Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mars, Moon, Spica Conjunction July 5, 2014

On July 5, 2014, the night of my sister's birthday, and my friend Ryan's wedding, the Moon will be within half a degree of the planet Mars, and the pair will both be about 3 degrees from the 15th brightest star Spica. It should be a bright and interesting summer night conjunction!

The position you see here is based on my location in Indiana. In South America the moon will actually move in front of Mars. This is known as an occultation, e.g. the moon will "occult" Mars.

Every time I poke around in Stellarium I find new and interesting events. I suppose I could have just looked at the 101 Astronomical Events for 2014, but stumbling upon conjunctions is fun too.

July 5 2014 mars moon spica conjunction
Screen capture from Stellarium software

Ceres and Vesta Super Close Conjunction Flyby July 2014

In July 2014, the 2nd largest asteroid Vesta will buzz past the 1st largest asteroid (dwarf planet) Ceres in a super close conjunction flyby. Check out these animated star chart diagrams that show the position of Ceres and Vesta during the conjunction. How close will they be? From our perspective about 2' or 3' (arcminutes) separation on the night of July 13. Don't miss the chance to observe and photograph this extreme asteroid mashup in Virgo. 

Both objects should be visible in binoculars, with a small telescope, or with a nice zoom lens and DSLR camera. Vesta will be brighter at +6.4 and Ceres dimmer at +7.7 magnitude. 

Here is an animation I made using screenshots from Stellarium to show the position of Vesta relative to Ceres over a period of 38 days.

animation star chart for ceres vesta conjunction
Vesta and Ceres July 2014 Conjunction - Animation of 38 screenshots from Stellarium

animation star chart for ceres vesta conjunction
Vesta and Ceres July 2014 Conjunction - Animation of 38 screenshots from Stellarium
To locate the pair of asteroids, look to Virgo and use the conveniently positioned Mars and Spica as pointers! How handy is that!

spica and mars point to ceres and vesta
Spica and Mars point to Ceres and Vesta

Jupiter at Prime Focus with Canon T5i on Meade 285

I wish I could show you what I saw with my eye (said every photographer ever). I observed Jupiter through my Meade 285 refractor (60mm, 2.4") last night. I was able to visually make out two red stripes on the face of a pale yellow orange dot. At something like 35 arcseconds in diameter, this might not be the ideal time to observe Jupiter - but it's still larger than Mars at only 15 arcseconds in diameter.

Because my camera takes 1080p video, the single frames are actually much higher resolution. I was able to see a faint dark cloud band in a single frame (not as good as with my eye through the eyepiece). My 6mm eyepiece focuses the light further away from the eyepiece, which is great for people who wear glasses so they don't have to press their glasses up against the eyepiece. However, this makes it harder to hold an iPhone over the eyepiece because you have to hover in mid-air rather than resting the phone on the eyepiece.

DSLR attached to refractor telescope
Canon T5i attached to my small telescope with T-ring and .965" to T-thread adapter

DSLR attached to telescope
Looking at Jupiter down the barrel

Jupiter single frame
Single frame (not stacked from video), one dark cloud band visible

astronomy fuzzy blob
Stacked from 1080p video at prime focus (just a blob)

Jupiter and moons from DSLR
Single frame at ISO 6400 compared to Stellarium screenshot

Friday, April 18, 2014

Goodbye April Snow, Meade 285 Refractor Ready for the Weekend

This ol' workhorse is the only telescope I've got, and I'm putting it to work this weekend. We should have two days of clear skies (jinx), and no snow. No snow!!! It snowed the day of the recent lunar eclipse here in Indiana.What a bummer!

meade 285
Meade 285

april snow in indiana
Snow in Indiana the morning of April 15, 2014

Testing NightCap Pro for iPhone with In-App Star Trails

iphone star trails with nightcap
Single exposure with NightCap Pro app for iPhone, stars, Jupiter, plenty of air traffic, and light pollution
NightCap Pro, an upgrade to the popular NightCap low light iPhone camera app, was released on Thursday. This app includes several of the features that already set the original NightCap apart from other low light camera apps - such as the option to choose file formats (JPEG, HQ JPEG, and TIFF), the ability to automatically take infinite back-to-back photos of various exposure durations, and an ISO boost maxing out the iPhone at ISO 3200 (more ISO firepower than I had in my DSLR until this past Christmas).

More info and tips available at or in the App Store. It's so nice to know that someone else out there is thinking about astronomy and astrophotography with an iPhone. In fact, Chris from Interealtime Software emailed me and showed me a great star trail photo he took with the NightCap Pro app.

The only down side is the lack of volume shutter release, but Chris says that feature is coming down the road. For now, a simple timer does the trick. Get a steady tripod and some dark skies, and you'll be surprised what you can make with your iPhone! Move away from the city to avoid that green glow (grrrrr), and if you take star photos with your iPhone I wanna see them! Share your blog links in the comments (no spam please).

nightcap pro featuresnightcap pro features
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