Fantastic Fun Friday

I knew going into Friday I would have a very long day ahead of me. I had errands I needed to run first thing in the morning, so I planned to be late to work.  I stayed up past my usual bedtime, keeping my husband company.  We watched the inaugural episode of the new Amazon series “The Tick”, which is a remake of the two other Tick series from the 90s and 00s.  We also watched the latest episode of “Salvation,” which is shaping up nicely.  Not enough science, but plenty of political and personal interactions to keep the layman interested.

I forgot to turn off my alarm but didn’t mind getting up at my normal time of half past five. I did a few minutes of exercise on our elliptical and ran myself through the shower. I avoided logging in to work so I wouldn’t distract myself from the errands I needed to complete. In honor of Monday’s total solar eclipse, I wore my commemorative T-shirt produced by the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. I made sure to grab my ASKC name badge and place it in my car as I would need it for the final event on my Friday schedule.

At half past seven, I left and headed north, with a quick side trip through the car wash, which was surprisingly unbusy so early in the morning. I continued north through Lansing and most of Leavenworth until I reached the old county courthouse. I parked in the Justice Center’s parking lot and serendipitously ran into one of my book club friends on her way to work.

I walked the block back to the old courthouse and grabbed number 45 from the dispenser with about ten minutes wait time before the Treasurer’s office opened. I decided to pay the taxes and fees for my newest vehicle the old-fashioned way – in person and with a handwritten check. The number displayed as being served was 41 so I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait. I made myself comfortable on the old pew-like wooden bench and continued listening to the Dreamsnake audiobook I’d recently checked out via Hoopla.

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Summer Sunrise

Summer officially arrived yesterday, but today it dawned for the first time.  I woke up way way early for a Sunday (sometime during the four o’clock hour) and spied a hazy crescent moon from my bedroom window, but no bright shining Venus.

Late in the five o’clock hour, I went outside, taking Apollo with me, to see if Venus peaked through the clouds.  No, nothing but the moon.

First Summer Sunrise 2014

Some of my flowers are doing well, like my day lilies and the moss roses, potted or in flower beds:

Potted Moss Roses (four plants, various colors)
Flower bed with moss roses, day lilies and cone flowers.

The cone flowers I planted last year and not doing very well. The one I planted at the north end of this flower bed only produced three or four leaves. The other one (shown above) is flowering, but also looks pekid. I’m just not much of a gardener. My one true success is the day lilies, which I planted six years ago on Memorial Day.

A Triple Line-up in Triple Digit Heat

Waxing Crescent Moon During Twilght
Waxing Crescent Moon During Twilght (23 July 2012)

Despite a withering 103 degree temperature during the seven o’clock hour yesterday evening, I drug out my telescope and camera gear to the backyard in anticipation of an early evening planetary and lunar line-up.  Terry grilled some chicken while I setup the scope, attached it to the portable battery and got the Autostar configured with the current date and time (almost straight up 8:00 pm).  With forty minutes to go until sunset, I could clearly see the waxing crescent moon (see photo above), but the telephoto on my camera just couldn’t get me close enough to my lunar observing goal for the evening.

As I continue pursuing the Astro Quest observing award, created in 1995 by the ASKC Education Committee, I wanted to focus on the lunar section this month.  The first item visible after a new moon happened to be the crater Hercules.  Over the weekend, I researched all the lunar objects listed on the Astro Quest observing challenge, seeking images of the items first.  I then determined I needed to find a lunar atlas.  I have one for stars and deep sky objects (my handy Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas), but not a lunar one.  Thanks to Google, I found the open source software called Virtual Moon Atlas, downloaded and installed it.  I like it.  The software  makes it very easy to find features on the face of the moon and shows the current moon phase for my date/time and location.

I knew where to find the Hercules crater.  Using my red dot finder scope, I honed the telescope in on the upper quadrant of the lit portion of the waxing crescent moon.  Remembering to flip the image of the moon left to right in my head, I found the Hercules, and Atlas, craters easily.  I spent several minutes using various eyepieces and barlows to zoom in for a closer look.  I forgot to take a small portable table out with me to the backyard, so I didn’t have anything handy to take notes of my observations.  I must get in the habit of doing this, if I plan to pursue other more stringent observing awards sanctioned by the Astronomical League.

I opted to mount my DSLR on the back of my telescope.  I took a half dozen photos, none of which, upon downloading, were focused very well (grrrr).  I selected the best of the bunch, cropped, labelled and uploaded it:

Hercules and Atlas Craters
Hercules and Atlas Craters

By this time, Terry had finished grilling supper, so I retired to the cool, air conditioned dining room to consume honey garlic grilled chicken and grilled Italian garlic bread with rice and Asian-style vegetables. He thoughtfully brewed some sun tea earlier in the day so I enjoyed two or three glasses of iced tea as well, knowing that I planned to return outside to the heat for more observing.

After dinner, I returned to the backyard, where I could now see Saturn, Spica and Mars, as predicted by various astronomy alerts I’d received earlier in the day.  I captured the southwestern horizon at 9:30 pm in Lansing, Kansas from Astronomy magazine‘s StarDome Plus Java applet to share here.  I could see another star, besides Spica, above Mars, but I’m not exactly sure which one in the constellation Virgo it might have been.

