This Weekend: 4 Planets in Plain Sight

If you are able to get out of bed early before sunrise and the sky is clear, you can catch a view of our three closest planets, and if you include Earth that makes 4.  Mercury was at the greatest elongation on September 12th (furthest from the Sun when viewed from Earth) which makes it a good time to spot without the glare of the Sun.  But it happens that Mars and Venus are also on that same side of the Sun, making a chanced planetary alignment.

The sky map below [click for larger] shows the position of Mercury, Mars and Venus for the morning of the 16 to the 19 of September.  Bright star Regulus and our Moon are also there to make this a worth-while event, especially on Monday the 18th.

September_AlignmentMars and Mercury will be closest on the 16th, while the 18th will probably be the most photogenic as the Moon will be a thin crescent in the middle of this alignment.

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Solar Eclipse – Post Processing

With the eclipse behind us, and all the gear put away it’s time to transfer and process the images to create something memorable.  I decided to make a mosaic with some of the photos of the eclipse, as well as the visible sun spots. Click on the image below for a high-resolution version.

August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse

August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse

The weather cooperated and I had the right gear to get some decent photos. Before the start of the eclipse, the sun presented two observable active sun spot regions: 2671 and 2672. This helped in achieving a proper focus and gave something to observe prior to the start of the eclipse.

Sunspot Region 2671 (right) and 2672 (left)

Sunspot Region 2671 (right) and 2672 (left)

As I had installed and aligned my Vixen equatorial mount the night before, once I had proper focus with the camera, it was child’s play to start an automatic sequence of images every 60 seconds. Hence for the entire solar eclipse, it was hands-off and automated. I could simply glance once in a while at the screen or grab one of the hand-held solar viewers to look up.

58% Cover from the Montreal, Canada Location.

58% Cover from the Montreal, Canada Location.

While the effect was nowhere near that of those in the path of totality, the light level and heat did drop at the peak of the eclipse. The brightness was lower, not like when there are high altitude clouds as the shadows were still sharp and well-defined. And the sun’s rays did feel cooler, a welcomed relief from standing under the sun for the last hour.

In the end, it was a fun experience, especially with the kids. And with over 150 images taken I decided to compile them into two formats. A time-lapse video and a mosaic as seen above.

The video was actually the quickest thing done. With Microsoft Movie Maker, it takes the Canon CR2 RAW files directly and stitches them together into a video. It actually took me longer to find a suitable soundtrack to the clip.

With that experience under my belt, I’m looking forward to April 8th 2024 total solar eclipse that will pass close to home.

Telescope: Skywatcher 80ED with Thousand Oaks R-G solar film
Camera: Canon Rebel XTi (450D)
Setting: 1/1000s at ISO 100

Getting Prepared for the Eclipse

With the time approaching, I installed the telescope such that it can get up to temperature under the sun. I used an old cardboard box as a sun shield around the laptop for better viewing. I still have a good hour before it starts, so might as well have lunch and then set-up the camera.

SW80ED on Vixen GP mount.

SW80ED on Vixen GP mount.

Thin high altitude clouds and high humidity will muddy the view a bit, but other than that looking good.

For the Montreal area the maximum coverage will be 58%.

Polar Align the Night Before the Eclipse

The telescope mount is aligned and ready for tomorrow. While you may think that you’ll have plenty of time to setup your telescope gear in the morning before the solar eclipse starts. If you are using an equatorial mount, you need to polar align the night before.

Polar alignment in the daytime is possible, however it’s much easier to set-up the night before with the help of Polaris. No rain in the forecast tonight and the sky was clear enough to align the mount.

Don’t forget to charge your camera and check that you have enough storage space for the images. And lucky for us, there are sun spots which will help get the focus right. Not always obvious when all you see is a bright disk over a dark background.

Bummed About Missing Totality? Plan for April 8th 2024

The August 2017 solar eclipse will be special, I’m sure the media coverage has repeated it often enough.  While there is a solar eclipse about every year, it often happens over open ocean or remote places.  The fact that the August 2017 event will sweep across all of the continental United States, where millions will be able to simply look up by heading outdoors, many with easy access to digital cameras and social media to share is what makes it special.

However, if you’re bummed that you won’t be able to witness the total solar eclipse because you’re not in the right spot, fear not!  It will happen again… in 7 years.

Mark April 8th 2024 in your digital calendar.  On the map below, the red line will be the best view, the center of the Moon’s shadow. However any spot between the blue lines will get a total solar eclipse. A different group of States will be the lucky ones this time around. And while the folks in Toronto and Ottawa just falls outside, a short drive will easily get you to a better viewing location.

April 8th, 2024 Eclipse Path

April 8th, 2024 Eclipse Path

So don’t throw away those solar safety glasses you will need them again in 2024. Besides, you can use them every day to track sun spots!

Eclipse Viewing in Canada?

With a week left before the August 21st solar eclipse, some of you may be scrambling to find eclipse viewers to safely view the event. Stores appear to be running out of the necessary viewers and ordering online may not make it in your hands on time.  Also there are reports of poor and unsafe gear being sold on the internet, so do the proper research before ordering.  Both NASA and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) only recognize five manufacturers as meeting the necessary ISO standards for solar safety film, these are: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical, TSE 17 and Baader Planetarium.

July/August SkyNews

July/August SkyNews – includes eclipse viewer

One way to get your hands on eclipse viewers is to find a copy of the July/August SkyNews magazine.  The issue not only has great articles how to prepare, observer and photograph the eclipse, but it comes with a free eclipse viewer.

Alternatively you can join one of the observation parties hosted by astronomy clubs, colleges, museums or stores.  Here is a list from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada of cities hosting observing events.

Next Year: Lights Out For the Perseids

Yesterday, even if I’m located in the light polluted Montreal suburb, I decided to head out at quarter to midnight to see if I could by chance spot one or two bright meteors from the Perseids shower. As luck would have it in the 15 minutes doesn’t looking around Cassiopeia I spotted two before clouds and a rising moon sent me indoors.

But during that time scanning and waiting, it got me thinking… It took me a good minute to find a suitable spot in my backyard free of the light from the neighbours’ houses and street lights. If there was less light pollution we could have darker skies and everyone could enjoy the show.

During Earth Hour people are asked to turn off the lights for one hour to support the fight for climate change. But I always found that pretty pointless.  If you want to fight climate change, it’s an every day affaire, in your daily routine and the choices you have as a consumer, not one hour in an entire year. So the one hour lights out is more of a gimmick, doesn’t really benefit anyone. But if we had an evening of lights out during the peak of the Perseids meteor shower wouldn’t that be great!

The Perseids falls in August when it’s warm and sitting outside past sunset in the cooling air is enjoyable. Kids don’t have school so they can stay up late. And the patio furniture is out, that’s all the required equipment.

So what do you say? Light out for the 2018 Perseids? I think that’s a worthwhile collective movement.