Archive for December, 2010

We have inclement weather coming, so these are likely my last astrophotographs of 2010. First, the Moon:

Waning crescent Moon 7:54 AM CST (13:54 UTC) 12-29-10
Angular diameter 32.26 arc minutes
Distance from Earth 58.62 Earth radii
34.5 illumination
Lunar age 23 days since New Moon
Taken with 25mm eyepiece (about 65x magnification)

Below, two closeups using the 17mm eyepiece, which is a little trickier to use, but I should do more with it, since it’s a higher quality eyepiece (purchased from Orion Telescopes), and with the 8″ reflector it magnifies about 96x. First, the northern portion at 7:50 AM:

Next, the southern portion at 7:49 AM:

One of these times I hope to do another “Venus Update,” but because of its brightness Venus photographs best in broad daylight, and I’m pretty much occupied with other things starting at 9 AM each weekday. As of today Venus has receded to over 55 million miles from Earth, 30 million more than its closest approach on 10-29-10, and is illuminated about 45%, the same as the Moon was yesterday on 12-28-10.

Here’s a “Saturn Update.” During the upcoming months Saturn will increase modestly in brightness and apparent size as it comes closer to Earth. Don’t worry, John, its orbit is very stable, and when it reaches opposition on 4-3-11, it will be just over 800 million miles from Earth, and then start getting further away again! UPDATE: By the way, a bright storm has appeared in Saturn’s cloud cover. I’ll let you know if I have any success spotting it.

7:37 AM CDT November 6, 2010 (12:37 UTC)
Angular diameter 15.92 arc seconds
99.9% illumination
Distance from Earth 966,825,301 miles (1,555,150,630 km)
17mm eyepiece
7:40 AM CST December 29, 2010 (13:40 UTC)
Angular diameter 17.08 arc seconds
99.7% illumination
Distance from Earth 900,415,441 miles (1,449,078,188 km)
17mm eyepiece

All with 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope and LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Moon photos may be clicked for larger view.


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Waning crescent Moon just after Last Quarter
8:20 AM CST (14:20 UTC) 12-28-10
Lunar age 22 days since New Moon
45.4% illumination
Distance from Earth 58.34 Earth radii
Angular diameter 32.43 minutes of arc

below is a black-and-white shot taken three minutes later at 8:23 AM CST. Perhaps it brings out a few details that the color shot doesn’t:

If you’re wondering about the dark area to the right of the Moon in those photos, it has no astronomical significance whatsoever. It is merely the dark area outside the “window” of the eyepiece’s round field of vision.

Below: We now have an sizeable snow cover here in West Central Minnesota, the type that tends to stay on the ground for a few months. For the next few months it’s unlikely that the large telescope will go beyond the wall of snow just in front of the garage doors, and this morning it never even left the garage! Fortunately the southwest quadrant of the sky is the part most easily observed from my backyard, and that’s exactly what can be viewed from this area. Below, the telescope pointed out the garage door at the Moon:

8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Photos may be clicked for larger view.

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Here’s the waning gibbous Moon, just before Last Quarter, taken this morning at 8:01 AM CST (14:01 UTC) on 12-27-10.
56.9% illumination
Lunar age 21 days since New Moon
Angular diameter 32.58 arc minutes
Distance from Earth 58.12 Earth radii

NOTE: All photos may be clicked for larger view.

Below for comparison is the nearly identical phase at 5:32 AM CDT (10:32 UTC) on 9-30-10 (sorry the western limb is a bit washed out). Below I will be using these photos to illustrate Lunar Libration:

A comparison between these two photos reveals the dramatic differences produced by Libration of Latitude (North-South) and Libration of Longitude (East-West). Below I’ve concocted a side-by-side comparison of closeups from the two photos above:

All with 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on December 9, 2010:

Once when I was in college (back in the mid-1980s!), I was enjoying a mid-morning snooze at about 9:30 on Saturday morning, when the telephone rang. I sleepily got up and answered the phone. It was my cello teacher, Dr. Garvin. She asked me, “I’m here. Are you coming?” Suddenly I was wide awake, but very confused. What was she talking about? She said, “I’m here at the recital hall. Will you be here soon?”

Finally it dawned on me. I was soon going to be performing in a recital, and we had reserved the recital hall for 9:30 AM Saturday so I could rehearse on-site. The time was set, the arrangements were made, and Dr. Garvin had made her way to campus … and I had completely forgotten and was asleep! Embarrassed and unprepared to come, I ended up rescheduling the rehearsal. The recital didn’t go a bit badly, but I learned a lesson about being prepared.

When Jesus came the first time, many were unprepared for His coming, but some were watchful, expectant, and prepared. One of my favorite people in the Christmas story is Simeon, the old saint who had received, and believed, the promise that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. On a glorious day his prayer was answered as Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to present Him to the LORD. Simeon said, “Now Lord you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word” (Luke 2:29). On the day Jesus came, Simeon was prepared.

As we prepare for Christmas, I pray that we would prepared not just for an event, but truly to receive the Christ Child, our Savior, in our hearts through faith, to receive one another with love, and be prepared for an event yet to come – Christ’s Second Coming.

One more thing: A few years ago I made contact via email with Dr. Garvin once again, who now is a music librarian in her native California. Though I had apologized for my forgetfulness years ago, I once again apologized for the “rehearsal incident” as well as one other occasion when I was inconsiderate. She replied, “I honestly don’t remember those things. I only remember good things about you.” That just about brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).”

