The total phase was not seen from KC since totality occurred after moonset. Crystal clear skies allowed for a nice view of the last sliver of moon, however. Music is “Alive” by Jahzzar, http://betterwithmusic.com.
I thought I’d use the European racing term more commonly known in the States as ‘passing’ to refer to the progress Venus has made in the predawn sky this past week.
Saturday morning I woke up way too early for a weekend, but remembered reading something about Venus and Jupiter getting closer together. Without reminding myself by actually looking the information up via Facebook or Twitter or Google, I threw on some clothes, grabbed the keys to one of the vehicles (didn’t care which one) and rushed outside. It was still very dark, just after five o’clock (Central time zone). I drove a block up a slight hill to my favorite eastern horizon viewing site (just to the east of Lansing City Hall) and waited … and waited … and waited. I finally used my smartphone (which I never leave home without) to check when Venus and Jupiter were supposed to rise (using Astronomy.com’s Tonight’s Sky mobile web page). Continue reading “Venus Overtakes Jupiter”
I decided to take a day of vacation from work yesterday. Even though the Transit of Venus wouldn’t start until shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon, I didn’t want to miss any of it, especially the beginning. I wiled away the day reading, baking bread and making strawberry shortcake. I also tested the scope (but not the camera) around noon, getting a clear picture in my mind of the current configuration of our nearest stellar neighor.
As the clock approached four in the afternoon, I laid out all my equipment, sunscreen, sunglasses, umbrella and collapsable chair, making sure I had everything I would need for an observing session that would last several hours on a slightly warmer than normal and sunny June afternoon. My prayers had been answered in part, at least, for clear skies (releatively clear, except for some humidity, haziness and wispy stratus clouds). I proved to be my own worst enemy, though, because while washing my hair, I managed to get an entire palmful of shampoo in my right eye, which happens to be my ‘good’ eye – the one I use to focus and observe with. My eye watered for the rest of the day, but at least didn’t appear to have any problems focusing.
I packed everything in the car and had my husband drive me to my previously selected observing spot. It’s my new favorite location for observing and photographing day-time astronomical events that require an unobstructed view of the western horizon (and it’s close to home so I don’t spend time and gas money to get there). In the last few weeks from this spot, I’ve observed a solar eclipse, earthshine on the moon (with Venus nearby), a lunar eclipse and yesterday my first (and only) Venus transit. I unpacked the equipment, said goodbye to my husband (who would return later to catch a glimpse of the ‘black dot’ that would be Venus crossing the sun) and started setting up the scope. My dad joined me, sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m., as he got tied up with rush hour traffic on US-73 southbound from north Leavenworth to south Lansing.
I had parked the scope when I used it around noon, leaving it in a polar mount configuration. I knew I wouldn’t be able to re-align it to Polaris when I transported it from my backyard to this other site, but I could get ‘in the ballpark’ enough to track the sun and take photographs. The most challenging aspect of taking photographs through the Meade ETX-90 with the Pentax K100D attached to it is focusing. The viewfinder on the camera presents a very small ‘live’ view of the object (in this case the filtered image of the sun). The sunspots, which appeared very large and distinct when observing through the telescopes eyepiece under magnification, were tiny pinpricks through the camera. Focusing became easier once the large black dot of Venus appeared, but before that, resolving the sunspots proved troublesome. With that in mind, here’s a photo from immediately prior to the transit of Venus commencing:
I choose this location also in the hopes that people would see me on the hill overlooking Main Street and stop by to have a look (or at least ask me what the heck I thought I was doing so I could then explain and convince them to take a look). Over the course of the next three hours, I had between fifteen and twenty people stop and take a look at the transit through my telescope. The first group to stop had seen me there before, back in May for the solar eclipse. I asked them to wait a couple of minutes because I was taking a serious of photographs to capture the first and second contacts of Venus:
One of the last group included an entire family who had seen me on their way to a baseball game (for their young son) and stopped on the way back after the game. They pursuaded their grandmother to leave the car and take a look. By that time though, the sun had entered some thicker clouds and was close to setting, so the light getting through the solar filter created a dim red hazy image, but Venus’ black sillouette was still clearly visible.
