Monday, May 28, 2012

Lightning and light pollution

On Friday 5/25/12 our area was hit with some very severe weather but it was supposed to clear quickly afterward.  So, not willing to waste a day off, I decided to head out to the observatory to wait out the storm.  With the 360 degree view at a nice elevation it is perfect storm watching site as well.  The storm was in full swing when I arrived but it wasn't on top of us yet.  I quickly set up the tripod and using my shutter release to  keep the shutter going at 30 sec exposures, it was dark so no need to worry about over exposure.

Lightning is one of the most impressive and surprisingly one of the easiest things to photograph if you don't over think it.  Don't waste your time trying to snap as it happens, you'll only frustrate yourself.  If you have a nighttime storm just set up a tripod and shoot continuously at 30 sec with a wide aperture, pour some wine and get comfy (and safe).  For a daytime storm close the aperture and use shorter exposure times.   Just make sure to grab your gear when the rain hits if you don't have a rain cover (link is the super cheap one I use).

As the night went on the storm moved south and the stars were visible above the thunderheads. Saturn and Spica are the most prominent objects above the clouds. All these shots were taken between 11pm and 1am.

Here's best shots out of 200 or so:

This is the shot I was waiting for!

Bright stars on the left are Saturn (upper) and Spica (lower)

When the sky finally cleared it was such low transparency and seeing was so poor that we didn't even bother opening the observatory roof.

With summertime nearing, the Milky Way has been rising in time for some interesting photo ops.  I've been trying to get a shot of the Milky Way arching over this particular dirt road or weeks and after 3 different tries I have something finally worth showing.   Last night (5/27/12) I returned to this site located near the very rural Spartansburg, PA.  While very rural you can still see the dramatic effects of light pollution.  I'm anxiously awaiting the airing of the documentary The City Dark on PBS on July 5.  I strongly urge you to watch and in the meantime, if you must have glaring property lights get some motion detectors or sky friendly fixtures and bulbs.  Reconnect with the stars, there's a whole Universe out there.  People need to realize we're part of something much bigger.

180 degrees, from Cassiopeia to Scorpius

Sunday, May 20, 2012


As I'm watching all the breathtaking "Ring of Fire" shots roll in across the interwebs, I can't help but get a little jealous.  There's some great shots out there, go check Google.

This was the maximum eclipse here in NW Pennsylvania before it headed further west.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Supermoon, Sun rings, and Sunspots...Oh my!

I have had zero time to sit down and put some words with some pictures here (I actually don't really have the time right now) but things are getting backed up so I must play some catch up here.

Lets start with last week's so-called "Supermoon!".  Not to burst anyone's bubble but it was just another full moon.  However, the full moon is always a beautiful sight so anything that gets regular folks interested in looking up at the night sky, histerical claims or not,  I'm all for it!  So, no massive earthquakes or tidal waves, just a perigee moon slightly bigger than normal.  I went out and shot it with my little future astrophysicist.

240mm, f10, 1/10, ISO100
 This one was fun.  "oooh, so the right, no left... good,now up, little more...leeetle more, ooh perfect!  Now look at me...and freeze"  She's very patient sometimes.
135mm, f4.2, 1/25, ISO1250

On May 12th (My mother's birthday) there was an interesting show in the daytime sky.  A 22 degree halo or a "neat rainbow ring around the Sun" that lasted hours into the afternoon.  This allowed for some interesting distractions from my yard work.

This first one is a shot I took advantage of and framed for my Mother's day present.
18mm, f10, 1/400, ISO100

It's a good idea to block the full midday Sun from your eye as well as your camera's sensor.
18mm, f10,1/400, ISO100
As I was pointing my camera at the Sun I thought about the upcoming Venus transit (June 5th) and how I still haven't totally worked out how I'm going to shoot it (luckily it occurs at sunset so the full onslaught of solar rays won't be so harsh).  I ran inside to see what I could dig out.  I grabbed my ND400 filter and decided to go for it. 

To gain some perspective on this region, our entire world easily fits inside that darker area in the middle of AR 1476, with room to spare.
ND400, 300mm, f14, 1/4000, ISO100 
 This hand held shot above clearly shows the large current active sunspot region 1476 along with other active regions.  This set up should definitely give me good results for shooting the Venus transit.  I'm planning on shooting from Presque Isle (Erie, PA) weather permitting (please permit!!).   This will occur again in 2117, so you can wait if you want...I don't plan on seeing that one.

The skies are clearing and this week looks very astronomically promising.  Sagittarius is rising earlier and earlier as summer nears so I plan on trying a Milky Way rise time lapse in the near future.  And of course I'll be posting the rapidly approaching Venus transit.  Stay tuned.

Clear skies!