check my e-mail, pay some bills THEN look out the window. But, lately it’s happening around 5:30am. Who has time for that?!

OK, back to the sunset yesterday.

I’ve posted the following photo on Instagram and Instagram does what Instagram does best with photography … completely screw it up. How can you take a photo like this with such nice detail and screw it up?

Well, start with making it a 1 by 1 square. Then take out all of the detail that tells the story. Then make people put their words around it to explain what is going on. Then claim it’s the only way to get your story out.

Shenandoah Sunset from Hogback Overlook on Skyline Drive

I like the above photograph but it’s not my favorite. I took a few others that I liked equally as well. Here is one:

Shenandoah sunset from Hogback Overlook

In the photo above I was getting ready to take pictures right when the sun was going over the mountain. My goal in the photographs that follow is to tell the sunset story with some depth of the mountains in front of it.

At this time of the “golden hour” just before the sun sets light springs up from everywhere. It’s at this time of the day that I go from being isolated in my environment to where people start to show up all around me to take in the experience. While I like a good sunset others clearly do as well.

My favorite photos of the landscape are panoramas. The following shot is actually three shots that I’ve sewn together to make a single image. I do it in a way that you can not tell where one photo ends and the other begins. Over the years, I’ve obtain the skill and software to pull it off well. It’s been a long road trying to figure out how to do this. My journey in panoramas started in the 1980’s. It’s only been recently that I’ve figured out how to do it in a way that looks good to me.

Note that the photo below is only a thumbnail … you will need to click the photo to get the detailed panorama shot I mention.

The following photography is one I would actually print and hang on my own wall. After all, that is what photography is for me. It doesn’t matter to me that you might not like it. It matters a lot if I like it. The older I get the more I enjoy my own work. Why it took me so long to get here I really do not know.

If you do click the link below make sure you zoom in and look at the detail. And then realize I still have the original that has 10 times the detail in it. That photo shows exactly what I saw with my own eyes yesterday. I have to say, it’s pretty cool.

Enjoy my photograph. Or not. 😉

Sunrise October 17, 2017

Yesterday I was up early and out he door for a meeting in DC. When I bounced out of the garage I looked up and saw this:

Sunrise October 17, 2017

That part of a sunrise is appealing. The getting up part … not so much.

Click on the picture and look a the moon. I posted a similar picture I took with my iPhone but you could not make out the moon after the dumb down the image so it fits in their ecosystem.

I hope you have a nice day.

Camera mode and the universe.

Yesterday I was reading yet another article about what “mode” to keep one’s camera in so that it is always on the ready. The consensus is that no “pro” would shoot anything other than in full manual mode in raw format. The stories go something like, “5 reasons why you should alway keep your camera in full manual mode…” blah blah. It’s all BS.

In the last year I’ve learned that capturing the shot is the most important thing. Forget how the camera is set. Set the darned thing in a way that when you pick it up the next time you are ready to capture the shot when the shot happens so that you are not “fiddling” trying to figure it out … sometimes in complete darkness.

Tower #2 in the back yard with the Milky Way as a backdrop.

You just can’t predict where you’ll be and there is just no such thing as a perfect camera setting. And you don’t need a “pro” camera to take good pictures. You don’t need the latest technology. You need to get in the back yard and take the picture with the shit you got right now. That’s how this works.

So touch the picture above and look at the details. It’s not like standing in my back yard and feeling the dew on your face as it moves about in the cool breeze. But you’ll get the idea.

What’s in your back yard at night?