After the sun set, Dad and I packed up the equipment and said our goodbyes. We were both tired, from standing, sometimes bending over, occasionally sitting, but always baking in the late afternoon June sun. I went home, ate some leftovers, grabbed 140 photos off my cameras memory card and selected one or two to upload and share with friends and family. I didn’t have the energy last night to review so many photos. I called my daughter, who lives in Texas, to see if she had a chance to witness the transit. She reported she did, as her university setup several scopes near their Environment Sciences lab building and she got to see the sun through a hydrogen-alpha filter (which I am saving up for as they are not cheap). I also tuned in to NASA’s live feed both on my laptop and via DirecTV (channel 289) for a few minutes before succumbing to my need for sleep.
First thing this morning when I awoke, I began sifting through the photos and settled on thirty-nine good shots to upload and share. I discovered, though, that I have some debris on my camera mirror and will need to have it cleaned. See if you can find the debris that looks like a sunspot but travels around the surface of the sun (but not the frame of the picture).
Later this week, I will attempt to qualify for an observing certificate from NASA using the Paralax Activity Method #1 (I can’t do the other two because I only witnessed about half of the transit before the sun set). But first I’ll read and review the Mathematics of the Transit of Venus to make sure my aging brain remembers college math.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to witness the Transit of Venus. I sincerely hope you took advantage to sneak a peak. Only our grandkids (or great-grandkids) will see the next one, in 2117.
After a handulf of hours sleeping, I drug myself out of bed early Sundy morning. Rather than eating breakfast, I composed my blog post recapping Saturday at the MSRAL convention. I published at ten after eight o’clock, leaving me less than an hour to drive to UMKC from Lansing. The last day of the convention consisted of a morning dedicated to three workshops. Not knowing what I might need, I packed up my laptop and my DSLR camera and zipped down I-70, arriving with about ten minutes to spare.
I burdened myself with my laptop bag, camera backpack, purse and water bottle and trudged up the stairs to the Student Union. I opted not to take the additional four flights of stairs on the interior of the building, taking full advantage of the elevator to the top floor. I planted myself on the first row (as I’ve done each day of the convention) so I wouldn’t have any trouble hearing or seeing (or taking photographs like the one above).
First Workshop: Widefield Astrophotography with a DSLR by John Reed
Very interesting workshop on using consumer camera equipment (a Canon DSLR and a 200 mm telephoto with an AstroTrac mount) and some post-production work with Photoshop for stunning astrophotography.
Second Workshop: Variable Star Research with Modern Amateur Equipment by Jim Roe
The middle workshop presented by Jim Roe dealt with variable stars and doing some hands on scientific observation and research. I got to know his old friend Z Umi (a variable star in the Little Dipper).
Third Workshop: Successful Web Cam Astronomy by David Kolb
The final workshop of the day got really hands on, for those who wanted to participate in the step-by-step process of massaging web cam videos taken of Saturn to produce a nice crisp stacked image. The entire presentation will be uploaded to David’s website (Sunflower Astronomy) in the near future.
Final Musings on the Convention
I learned so much and met some great people. I have many fascinating ideas and concepts revolving through my brain and many new projects I’m inspired to pursue. I look forward to attending similar conferences when they pass through the area again.
I missed the dawn of International Astronomy Day, thanks to a mostly overcast sky here in the Heart of America. By mid-morning, the skies had partially cleared to allow the sun to peak through occasionally during my morning long walk with Apollo. But by late afternoon, the clouds had crept back in to conspire against any star, planet or moon gazing. Never admitting defeat, though, my dad and I headed to Kansas City to attend the April general meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC).
Due to student examinations, our normal meeting place, a lecture hall in Royal Hall on the campus of UMKC, wouldn’t be available until 7:30 p.m (instead of our normal seven o’clock start time). Many members arrived early and congregated in the hallway outside. I met my team leader and we exchanged business cards. In May, I have my first night assisting at a Powell Observatory public night as a ‘staff’ member. My team leader, though, won’t be with us that weekend, as she’s traveling to Arizona to observe, first hand, the solar eclipse that occurs across the Southwest on Sunday, May 20th. She did introduce me to her backup leader for Team 2, who also happens to be a resident of a town very close to where I live now. Always good to know who has been bitten by the astronomy bug in your local neighborhood.
