Archive for the ‘Mercury photos’ Category

I continue to be clouded out these days, but for those of you who have been watching the Venus-Saturn show in the predawn eastern sky this week, the innermost planet Mercury is also in view before sunrise, closer to the horizon below Venus. Mercury’s appearances are fleeting, and I enjoy the challenge of spotting it. Here’s a photo I took way back on September 26, 2010, at 6:26 AM CDT, with 7×35 binoculars:

Meanwhile, the MESSENGER probe in orbit around Mercury has helped us make a momentous discovery, that there is indeed a substantial amount of water ice in permanently shadowed areas within craters near Mercury’s north and south poles! It’s the biggest discovery on Mercury since Mickey Mouse was found there! Read more about it at Skyandtelescope.com:

Mercury’s Polar Ice Defies the Odds


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The founder of Edmund Optics has passed away at age 95. May his memory be for a blessing:

Norman Edmund, Optics Entrepreneur, Dies

Edmund OpticsĀ® Mourns the Loss of Founder, Norman W. Edmund

My homebuilt reflector telescope is an Edmund instrument, as the 8 inch mirror was ground from an Edmund mirror blank, and several other key components were ordered from Edmund, including the diagonal secondary mirror and mirror mount, the eyepiece mount, and my original two eyepieces. I’ll always remember when my big box of telescope-making goodies from Edmund Scientific came, back in 1978. Thanks, Mr. Edmund, for helping make my telescope dream possible! In tribute to Mr. Edmund, I’ll rerun this photo of “The Light Ship,” as well as a composite photo of the Moon and several planets, all photographed through The Light Ship:

Below: The Moon, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter & Galileans, Saturn, and Uranus, photographed at various times with 8″ reflector telescope and LG VX8360 cell phone camera, all at the same magnification. Click for larger view.

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At long last, a perfectly clear morning, with the hope of more to come this week! Jupiter is a little higher each morning, soon to dominate the predawn sky once again:

5:21 AM CDT (10:21 UTC) 5-16-11, 60mm refractor with 25mm eyepiece

Venus soon follows. In the following two pictures Venus is on the lower left and Jupiter on the upper right. They were taken with 7×35 binoculars. The first one has the nicest landscape, I think, but please forgive the dirty smudges on the lens. It was taken through the left half of the binoculars, which apparently need cleaning! The second picture was through the cleaner right half, but with less landscape, so I decided to show both:

5:27 AM

5:30 AM

The highlight of the morning was spotting Mercury to the lower right of Venus. This is the best I did at capturing Venus and Mercury together in one view. Venus is on the upper left, just about falling off the edge of the field of view. I promise you that Mercury is there in the lower right corner of this picture, but you might have to squint:

5:35 AM (10:35 UTC), 60mm refractor with 25mm eyepiece

Below, Mercury by itself close to the middle of the field of view at 5:37 AM. Unseen in orbit around Mercury, the MESSENGER spacecraft is hard at work:

Last but not least, egrets! Yesterday morning at 6:05 AM – they roost at night and go elsewhere at sunrise. Lots of people probably don’t even realize we have them so close to downtown:

Egret pictures with 7×35 binoculars. An egret takes flight:

All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Clickable for larger view.

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The MESSENGER spacecraft is now in orbit around Mercury, and soon will be revolutionizing our knowledge of the “first rock from the Sun.” Be sure to check out the official MESSENGER website at messenger.jhuapl.edu/. Meanwhile, I’m continuing my own “Mercury MESSENGER Mini-Mission” whenever possible:

8:15 PM CDT 3-23-11 (1:15 UTC 3-24-11)
Angular diameter 7.69 arc minutes
39.0% illuminated
81,181,936 miles from Earth (130,649,661 km)
30,228,369 miles from Sun (48,647,844 km)
8″ reflector, 17mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow

8:26 PM CDT 3-27-11 (1:26 UTC 3-28-11)
Angular diameter 8.69 arc minutes
23.8% illuminated
71,853,882 miles from Earth (115,637,614 km)
32,053,780 miles from Sun (51,585,559 km)
8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece

