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.
This weekend is the best time to see Jupiter of all 2017, because the planet is at opposition, meaning it is exactly opposite to the Sun and the Earth-Jupiter separation is also at its closest.
The photo below was taken during the September 2010 event and I happened to fall upon a fantastic low turbulence window in the atmosphere. Look closely and you’ll see the shadow of one of those moons on the Jupiter’s surface.
Jupiter – Benoit Guertin
Photos of Jupiter with the moons are a little tricky. Capturing the smaller moons require more exposure or gain, but at the risk of over-exposing the planet and turning Jupiter with those wonderful cloud bands into nothing more than a white sphere. It is always better to take a series of images or videos with different settings and review them at a later time on the computer. Some information on planetary imaging and processing is provided in my blog on imaging with a webcam.
Planetary imaging is all about controlling turbulence. Air turbulence whether within the optics, telescope, near the ground or high atmosphere will give you a blurry view. Hence some simple tips are:
- Allow your equipment to cool down a few minutes such that the equipment temperature can stabilize and match the outdoors.
- Past midnight is better as this allows time for the ground to cool especially after a sunny afternoon, reducing convective currents.
- Wait until Jupiter is high in the sky, that way there is less atmosphere between you and Jupiter. By looking straight up, you will be looking through a smaller “air column”.
A good time will be on April 10th when the Moon will next to Jupiter. See the sky chart below showing the southern part of the sky at 10pm EDT. The planet will track west as the night advances.
April 10th 2017 Sky Chart
Great photo opportunity tomorrow evening, January 31st, with a thin crescent Moon in a close formation with Mars and Venus. As the sky darkens simply look between South-West and West and you won’t miss them. However don’t wait too late, by 9pm they will have disappeared below the horizon.
Early Evening Sky (7pm) – Look WSW for this close formation
The Moon will be a thin crescent. Here it is as photographed of the Moon tonight at 5:40pm just a little less than 3 days old.
Crescent Moon – 30-JAN-2017 (5:40pm)
No high-resolution photo for this one. Took it quickly through an open window simply by hand-holding the telescope, and using Venus to quickly find focus through the camera view-finder.
Canon XTi (1/50s at ISO400)
Registax6 to align, stack and wavelet on the best 3 frames (out of a dozen)
After three days of cloud cover and a good 20cm of snow, it was nice to see a clear and crisp sky throughout the day and into the evening. With the sun set and the sky still dark blue a crescent Moon and Venus made for a fine pair in the south-west sky for the first evening of 2017.
New Years 2017 Moon and Venus
The Moon will continue to travel towards Mars, located higher up and to the left (East) with a good photo opportunity on the 2nd (tomorrow) with the Moon between both planets. For the rest of January, Venus will gently move closer to Mars to within 6 degrees at the end of the month.
Canon XTi (450D)
17mm F4 (1/10sec ISO400)
inset: 85mm F5.6 (1/10sec ISO800)
Making diner and notice that it’s getting dark outside and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Wait! What time does the Moon rise? 4:54pm it should already be 5 degrees in the sky. Run to the front of the house and look out the door, but no Moon. Hmmm… maybe I’m too low and the houses across the street are blocking the view. Head up one floor and look out the bedroom window! Ah there it is. OK kids, who wants to go see the SuperMoon! I grab my camera as my kids run for their boots and jacket. I figure that from the street corner I should have a good line of sight. Once there I ask my son to hold his arms up in the air as if grabbing the moon. I need to get down pretty low on my knees to get everything lined up. After a few repeated instructions to open or close his hands, to which he responds with a “Are you done yet!” I take a few long exposures under the street lamps. No tripod so 1/8sec and ISO 800 it is. Then took a few more of just the Moon with shorter exposures to avoid causing the Moon to become saturated (1/200sec ISO200)
A bit of photo editing and the end result.
November 13th 2016 Full Moon – just ahead of the Super Moon.
Didn’t have the luxury to scout a better setting to frame the picture. In the street was actually better than my backyard with all the electric and utility poles/wires. But nevertheless took a few minutes to frame the scene down the street while standing under a street light. Click on the image to expand.
October 5th, 2016 – Mars, Saturn and the Crescent Moon
Almost in the same horizontal plane, you have Mars on the left and Saturn close to the Moon.
As it wasn’t fully dark yet, and I was on a tripod the exposure was rather short: 1/2sec at ISO 400. Hence no rich star field this time around. But you do see some of the bright stars such as Antares below Saturn. Below is an overlay with a star chart.
Overlay with star chart – October 5th, 2016
If you missed it, there is still tomorrow… the Moon will have moved to a position above Saturn.
I hadn’t taken the telescope out since April. With other projects and hobbies I just didn’t bother setting up the equipment. But a few nights ago looking at a dark blue evening sky I noticed a nice crescent Moon and a triangular star formation over the horizon. The kids weren’t in bed yet so I grabbed my gear and made a quick set-up for observation with the 80ED telescope.
After an observation of the Moon, spending time examining the lights and shadows across the lunar craters and valleys I looked at the triangular star formation and suspected that at least one was a planet. Slewed the telescope over and discovered Mars. Tried different eye pieces and settled for an Orion Edge-On 9mm planetary with Televue 2x Barlow.
With the kids off to bed I changed the set-up for webcam imaging before Mars could dip below the horizon. Follow up processing that evening wasn’t very rewarding. Mars is some distance with Earth therefore appeared rather small compared with other times I pointed the telescope and with the heavy atmospheric turbulence imaging at such a low altitude it blurred the scant details I could have captured.
But that evening I broke the ice and got the gear out. And since I’ve been enjoying the night sky when weather permits. With the galactic plane crossing the sky it’s a great time for wide angle shots. It’s also much faster to set-up and more forgiving to an incorrect polar alignment. I got three photo sessions to analyze and hope to have some good shots to show in the next few days.
Autumn, with cooler nights, dark skies and no mosquitos it’s prime time to enjoy the night sky.