Friday, August 30, 2013

Crescent Moon Rises with Jupiter, Weekend Conjunction Coming Soon

I couldn't sleep last night, I think it had something to do with our dog hogging all the pillow space. Either way, it was an excellent excuse to go outside and look at the stars. There was a very thin veil of clouds - not clear enough to try for deep sky objects, but fun to observe the summer constellations.

I also saw some familiar wintery constellations rising low to the East at about 3:56am. The crescent moon was to the top left of Orion, and Jupiter was rising into its next observing season. I also got some photos of Cassiopeia and Perseus that I'll post later.

Crescent Moon Rises with Jupiter
Single frame, ISO 200, 5 sec, f/4.5, 35mm
Mars was still below the horizon. Looking ahead a few days, the crescent Moon will join Jupiter and Mars in conjunction during the early morning hours on August 31 and September 1, 2013. Next to Mars, Comet ISON is still too faint for my camera (around Mag 12.8). Check out Comet ISON Daily Pictures for recent photos. The comet will make it's closest approach to Mars on October 1.

September 1 moon jupiter mars conjunction
Screenshot from StarWalk, conjunction early morning September 1, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eerie Yellow Sunrise August 29, 2013

This morning I was taking the dog out before work and I saw this flat yellow disk hovering over the apartment complex. There were just enough clouds to show a completely round bright circle, but not thick enough to shade or fade the sun unevenly. It was just the right amount of clouds to simulate an eclipse screen or filter. Very eerie.

yellow sun
iPhone photo taken vertical and cropped in Paint

Homemade Star Charts for Abstract Summer Constellations

Summer brings an interesting combination of constellations to the prime evening sky. There are a number of gigantic constellations (Pegasus, Aquarius, Virgo), and a bunch of super tiny abstract constellations. Pictured below, I was able to capture 5 constellations in the same field of view using my 18mm lens. The photo was taken from a set of star trail images earlier this month.

Summer Constellations
Tiny and obscure summer constellations

This photo shows Equuleus (little horse), Delphinus (the dolphin), Sagitta (arrow), Vulpecula (little fox), Aquila (the eagle), and Lyra (the lyre, or small harp). How does two dots make a little fox? And how cool is the word Vulpecula? And how much does Aquila look like a pterodactyl?

If you want to see what constellations are visible this month, check out What's Out Tonight? ( for a free star chart.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Moon Silhouette Alignment Predicted by The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Whether in app form or on the web, The Photographer's Ephemeris () is a great free way to predict sun and moon angles by day and time. I hear good things about PhotoPills () but I don't feel like forking over $10 just yet when TPE is free in web form.

Using my photos from two nights ago that didn't quite align, I was able to determine the correct moon altitude (about 2°30') and azimuth (about 70°45'). Back-tracking, that means the moon should actually rise at about 68° azimuth. 

Now, if I can just find a time when the crescent moon will rise at 68° around pre-dawn twilight I can probably get a much nicer photo! I am pretty please with this one though, I just wish I didn't have to lighten the background in Photoshop so much. It's always something huh?

Using the visual search function on the iOS app, a crescent moon won't be in this position at sunrise until June 26, 2014 at 5:57am. A full moon won't rise at sunset in this position until November 18, 2013 at 6:28pm, or December 17, 2013 at 6:01pm, but then not again until December 2014.

Moon Silhouette
Lightened the sky a little with Photoshop
Moon under a roof
Moon under a roof, how about that?

Monday, August 26, 2013

First Try Lunar Alignment with Ephemeris App

My neighbors have a moon wind chime that I noticed when I was photographing planets in pre-dawn twilight. Because of the way the balcony is positioned, you can see right through to the East. I would LOVE to get a photo of the moon silhouetting the moon wind chime, or a crescent moon at dawn next to the moon wind chime.

Out of curiosity I opened the The Photographer's Ephemeris app () and saw that the waning gibbous moon would be rising in generally the right area. The problem is, I'm not sure how far above the horizon it needs to be to align with the wind chime - so I'm not sure where it needs to rise exactly.