I was blessed to have two clear evenings recently to observe Mercury in the west shortly after sunset. Below, my arsenal of telescopes arrayed to view Mercury in the beautiful evening sky, including my 7×35 binoculars, 60mm refractor, and “The Light Ship,” my 8″ reflector:

Below, the waning Moon the last couple of mornings (I probably will include these in a more detailed lunar series later on):

7:27 AM CDT 3-26-11 (12:27 UTC), only about 1/2 hour after exact Third Quarter phase

7:16 AM CDT 3-27-11 (12:16 UTC)
Both with 8″ reflector and 25mm eyepiece. All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

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8:15 PM CDT 3-23-11
(1:15 UTC 3-24-11)
Angular diameter 7.69 arc minutes
39.0% illuminated
Distance from Earth:
81,181,936 miles (130,649,661 km)
Distance from Sun:
30,228,369 miles (48,647,844 km)
8″ reflector, 17mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow, LG VX8360 cell phone camera

Unseen within this photo is Mercury’s first artificial satellite (and its first known satellite of any kind, for that matter), the MESSENGER spacecraft, which just a few days ago entered orbit around Mercury and is now preparing for its first test image, scheduled for March 29. Its one-year mission: to photograph and study Mercury to an unprecedented degree. My much more modest mission: to observe and photograph Mercury as often as possible during MESSENGER’S mission, especially hoping to document its changes in phase. My chief “spacecraft,” my dusty, trusty old 8″ homebuilt reflector, now into its second Saturnian year of service, which I have recently dubbed “The Light Ship.” It has carried me on many voyages throughout the Solar System and beyond. Our continuing mission: to explore strange old worlds; to seek out new insights, new wonders, to go boldly where no cell phone camera has gone before … (I’m a Latin grammarian and can’t bear to split an infinitive!)

Hidden in a nondescript old shed, The Light Ship awaits its next mission …

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Looking Moonward at 5:45 PM, February 12, 2011. I’ve been able to do more astrophotography than I expected this winter, but I’m glad that spring is almost here. We’re expecting some balmy temperatures this week in the 40s Fahrenheit, which should help melt much of our accumulated snow.

This coming March 19 will be notable, as the Full Moon will coincide with perigee (the Moon’s closest approach to Earth during its orbit), resulting in the Full Moon appearing as large and bright as it will for years. I’ve seen media reports of the Moon being “closest in years,” but as the Moon naturally has one perigee per orbit every orbit, I think the real truth is that it’s the closest Full Moon in years.

The first few photos below are repeats:

Waxing crescent Moon, nearly First Quarter, 11:50 PM CST 2-10-11 (5:50 UTC 2-11-11)
30.33′ angular diameter, 62.6 Earth radii distant.

Taken “on the fly” with my 60mm refractor and 17mm eyepiece, oriented roughly as the Moon actually appeared as it hung in the western sky.

Waxing gibbous Moon, 6:18 PM CST 2-12-11 (00:18 UTC 2-13-11)
31.40′ angular diameter, 60.9 Earth radii distant
8″ homebuilt reflector, 25mm eyepiece.

Above, the waxing gibbous Moon, 12:04 AM CST 2-16-11 (6:04 UTC),
33.07′ angular diameter, 57.2 Earth radii distant.
Once again on the fly with the 60mm refractor and 17mm eyepiece.

Above, the Full Moon at 12:18 AM CST 2-18-11 (6:18 UTC),
33.73′ angular diameter, 56.3 Earth radii distant.
A little lack of definition, but not bad considering that I was pointing the small telescope (60mm refractor, 17mm eyepiece) through the kitchen window at the rather steep angle of 51 degrees. It was a very blustery, windy, cold night, yet the Moon was clearly visible through thin, whipping clouds.

