Monday, August 25, 2014

August 31 Moon, Saturn, Mars Conjunction

Look to the southwest after sunset on Sunday night, August 31, 2014. You'll see a triangle of Saturn, Mars, and the 35% illuminated Moon smack in the middle of the constellation Libra. They will all be about 3-4ยบ apart, so not the closest conjunction of the year, but still a nice show if you have clear skies to the west.

It should be a real treat to welcome September weather, with longer nights and the beginning of cooler evening temperatures. I love stargazing in the Fall, and I'm looking for a break to this Indiana jungle humidity that's been sitting over the state for the past week!

august 31 mars moon saturn conjunction
Moon, Saturn and Mars smack in the middle of Libra on the evening of August 31, 2014. Screenshot from Stellarium.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Close Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, August 18, 2014

I've been waking up earlier for work with my longer commute from Noblesville, this made it easy to spot the progression of Venus and Jupiter in the sky at 6:08am. On August 16 I saw bright Venus to the upper right of fainter Jupiter, and on August 18 they had switched positions with Jupiter slightly to the right of Venus. It was rather hazy, and I'm glad I saw the pair at all in the yellow pre-dawn glow.

venus and jupiter august 18 conjunction
Single exposure, T5i, f/4.5, 1.6 sec, ISO 400, 135mm

From our perspective, the two were less than 1/2° apart (17 arcminutes according to Stellarium, but at those distances who knows how precise that is). I believe it's the closest conjunction I've seen. Another good one was the Mercury/Mars conjunction in February 2013 that was 22 arcminutes according to Stellarium.

venus and jupiter august 18 conjunction
Single exposure, T5i, f/5.6, 0.8 sec, ISO 1600, 300mm

venus and jupiter august 18 conjunction
Single exposure, T5i, f/4.5, 1.6 sec, ISO 400, 135mm

jupiter venus conjunction august 2014
Single exposure, T5i, f/5.6, 3.2 sec, ISO 400, 55mm

I didn't realize it at the time, but upon closer inspection you can actually make out 3 of Jupiter's moons in my image at 300mm. With the moons to show a little scale, you can tell just how close together the two bodies appear to be! If you read the labels backwards you get a photo of "Jupiter Moons Venus"...

jupiter moons venus

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Venus and Jupiter Morning Conjunction, August 2014

Venus and Jupiter are moving toward each other (from our perspective) and will be very close 45 minutes before sunrise on August 18, 2014 (less than 1/2˚ separation). The pair will rise to the East, so if you want to look for them, find a location with an unobstructed view of the horizon.

We are supposed to have clouds the next few days, but here is Venus (brighter) and Jupiter on August 15 at 6:09am.

venus and jupiter conjunction in the morning
Single exposure, T5i, ISO 400, 55mm, f/5.6, 3.2 sec
Update: I was able to catch the super close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter a few days later on August 18.

Nice Perseid Meteor Capture and Perseid Candidate Analysis

I knew the Perseid meteor shower was coming up, but frankly because of the recent Supermoon I wasn't giving it much thought. On August 12 I was taking Katie out in the middle of the night and inspecting my recently planted linden tree to see if it was improving. While I was looking up I noticed a quick meteor flash high in the sky to the north.

The next night, the night of August 13, I looked at my Scope Nights app to see if it would be clear - but the icon was red so I mentally planned on not going out that night. It wasn't until I took Katie out again that night that I noticed the sky was perfectly clear with a bright moon high to the south. I looked at the app again and noticed that the forecast was for clear skies but that the icon was red because of the moonlight.

In any case, I decided that a clear sky to the north (which happened to be the best direction for observing the Perseids) was worth a shot setting my camera out to try to capture something. I set my camera up on the back patio so it hopefully wouldn't get stolen (we're building a fence soon).

I woke up in a hurry for work, but eagerly put my memory card into my computer and began sifting through the 555 photos. I found a handful of meteor candidates, and two very clear very bright meteor streaks!

bright perseid meteor
Close crop from larger image, T5i, ISO 800, 18mm, f/4, 15 sec, contrast in Photoshop

bright perseid meteors
2 frames aligned, T5i, ISO 800, 18mm, f/4, 15 sec, contrast in Photoshop

These two bright meteors have a javelin shape and irregular colors, they did not have trails on the frames before or after (ruling out many satellites), and the best evidence is that they are pointing to the anticipated radiant point. These are the real thing! Because they happened in two consecutive frames, we know they lit up within 30 seconds of each other - this makes them great tools for backtracking to the radiant point.

identify perseid meteor candidate
Single frame with T5i, ISO 800, 18mm, f/4, 15 sec, contrast in Photoshop

Now let's look at a candidate Perseid meteor - a faint streak of light that we're not so sure about. It could be a satellite, or another meteor unrelated to the Perseids. How can we find out? First, I look to see if there are any lines in the frames before or after. If this 15 second exposure is of a satellite, there should be a continuation of the path in the adjacent frames - but there isn't. Ok, it might be a meteor, but is it a Perseid? Let's look at the paths.

identify perseid meteor candidate
3 frames aligned, T5i, ISO 800, 18mm, f/4, 15 sec, contrast in Photoshop

Here's the candidate overlayed onto the confirmed meteor photo. Notice how the paths of the two bright meteors meet right where we expected the radiant to be. This candidate appears to be originating from the same point - so it's very possible that this is also a faint Perseid.

identify perseid meteor candidate
Single frame with T5i, ISO 800, 18mm, f/4, 15 sec, contrast in Photoshop

Now what about this little guy? A faint streak in the sky with no trails in the frames before or after. Sounds like a meteor - but is it a Perseid? It is certainly in Perseus, but the angle of the origin is a little off. It should look like it's flying out of the radiant point, but instead it looks more like it's cutting across Perseus. I'm not sure sure about this one - It's in the right general orientation but not quite.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Connect Four: Saturn Moon Mars Spica Alignment

Chris and I were taking an evening walk around the neighborhood when we saw this alignment of 4 bright objects, starting with Saturn in the top left connecting through the moon to Mars and Spica further to the bottom right.

saturn moon mars spica alignment
Canon T5i, ISO 400, 33mm, f/5.6, 5 sec, edited in iPhoto

saturn moon mars spica alignment

iPhoto Trying to Tag the Man in the Moon as a Recognized Face

I was going through my iPhoto library and noticed that the application was trying to tag the moon as a recognized face. The face came up as "unnamed" but must have look enough like a face to trigger the face identification tool. 