These photos are from last night. The alignment isn't too bad for a last-minute chance.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Color Corrected Star Trails: Trying to Escape the Yellow Buildings

I have a beige balcony and lots of light pollution, so any attempt to include the building in my shots to provide context always results in a big yellow mess. I tried my best to color correct this one to look "normal" but it looks even more saturated and fake. Oh well, at least it's some variety over the same yellow blahhh.

point and shoot star trails
274 images stacked in StarStaX, Canon Powershot A3100IS
Same image as above color adjusted in Photoshop

Mini Messier Marathon: M27 (Dumbbell Nebula), M15, M56, M71

I woke up at 2:30am on Saturday morning to take the dog out. It was clear out, so I decided to set up my camera on the balcony and shoot some objects around the Summer Triangle that was in the western sky. Between 2:30am - 4:00am I was able to image four Messier objects and Nova Delphini 2013.

First up, M27 the Dumbbell Nebula. I never thought I'd be able to catch this dim nebula with just my DSLR on a fixed tripod, but I was excited that the basic shape is visible! This object also counts toward my IAS Novice/Urban Observing List for August 2013.

M27 dumbbell nebula canon rebel xt
161 subs, 62 dark, 45 bias each at 300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
Crop of the above image showing Dumbbell Nebula shape
M15 globular cluster canon rebel xt
132 subs, 62 dark, 45 bias each at 300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
M56 globular cluster
88 subs, 62 dark, 45 bias each at 300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
M71 globular cluster
145 subs, 62 dark, 45 bias each at 300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
I also noticed that the apparent magnitudes listed on each item's main Wikipedia page is different from the items listed on the Messier object page, and different than the magnitudes listed in Stellarium - So which should I use?? Either way, M71 and M56 were super faint.

I also recycled some bias and dark frames from another day entirely. I know it's probably not the best solution, but I don't think at this level of photography it's that noticeable - plus my memory card was completely full.

Stellarium night vision
So much easier! Another reason why I love a balcony.

I brought my laptop running Stellarium out onto the balcony with me - which was so much easier than going back and forth to look up anchor stars or stars that look familiar. Luckily it has a night vision mode, and I turned the screen brightness way down. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Revisiting Nova Del 2013 on August 24, 2013 at 0715 UTC

I took some more photos of Nova Delphini 2013 this morning at 3:15am Indiana time, which I believe is 7:15am universal time. In my single frames, N Del 2013 appears slightly smaller than the nearby 5.7 reference star, so it must be 5.8 magnitude (whereas before it appeared slightly larger than the 5.7 reference star). 

Nova Del 2013 August 24
48 subs, 62 darks, 45 bias, each at 300mm, 1.3 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600

It's hard to tell with the stacked image because the stars are all kinda smudged (they're kinda smudged on the single frames too for that matter). Here is a side by side comparison of my two observations compared to the nearby 5.7 magnitude star. To me it looks like N Del 2013 is slightly brighter on the 22nd and slightly dimmer on the 24th.

nova delphini 2013 comparison
Side-by-side comparison of N Del 2013 for two observations
nova del 2013 star chart
This was really fun to make! Comparing my photo of N Del 2013 to Stellarium
Nova! It's a new (-ly visible) star!

Nova Delphini 2013 (N Del 2013) August 21, 2013

In spite of the nearly full moon, I was able to spot Nova Delphini 2013 with my Canon Rebel XT and 300mm lens. The new nova (redundant?) isn't blowing apart like a supernova, but stealing enough gas from its neighbor to temporarily flare up much brighter than normal (10,000x brighter in a matter of days). The star itself is a white dwarf normally too faint to see with even some pretty hefty equipment (approximately +17 magnitude). I took a series of images and stacked them for a total exposure time of about 1 minute.

nova delphini 2013
Stack of 79 light frames 1.3 sec each, 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 1600 (30 dark, 20 bias)
Judging by the known magnitude of nearby stars, I'd estimate it at about +5.6 (but then again I've never estimated the magnitude of a nova before).