The room became available about ten minutes before half past seven and I relocated from the hallway to seating in the lecture hall. I kicked myself for not bringing my notepad with me to take notes during the meeting. Yes, I could have used my Nook Color (by pretending to send an e-mail I could have typed up notes), but not having a ‘real’ keyboard would slow me down too much. The same guy who I had just met as my backup team leader just happened to be the Vice President and began the meeting mostly on time. He announced our illustrious president was absent this evening and bearing the heavy cross of observing from Kitt Peak. We all groaned appropriately, most of us with envy.
The meeting continued with Master Observer Scott Kranz handing out Astronomical Leagueobserving awards to several club members. The Astronomical League is an umbrella organization composed of over two hundred and forty local amateur astronomical societies from all across the United States and forms one of the largest amateur astronomical organizations in the world. Many of the certificates and pins awarded during the meeting resulted from the late March Messier Marathon, including one club member who found 109 of 110 Messier objects during one night of observing. A similar award based on a detailed analysis and observation of all 110 Messier objects, albeit not in one night, was also awarded to Steve King, the club’s observatory director.
Scott encouraged all of us to look through the list of observing projects after the meeting. I still need to finish the one I grabbed last year (about this time) called the Astro Quest General Observing Award. In reviewing the list of objects available in that Quest, I have observed several of them already, and even have photograph evidence of same (and blog posts here) as further proof. Now I’m even more pumped up to attend next month’s club star party so I can check off a few more from the Quest list.
The second item on the agenda included education and announcements presented by Jay Manifold. He covered the night skies for the opening public nights at the Warko and Powell observatories, one of which includes the largest full moon of the year, on May 5th. He also mentioned the solar eclipse on May 20th, which we won’t be able to see much of here in Kansas or Missouri. He asked for members to submit photographs of the lunar eclipse on June 4th and I plan to put that on my calendar to repeat what I did back in December 2011.
The Transit of Venus again topped everyone’s list for ‘must see’ observations this year. I’m praying for clear skies on June 5th. Or I might be driving fast to the nearest clear skies so I can observe Venus transit across the face of the Sun … truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I doubt I’ll be around for the next one in 2117. To that end, I acquired (finally) some solar film thanks to a couple of club members. I left it in my father’s good hands (since he has my telescope for the foreseeable future … at least until after my daughter graduates from college in mid-May). Now we can make some filters to go over the scope, camera lenses and binoculars and we’ve still got time to practice solar observing before the actual Transit of Venus occurs in early June.
You can help by sending McGill University a picture of the Big Dipper constellation (in the northern hemisphere) or the Southern Cross constellation (in the southern hemisphere), or another constellation of your choice if you cannot find those. All you need is a DLSR camera and a stable mount for the camera (like a tripod). Please take your pictures with the following settings:
10 second exposure
Hi-resolution JPEG (if possible)
Avoid nights with a bright moon. For example, wait for the moon to set.
Jay wrapped up the education and announcements section of the meeting with a plug for the MSRAL – the Mid-States Region of the Astronomical League – convention, Jun 1-3, 2012. Registration is only $25 (until May 15th, after which it increases to $40). After re-reading the Astro Quest observing list, I think I will register and attend. There are at least two sessions I’m very interested in attending, and I would be the envy of all my barbecue-loving friends by attending the Star-B-Que Friday night.
The main program presented by Darrick Gray and Alex Kranz (daughter of Scott Kranz) related a program at a local high school where Darrick convinced his administration to allow him to teach an astronomy class at night. And, each of the students builds their own six-inch telescopes, for less than $200, out of materials available from local hardware and construction supply businesses. The only two things not available locally are the mirrors from Meridian Telescopes (no, the students don’t grind their own mirrors because it just takes too long) and the eyepieces (and Darrick made a shameless plea for old eyepieces from club members). Another member mentioned, during the Q&A session, another website that might be a good source for mirrors or other parts: Surplus Shed. Some of the more interesting highlights of oddly juxtaposed hardware included a toilet flange as a mirror mount and hacksaw blades for the spider mirror support. Oh, and can you guess from the photo above what the tube is made of?