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The “Serenity Prayer,” as I remember it, goes “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I have enough wisdom to know I can’t change the weather, which sadly didn’t cooperate here in Minnesota for the Total Lunar Eclipse of December 21, 2010. My skies were completely overcast, with a light freezing mist coming down in the wake of a winter storm.

I’m happy to note that my Philippine friends at Journey To the Stars were able to see the closing partial phase of the eclipse, which was in progress when the Moon rose at their location. Did you guys get any pictures?!? UPDATE: Yes, they did! Here’s one.

Meanwhile, if you arrived at my site looking for pictures and info of the eclipse, I’ll refer you to Sky and Telescope, where many have already sent in their photos and reports, and more will certainly come.

Well, I’ve seen total and partial lunar eclipses before, including the one on February 21, 2008, though I was not yet taking pictures then. I hope the weather cooperates for the next total lunar eclipse visible here, which comes on April 15, 2014. But I really hope that the weather cooperates for the transit of Venus on June 6, 2012, as that will be the last chance to see it in my lifetime! But whatever will be, will be. Astronomy is a great hobby for building serenity, because these events can be predicted centuries ahead of time, but it might be cloudy that day or night!

UPDATE: By the way, for all you folks who are concerned that the Moon’s orbit is changing, or that it’s going out of orbit, let me point out something: today’s lunar eclipse was first predicted a long time ago, and thousands of people have just observed it happening exactly as predicted. This is yet another piece of evidence that nothing out of the ordinary is happening to the Moon’s orbit!

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9:23 PM CST 12-19-10 (3:23 UTC 12-20-10)
31.76 arc minutes angular diameter
60.27 Earth radii distant from Earth
98.3% illumination, 13 days since New Moon
8″ f8 reflector, 25mm eyepiece

An encroaching winter storm is threatening to “eclipse” my view of the upcoming total lunar eclipse, but I’ll just hope for the best and learn serenity.

Above, a closeup of the Moon’s eastern limb three minutes later at 9:26 PM (3:26 UTC 12-20-10), using my 17mm eyepiece. With the 8″ reflector the 25mm eyepiece yields about 65x magnification, whereas the 17mm eyepiece magnifies about 96x. Click for larger view in order to get the full effect.

Finally below, a dash of Christmas color! These Christmas lights are on an evergreen tree within sight of our backyard, slightly under two blocks away in front of a retirement village. Taken with 8″ reflector and 25mm eyepiece:

All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera, and clickable for larger view.

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Waxing crescent Moon, nearly First Quarter phase, 6:09 PM CST 12-12-10 (00:09 UTC 12-13-10).
44.7% illumination, 6 days “old” (since New Moon),
29.87 minutes of arc angular diameter, Distance from Earth 63.51 Earth radii.
Would you believe I took this picture with the 60mm refractor and 17mm eyepiece, looking out through the kitchen window?!! Here’s the story. Last evening the outside temperature was frigid but manageable, and the view of the Moon through the big scope was simply dazzling! Craters, mountains, valleys, you name it! But one limitation of my cell phone camera seems to crop up close to the half-phases: the photos kept on getting washed out with brightness. With gibbous and Full Moon phases, enough light comes in to trigger the light meter, and it kicks the brightness down and I get some nice detail and contrast, but at about half Moon or less it tries to pull in more light, making the picture wash out. My best half-phase and crescent photos are taken when the sky is partly light – immediately before or even after sunrise is best – but I didn’t get out there soon enough last night.

Anyway, would you believe that I got my best results last night when I was back inside and just pointed the small scope out the window! The above photo isn’t bad considering, but blow it up much more and you’ll see some image doubling from the windowpane.

This morning in a pinch I used the same approach to photograph Venus and add another entry to the “Venus Update” chart (see previous Venus Updates). The first three Venus photos were taken using the 8″ f8 reflector and 25mm eyepiece:

12:40 PM CDT (17:40 UTC), November 5, 2010
Angular diameter 59.94 arc seconds
2.4% illumination
Distance from Earth 25,866,740 miles (41,628,483 km)
6:35 AM CST November 23, 2010 (12:35 UTC)
Angular diameter 47.81 arc seconds
16.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 32,427,864 miles (52,187,588 km)
Venus photography generally works better in the daytime, as in the dark its apparent “thickness” gets exaggerated by its intense brightness.
10:02 AM CST November 27, 2010 (16:02 UTC)
Angular diameter 44.72 arc seconds
20.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 34,669,885 miles (55,795,771 km)
9:04 AM CST December 13, 2010 (15:04 UTC)
Angular diameter 34.77 arc seconds
33.9% illumination
Distance from Earth 44,589,852 miles (71,760,411 km)
This photo taken with 60mm refractor & 17mm eyepiece, looking out through the kitchen window!

Back to last night: I did manage to get a not-half-bad photo of Jupiter and three Galilean moons with the 8″ reflector and 25mm eyepiece, below:

5:39 PM CST 12-12-10 (23:39 UTC)
Jupiter’s angular diameter 41.11 arc seconds
Distance from Earth 445,216,924 miles (716,507,186 km)
From upper right to lower left: Callisto (faint), Europa, Jupiter, Io. Ganymede was transiting Jupiter at the time.

All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera. I had envisioned including the Moon, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn all in one post, but didn’t get out in time to see Saturn! Some other day …

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