I used a chart from the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) to identify the magnitudes of several other stars in my image, then tried to place N Del 2013 on a spectrum between them. This process is described in more detail here.

As it so happens, my guess of 5.6 plots perfectly on the AAVSO light curve for N Del 2013. Indiana time is 4 hours behind UTC, and I took my photos at 10:30pm on August 21 - so that puts me smack dab in the middle of the green dots just after midnight UTC on August 22.

nova delphini 2013 light curve graph
Light curve for N Del 2013, data from
My observation (red circle) added in Photoshop
n del 2013 with delphinus
A wider shot of Nova Delphini 2013 showing location relative to Delphinus
21 subs, 19 darks each at 75mm, f/4.5, 4 sec, ISO 1600
Check out the light pollution from the moon in this last image! On my camera's LCD screen I could barely make out Delphinus, but I'm glad it showed up in my image.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

When is the 'Blue Corn Moon' from Pocahontas? Tonight! (Kinda)

All full moons have different traditional and cultural names, but when does the Blue Corn Moon occur? The Blue Corn Moon is mentioned in the song Colors of the Wind from the Disney animated movie Pocahontas:

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

The first line of the chorus tells of the wolf crying to the "blue corn moon", with the second line varying with the verse context. The phrase "blue corn moon" has no actual meaning in Native American folklore. It was made up by lyricist Stephen Schwartz because he liked the sound of it, being inspired by a Native American love poem that read "I will come to you in the moon of green corn" (Wikipedia).

blue corn moon
Tonight's [Blue Corn] Moon, August 20, 2013
30 frames stacked, each at ISO 100, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec

All accounts I could find online claim that Stephen Schwartz made up the phrase "blue corn moon" for the song in 1995 - although several of them cite a Yahoo! Answers page as if it were cold hard fact. In any case, it doesn't sound like the blue corn moon exists.


Stephen Schwartz created the term Blue Corn Moon out of a mashup between "green corn moon" and "blue moon." A blue moon was originally defined as the fourth full moon in a three moon season, and later as the second full moon in a single month ( Tonight's full moon meets the criteria for a blue moon following the original definition - or as some call it a "technical Blue Moon" or "seasonal Blue Moon." This is the last Blue Moon until July 31, 2015 and the last seasonal Blue Moon until May 21, 2016 (source).

Tonight is also the night of the Green Corn Moon, which is just another name for the full moon in August.

So if you put those together: Green Corn Moon + Blue Moon = Blue Corn Moon. Which is tonight! The next time a Blue Moon will fall on a Green Corn Moon is August 22, 2021.

blue corn moon
Blue Corn Moon peeking through the clouds tonight
blue corn moon
Single frame from tonight's shoot

Almost Full Moon August 19, 2013

I have a habit of catching almost-full moons on clear nights, and rarely get a true full moon. This one is from last night, and about 98% illuminated. I'm going to try again tonight! 

Incidentally, this full moon is known as the "Full Sturgeon Moon, the Full Red Moon, the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon" ( via Yahoo!). News sites LOVE reporting on Blue Moons and their various moon names. Full moons make the headlines more than I ever noticed before!

almost full moon
58 subs stacked in Registax; each at 1/640 sec, 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 100
White balanced in Adobe Camera RAW

Monday, August 19, 2013

McCloud Nature Park Public Star Gaze

I attended my first IAS event this weekend, a public stargaze at the McCloud Nature Park. It was a little hazy, but we were able to observe some double stars and Saturn. I even caught a glimpse of M13, but it was very faint.

I didn't bring my scope or camera to this event, but I wish I had. The moon was out and waxing gibbous, so it would have made an easy target for my basic refractor. I did, however, spend a lot of time looking through other scopes and learning a lot!