Alex related her experience using her telescope at the dark sky site and how she preferred using her own telescope, even over her dad’s 20-inch one! Most of the students felt the same way, having pride and confidence in their construction. Alex felt confident she could repair her telescope no matter what might happen to it, since she had built it completely from scratch. She also described a fellow student’s telescope, who had painted Van Gogh’s Starry Night on her telescope tube. Just imagine the painting (shown above left) wrapped around a six-inch telescope tube. Gorgeous!
Soon after the meeting adjourned, Dad and I retraced our path back home to Leavenworth County. Unlike in late March, when we could watch the triangle of Venus, a crescent Moon and Jupiter as we drove west on I-70, the only thing we saw in the low hanging clouds were reflections of powerful spotlights shining heavenward from the Power & Light district downtown and Dave & Busters, as we drove past the Legends and the Kansas Speedway.
On my seventh day of ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ I am thankful for cameras and photography. I was exposed to photographic equipment (in more ways the one) from an early age. My father had a dark room and quite a bit of photographic gear. He did weddings and local school functions (for Homecoming and the prom) and helped out the yearbook staff with snapshots from sporting events and music department concerts. I learned to take direction (how to tilt my head, where to focus my eyes) at an early age. Naturally, I inherited this fascination with capturing electromagnetic radiation.
Second Generation Shutterbug
I am a poor excuse for a photographer, even an amateur one. I like to think I have a good eye for spotting a great photograph, I just don’t always have the right equipment with me, or remember how to use said photographic equipment to it’s fullest potential. I really have no excuse, considering I am a second generation shutterbug. For years, I’ve heard stories from my dad and uncle about my grandfather’s photographic exploits before, during and after WWII. I sent them each an e-mail requesting more detailed information and they gladly provided the following tidbits:
My father told me my grandfather, Ralph, became a photographer while attending Leavenworth High School during the 1930s. He also worked and learned from a local Leavenworth camera shop and portrait studio called Star Studio. My uncle added that photography during the 30s was still an arcane, complicated and a very hands-on hobby/profession.
Even with film purchased from commercial sources, photographic developing and printing (separate processes) involved the precise mixing of chemicals and control of temperature and humidity to develop and fix the image on the film, and to develop and fix the image on the paper. Both processes—plus the actual exposure of the photo-sensitive paper to the projected image from the developed film—required rigorous control of environmental conditions. Ralph took pictures for the Leavenworth High School year book. In 1937, Ralph won statewide (Kansas) honors as the top (or one of the top) science students in public high schools.
Both my dad and uncle confirmed that after graduating, Ralph also worked for the local newspaper, the Leavenworth Times as well as continuing at Star Studio. Some of his work appeared in the paper.
My father remembers Ralph being stationed in the Pacific, specifically, New Guinea, during WWII as photo support of air corp operations. For a short time, Ralph stayed in Japan as part of the Occupation forces. During the Cold War, Ralph returned to active duty in the Air Force for Korea, but conducted his work from here in the U.S. Ralph stayed in the Air Force until retirement in 1968, being stationed to various sites around the world, working as tech and photo resource.
My dad remembered Ralph’s equipment best. Ralph had several cameras including a 4×5 Speed Graphic; an Argus C3, an early 35mm; and, he did some early color work during WWII, before the film was available to the public. Ralph held a patent on a modification to the old flash bulb to keep them from going off when in close proximity to radar equipment.
My uncle relates more detailed information regarding Ralph’s military service: With the onset of World War Two, Ralph volunteered for duty in the US Army Air Corps, enlisting at Sherman Field on Fort Leavenworth. Because of his experience with highly technical photography, he was elected for further training both as a photographer and as an officer (despite his not having a college education).