It reminded me of a recent episode of Big Picture Science, in which Greg Borenstein discusses how facial recognition technology uses algorithms to identify faces, and sometimes sees digital pareidolia. 

Screenshot of iPhoto trying to tag a face in the Moon

Can't Turn Off Picasa Auto Adjust RAW... Sayonara Picasa!

Welp, see ya later! This is majorly frustrating. I was trying to use my PC for all of my image transfer, archiving, and manipulation since a lot of my astrophotography programs are on PC. However, I noticed Picasa is automatically manipulating my RAW files to try to enhance them for me. Thanks but no thanks, Google!

And the best part? Unlike Google+ that annoyingly and automatically started "enhancing" my Blogger photos until I opted out, there is no way to turn this auto adjustment off. I looked at countless forums and everyone is equally annoyed. I think it's time to bite the bullet and just get Lightroom.

In summary, Picasa sucks as an astrophotography image organizer and transfer utility. 

screen shot picasa
Picasa's auto adjustment of my moon photo. What's the point of spending time calculating and adjusting exposures out in the field if Google is going to just wash over it?

screen shot iphoto
iPhoto is an example of an image organizer that doesn't auto enhance your RAW files so they appear closer to how they actually look! What a concept!

screen shot picasa
When your photo looks under-exposed with a lot of black showing (as just about astro photos should), Picasa tries to help you out by auto enhancing your photo and blows out the image beyond recognition.

screen shot iphoto
Here is a screenshot of the in-app appearance of the same photo from above in iPhoto.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Crescent Moon Over My Garage, Getting the Lay of the Land

I'm learning the horizons in my new neighborhood (even though they change regularly with new construction). I'm trying to learn what angles make good photos, and what objects will disappear behind what rooflines, etc.

Here is a "lay of the land" with the crescent moon over my house and garage. I used a higher f-stop number (smaller aperture) to try to get the moon and foreground objects in focus at the same time. This means I couldn't use my typical f/5.6, 15 sec, ISO 1600 settings that are so common, and had to play around with different combinations.

crescent moon over neighborhood
f7.1, 6 sec, ISO 400, 31mm

moon over my house
f/9, 6 sec, ISO 400, 18mm

moon over garage
f/11, 5 sec, ISO 800, 55mm

moon over garage
f/9, 6 sec, ISO 400, 55mm
It's also nice to get some photos of the side of my house before the house next door gets built. Our houses will be 10 feet apart, so I'll never again be able to get my entire house in a photo from the side like this.

I also noticed that my garage carriage lights have beams of light going UP the front of my garage. Since every house in the neighborhood has the same carriage lights, this is no doubt causing some light pollution. This development is sorta sneaky that way, there are very few street lights, which is nice - but it's because all the houses are built with light sensors on carriage lights that don't have their own off switch, I have to flip the breaker switch in order to turn my carriage lights off. I guess it's a trade off because I'd rather not have a bunch of street lamps.

Iridium 39 Over Indiana, Snapseed Quick Edits and Star Trails

I used Heavens Above to predict a -7.6 iridium flare about 3 days in advance. The flare was set for 11:05pm to the NE at 37° above the horizon. The NE is my darkest sky because Indianapolis lies to the SW of my location.

I saw several satellites in the sky before the flare, and a few planes but not enough to ruin my shot. I started my camera on back to back shots at f/5.6, 18mm, 15 sec, 1600 ISO. I ended up with the typical yellow light dome over the horizon, but when I ran the photos through Snapseed on my phone, the "automatic" filter did a super quick and actually very decent job highlighting the stars against a natural looking sky. I guess that's why they call it SNAPseed, it's a snap!

It blows my mind that it's possible to calculate that the right antenna of a satellite 1192 km away will catch the sun just right to shine a beam of light onto Noblesville, and to predict it to the exact second. 

iridium flare 39
2 frames stacked to show full duration of the flare, close crop

iridium flare 39
2 frames stacked, no other edits - the flare was about 30 seconds long so each of my 15 second frames caught part of it

iridium flare with star trails
StarStaX stacked star trails with Iridium 39 flare - "automatic" filter in Snapseed

iridium flare 39
2 frames with the flare by itself, also edited in Snapseed "automatic" mode

Double Rainbow Over Noblesville July 29, 2014

I think this rainbow tops the one I saw in Brownsburg shortly before we moved - so now I've seen two amazing rainbows in the same month from two different cities!

Chris predicted this one for me. He was sitting on the couch and noticed a high contrast shadow on one of the houses across the street. Sure enough, when I stepped outside I saw a pretty great rainbow. I looked behind me to the sun and saw that it was still partially behind some clouds, so I kept watching. The rainbow got better and better and then I saw the double!

double rainbow noblesville indiana
iPhone 5 panorama edited in Snapseed
double rainbow noblesville indiana
iPhone 5 photo