There were about 30 people there in total. Once I got over the fact that I didn't know anyone, it was a pretty fun time.

The park is out in the middle of frickin nowhere - which is the point, but wow. It took me about 35 minutes driving west of Brownsburg. It was a little unnerving going from county roads, to roads with no lines, to single lane roads with no lines, to gravel roads. The park is available as an observing site to group members, so apparently I can call any day I want and ask them to turn the lights off for me at night. Pretty cool if I know of anything worth the drive. Maybe ISON this winter will be worth the trip to dark(er) skies.

mccloud nature park star gazing
Entrance to the McCloud Nature Park

Skies were hit or miss, with some cool wisps as well

mccloud nature park star gazing
Cool! Concrete observing pads with individual power sources. Everyone seemed to favor the small hill, however, to get over the fog that rolled in.

mccloud nature park star gazing
Looking down a Dob

mccloud nature park star gazing
View from the top of the (very) small hill. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Complete! IAS Novice/Urban Observing List for August 2013

Now that I'm a card-carrying member of the Indiana Astronomical Society, it brings me great pleasure to complete my first monthly challenge! Here is the Novice/Urban Observing List for August 2013 with links to the objects I successfully observed/imaged. My goal was 6 out of 10 plus the challenge object. Acquisition details are located on the individual blog posts (linked at the bottom).

Mini Messier Marathon: M13, M92, M22, M57

I had an exceptionally clear night here in Indiana, and I was able to shoot 4 deep sky objects, plus dark and bias frames all in one 4GB memory card. Here are the results of my Mini Messier Marathon! I've got M13 the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, M92 another globular cluster in Hercules, M22 a globular cluster in Sagittarius, and a very tiny very faint M57 Ring Nebula at the edge of my imaging abilities!

M13 globular cluster
M13, Great Globular Cluster in Hercules
Total exposure time 1min34s; 94 subs, 62 darks, 45 bias
1.3 sec, ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6

M22 globular cluster
M22, Globular cluster in Sagittarius
Total exposure time 1min36s; 96 subs, 62 darks, 45 bias
1.3 sec, ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6

M57 ring nebula with canon rebel xt
M57, The Ring Nebula
Total exposure time 3min; 180 subs, 62 darks, 45 bias
1.3 sec, ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6

M92 globular cluster
M92, Globular cluster in Hercules
Total exposure time 3min; 180 subs, 62 darks, 45 bias
1.3 sec, ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6

Milky Way Over Metamora

Finally got around to processing these Milky Way photos from my trip to Metamora. Here are the best ones! I took enough frames of the Milky Way for a timelapse movie, but about half way through my lenses fogged up with dew. I still have a good number, but I'm not sure it's worth making into a short clip.

The sky appears purple because of light pollution and adjusted for white balance in Photoshop Camera RAW.

milky way
Single exposure: 18mm, f/4.5, ISO 1600, 15 sec

milky way
Single exposure: 18mm, f/4.5, ISO 1600, 15 sec

Moon with iPhone Default Camera Through Meade 285 (Handheld)

I took this photo of the moon through my Meade 285 telescope using a handheld iPhone 5. I took about 20 photos and this is the best one! I either need to get an eyepiece clip for my phone, or invest in a t-ring/t-adapter set for my DSLR. This handheld stuff is for the birds!

moon with iphone through telescope
Single exposure with default iPhone camera app, contrast adjusted in Filterstorm app

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

StarStaX Comet Mode for Drop Shaped Star Trails

I just upgraded my StarStaX software (free by the way), and noticed some new features! Here are two examples of the "Comet Mode" that fades older frames to make the trails into long teardrops or comet shapes.

comet star trails
150 frames with Comet Mode and contrast adjusted
north star trails
150 frames without Comet Mode or contrast adjusted
starstax screenshot

comet mode star trails
Yep, it's as easy as checking a box! 167 frames
regular star trails
You can also save images at each step to create timelapse movies with hundreds of tiny comets soaring across the sky