During World War Two, photography units, such as Ralph’s in the Pacific theater of war, performed all the various functions of photography. They took the pictures: aerial photography was in its infancy, ground combat photography, plus the more traditional documenting of people and events. They developed the film and prints, and they also interpreted the aerial reconnaissance pictures. Ralph was the supply officer of his small unit, which included responsibility for maintaining the necessary chemicals as well as support for their mobile, air-conditioned dark room tents.
After World War Two, Ralph earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of Kansas, followed by a master’s in photographic engineering at Boston University. His Air Force work included collaboration with General George W. Goddard, the “father” of modern aerial reconnaissance, developing concepts and systems for both air-breathing and satellite reconnaissance.
In his later years with the United States Air Force, Ralph worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Headquarters USAF and HQ Air Force Systems Command to identify and procure future reconnaissance systems. During that time, Ralph was involved in the development of computerized systems to record and transmit photographic systems. He retired in 1968, before the advent of micro-computers which revolutionized the capture and processing of images but his work brought the USAF to the cusp of exploiting those digital systems as they developed.
I wish to express my deep gratitude to my father and uncle who provided, at the drop of a hat, the scanned photographs and commentary for this section.
Family Vacation Slideshows
My dad took us (mom, my brother and I) all over the continental United States, following his brother’s military migrations and also to visit my mother’s relatives in Montana and the Pacific Northwest. Consequently, before I had graduated from high school, I’d been to all but three of the lower 48 states and at least two Canadian provinces. We visited nearly every National Park, massive hydroelectric dams, a few nuclear power plants, a meteor crater, caves, mountains, deserts, a rain forest and historical sites from coast to coast. Once we returned home, and the slides were returned from the developer, we’d gather with local friends and family for a re-cap slideshow of our latest vacation adventure.
Annual Christmas Card Family Photo
Every fall, my dad would gather us together in the kitchen or the living, which he had converted temporarily to a portrait studio, complete with tripods, flash units, reflectors and light meters, to take that year’s family photo to be used as our family Christmas card. My cousin, Wendell, still follows this tradition, although with a Star Wars-ian twist some years. I prefer to create a Christmas letter or newsletter, similar to a blog post, where I can include more than one photo, and usually of a more casual nature (as I prefer candids to posed snapshots). At the risk of dating myself (more than I already have), to the left you’ll see the Andrea Family Christmas Card from 1974.
Recording My Own Family
Film still ruled the day when both my kids were born in the mid to late 80s, so photos of my fledgling family are scarcer but all the more precious. I used mostly disposable cameras, since I didn’t own a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. Once my kids started participating in sports and music, I invested my limited funds in a camcorder and now I have boxes and boxes of VHS-C videotapes in my basement. Whether or not I ever get them converted to digital format remains to be seen. By the time my children reached high school, I made the leap to digital video and photography. Now, instead of magnetic tape storage, I’m archiving family memories to DVD. I upload some of these videos to my infrequently used YouTube channel.
I always seem to be in my car or the van when a spectacular sunrise or sunset occurs. So I’m reduced to the capabilities of the embedded camera in my cell phone which has a lens smaller than the eraser on a pencil. Occasionally, though, I’m prepared (or I forgot and left all my photographic equipment in the trunk of my car) and I plan a session from a local park or cemetery. My library has an east facing window, so I can catch the sunrise in the late fall and winter while sipping on my freshly steeped tea. I captured the sunrise to the left from that room in early March of this year. Sunsets are more difficult from my home, because it sits lower than K-7/US-73 to my west and on the other side of the highway is a large hill. So sunsets usually mean packing up everything and hopping in the car to West Mary Street, near the new Elementary School, or to Mount Muncie or Mount Calvary Cemeteries.
Astrophotography – My Final Frontier
I hope to merge two of my favorite hobbies once I retire: Astronomy and Photography. By then, I also hope to have moved to a location with darker night skies, a higher altitude and minimal obstructions (no close large trees, streetlights or hills). For now, I make do with an occasionally moon shot using either my telescope or just the telephoto lens and a tripod. Someday I plan to photograph Jupiter, Saturn, a galaxy and a nebula.