Above, one night later at 12:23 AM CST 2-19-11 (6:23 UTC),
33.77′ angular diameter, 56.3 Earth radii distant.
Waning gibbous Moon, photographed under much more favorable conditions with the 60mm refractor and 17mm once again, out in the yard instead of through the kitchen window.

Above, Waning crescent Moon, 7:36 AM CST 2-28-11 (13:36 UTC),
30.33′ angular diameter, 62.1 Earth radii distant
8′ reflector, 25mm eyepiece

This week is a momentous one in the history of the planet Mercury, as the MESSENGER spacecraft will be entering orbit around Mercury later this week. You may read all about it at the official MESSENGER website and at the Wikipedia article, which also has lots of good information. As MESSENGER serves its year-long mission of photographing Mercury from orbit, I hope to achieve the much more modest goal of photographing Mercury from here at the “Tranquility Base Observatory” (my garage and backyard) and documenting its changes in phase and apparent size. I had hoped to begin the “Modest March Mercury MESSENGER Mini Mission” this weekend, but pesky clouds have been intervening. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

Mercury at 6:26 AM, September 26, 2010 (11:26 UTC), taken with Bushnell 7×35 binoculars and LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

Below, a “Saturn Update” current through 2-28-11. Earth in its smaller, faster orbit steadily draws closer to its closest approach to Saturn coming up on April 3, 2011. At Saturn’s distance , 100 million miles don’t make that much difference in its apparent size. The most interesting Saturn updates will come year by year, as from our perspective the rings will continue to “open up” over the next few years. Perhaps next year they’ll be open enough for the gap inside the rings to be revealed even with my limited equipment. For some really interesting Saturn updates, visit Christopher Go’s website, as he’s been monitoring a large bright storm on Saturn with his state-of-the-art equipment.

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
7:12 AM CST January 22, 2011 (13:12 UTC)
Angular diameter 17.81 arc seconds
99.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 863,698,339 miles (1,389,987,740 km)
17mm eyepiece
7:25 AM CST February 3, 2011 (13:25 UTC)
Angular diameter 18.17 arc seconds
99.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 846,417,959 miles (1,362,177,663 km)
17mm eyepiece
6:50 AM CST February 28, 2011 (12:50 UTC)
Angular diameter 18.82 arc seconds
99.9% illumination
Distance from Earth 817,203,168 miles (1,315,161,015 km)
25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow
No, it’s not about to go over the edge of the universe! The morning sky was already blue, and Saturn was nearing the edge of the eyepiece’s field of view.

All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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The Moon and Jupiter in the southwestern sky, 6:16 AM, August 30, 2010.

Jupiter has ruled the pre-dawn sky for the last few months, but now is sinking into the western horizon as sunrise approaches. Yet now, for all you folks with normal schedules, who watch the skies in the evening, your 2010 Jupiter Adventure is just beginning! Though it has now completed the brightest opposition since 1963, Jupiter will continue to be grandly visible in the evening skies for the next few months.

Mercury at 6:26 AM, September 26, 2010 (11:26 UT), taken with Bushnell 7×35 binoculars and LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

Mercury has made a brief but favorable appearance this month in the pre-dawn sky. It awaits the arrival of the MESSENGER spacecraft into orbit around Mercury in just a few short months, on March 18, 2011.

Waning gibbous Moon, 6:46 AM CDT, September 26, 2010 (11:46 UT). 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

The waning Moon soars high in the Northern skies in September, especially the upcoming third-quarter phase, when the Moon will be in roughly the same spot in the heavens that the Sun occupied three months ago.

The homebuilt reflector pointed moonward, 6:47 AM, September 26, 2010.

I view the heavens in the early morning, not only because of my odd schedule, but because I love to. I enjoy the quietness, the slow brightening of the early morning, and I also enjoy seeing celestial objects months before they appear in the evening skies. In October I look forward to Saturn’s reappearance in the pre-dawn sky. There’s something spiritual about the heavens in the early morning, a closeness to the Creator that I feel, and which others have experienced. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35 NIV

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