Saturday, November 16, 2013

Psychedelic Beaver Moon

Tonight's full Moon goes by many names (as all the full Moons do) but it's more commonly called the Beaver Moon.  I was vegging out watching The (original) Karate Kid with my daughter, who sings right along to all the terrible 80's jams, when a friend called me to tell me about the crazy sky action.  I went out to see high altitude cirrus clouds creating a gorgeous 22 degree halo around the full Moon.  This effect is caused by ice crystals in the thin clouds refracting the moonlight (more info here).  Sometimes you'll see it as just a thin ring around the moon in the clear sky but when the clouds are a bit thicker the colors really pop.  It was pretty dramatic tonight.
Clouds: 122mm, 0.3 sec, f9, ISO100
Moon: 1/25 sec...

86mm, 0.4 sec, f9, ISO100
Moon:  1/25 sec...

ISON hunting

The alarm woke me up at 4am this morning and I drove to my favorite eastern horizon to attempt a shot of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1).  I was technically successful but my barn door tracking mount was being ornery so unfortunately I ended up with only a single worthwhile shot.  I would have liked to get closer to a hundred shots to process into a sharp noise-free image.  There was only an hour between the near full Moon setting and sunrise so that adds some pressure as well.

It wasn't too cold, I was serenaded by coyotes as I watched the Moon set and the ISS fly over, then the Sun rose beautifully not too long after so at least it was enjoyable just being outside.

Comet ISON can be currently located near Spica in Virgo, this morning it was approx 5 degrees above (about the width of three fingers at arms length).  It is expected to brighten in the coming weeks and if it survives it's trip past the Sun on 11/28/13 it will likely be visible through December, possibly spectacularly!

300mm, 40sec, f8, ISO1000

I also got a nice view of Mercury close to sunrise on the lower left, Spica is the bright higher star to the right.
34mm, 8.9sec, f10, ISO100

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Flaming Horsehead

On Sunday night (11/3/13) I dragged a couple friends with me to Mingo Creek Park Observatory for what I figured would be some minor astrophotography and binocular viewing.  We arrived to find the director of the observatory and another AAAP member doing research on Variable Stars using the large reflector telescope.  Not expecting to do any "big scope" observing we were thrilled when they warmly welcomed us into the facility and showed us several deep sky and planetary objects.  We viewed the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), the Orion Nebula (M42), Jupiter, and Uranus (which I had never observed).

When they closed up we went outside and under the moonless and cloudless sky we used the new and improved barn door sky tracking mount to shoot a wide field of Orion.  I wanted to show some of the nebulosity in the constellation, specifically Barnard's Loop or the entire Orion Molecular Cloud Complex but had very poor luck.  I'll try again when the constellation is higher, away from the horizon and light pollution.  I was tickled to see the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) coming out in the wide shots and decided to target that next.  It's the fuzzy thing located just next to the bottom belt star in the photo.  Even the Rosette Nebula showed itself slightly on the lower left, that'll be a target soon as well.
180sec, f6.3, ISO800

Orion with prominent nebula locations

Just shooting with my un-modified Nikon D90, I was not expecting to be able to image the Flame Nebula very well and was even more amazed when the Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) began to emerge in my processed shots. This image could definitely (and will) be improved upon with more stacked images but I'm very excited to show this off.
21 images stacked in DeepSkyStacker
f6.3, 60sec, ISO1600

And just a fun shot with my (wife's) car and some light painting.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunrise Eclipse

A partial "hybrid" solar eclipse was in progress at sunrise today.  I woke up spontaneously early enough to drive around and find a good eastern horizon.  I was concerned about the low cloud bank but once the Sun finally broke over it the eclipse was still in effect.  Not as spectacular as the pictures you will see later from eclipse chasers that traveled all the way to Africa for the full show but this is the best eclipse Southeastern PA saw.  You can plainly see active sunspot regions 1882,1884, 1885, and 1889 on the right side of the solar disk in the photo.
1/160sec, f16, ISO100 with variable circular neutral density filter.

I even caught this Canada Goose flying through this shot, if only it was sharper!