Before shutting down the telescope and returning the camera to it’s tripod, and a normal lens with a wider field of view, I turned the ETX90 towards Saturn for a quick look.  I did take one photo of the ringed gas giant, which turned out better than I thought it would:

Saturn through Telescope

I also tried again to see the polar ice cap on Mars, but the ETX90 just couldn’t provide enough light or magnification (through the eyepieces and barlows I own) to get much bigger than the head of a pin. I could clearly tell I was not looking at a star and that the color reflected back to my eye was a ruddy orangy pink, but I could not discern any other features of the Red Planet.

The moon shone just a tad too bright to easily capture the fainter Saturn and Mars in a single photograph.  Of the dozen or so shots I took with various aperture settings, shutter and film speeds, I only found one that appeared adequate:

Saturn Mars Crescent Moon

By ten o’clock, I had all the equipment back in the air conditioned house. I had voluntarily sweated outside during triple digit heat for nearly three hours to make a few astronomical observations. I spent a few blessedly cool moments sitting in front of the fan before downloading, reviewing, editing and uploading the photos I’d taken.  Soon after, I fell into bed (near eleven o’clock and two hours past my bedtime), but tossed and turned all night long.  When the alarm sounded at five o’clock, I slapped snooze three times until it forced me awake at half past the hour.

Another day, a Tuesday this time, and another triple digit heat index predicted for the Heart of America.  Autumn can not arrive too soon.

Sliver of a Dying Moon

I tossed and turned most of last night, dreaming about missing the opportunity to observe nearly the last shred of the dying crescent moon.  I remember waking up at two o’clock, three o’clock and again at four o’clock, and struggling to return to sleep.  Getting up that early would not have helped me observe the moon, since it wouldn’t rise above the horizon until 4:46 a.m. Central.

My cell phone buzzed me with my alert at ten minutes to five o’clock.  I’d been staring up at the dark ceiling of my bedroom waiting for it to officially wake me up.  I grumbled my way down the stairs, with Apollo in tow, and greeted my husband and our new Rottweiler, Lexy.  I only took a moment to slip on my flip-flops, grab the camera gear, my purse and the van key. I drove a block and a half up the hill to the dead end in front of City Hall and just like I did two days ago, setup my tripod in the middle of the street.

Eastern Horizon Star Chart for 5:10 am Tues 17 July 2012
Eastern Horizon Star Chart for 5:10 am Tues 17 July 2012

I could clearly see the sliver of the waning crescent moon, just a few degrees (less than five degrees actually) above the eastern horizon.  The sky appeared to be only minimally hazed.  I began taking photos at 5:04 a.m. and tried various automatic settings and then revert to manually manipulating the shutter, aperture and finally the ISO, setting it to 800 (something I don’t like doing because it sacrifices pixels and detail for more light).  Here is the unaltered series of photos I took, stopping at 5:13 a.m. this morning (click the image to view rest of album):

Last Sliver of Old Moon
Waning Sliver of Old Moon (click for rest of album)

I may try again tomorrow morning, but I fear the twilight will wash out any chance of seeing the extremely thin crescent of a moon less than eighteen hours away from being reborn as a new moon.  Moon rise tomorrow morning occurs at 5:43 a.m. Central, but twilight begins at 4:15 a.m.  Sun rise will occur at 6:08 a.m. so I would have less than a half hour to spy an even thinner crescent moon amid the growing glare of the rising sun.

I also plan to attempt to capture the first sliver of the new moon on Thursday evening, but I don’t think I will be successful.  The sun sets at 8:42 p.m. and the moon sets at 8:50 p.m., just eight minutes later.  The new moon occurs near midnight (about a half hour before straight up midnight) during night the 18th (tomorrow).

Crescent Moon Sails Between Jupiter and Venus on the Ides of July

I need my head examined.  Why else would I suddenly sit up in bed and immediately head to a window in the darkest hour of the night, just to see if an astronomical conjunction was visible yet?  And that’s exactly what I did this morning, without the aid of an alarm clock.  Some internal portion of my brain must be tapped into some universal system (let’s hope it’s not that Dark Energy that’s making the cosmological headlines lately), because I woke up at 3:55 a.m. earlier today, just so I could photograph two planets, a star and a crescent moon.

A quick peak out my second story east facing window showed something bright glittering through my large oak tree’s leaves.  For a better look, I went out the front door and walked halfway down the driveway.  Yep, I could clearly see the crescent moon, Jupiter above, and Venus below, as well as the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus (although that was the only star I could see in that constellation with my blurry bleary sleepy eyes).

Eastern Horizon for Lansing, Kansas at 4:10 a.m. 7/15/2012 (courtesy Astronomy Magazine’s Star Dome Plus subscriber only java web applet).

I went back inside and grabbed my camera gear and the keys to the van.  I remembered my purse, since I planned to setup the tripod in the cul-de-sac in front of Lansing City Hall and the Police Department.  I’ve been questioned more than once by the local ‘protect and serve’ brigade while attempting astrophotography on their front lawn.

I took a couple of shots with the normal lens, but quickly determined I really needed the telephoto.  Once I switched the lenses, I could zoom in and capture just the four primary objects in one frame.  I took a half dozen photos before returning the gear to the van.  At least one police car did cruise by, but he probably didn’t see me ensconced in the dark dead end to his right as he turned left down the hill.

Once I got back home, I went back to bed.  Five hours later, I woke up and thought to look at the photos I’d taken while half asleep.  I settled on the second to last one I took.  Here is that photo (twice … once without labels and once with):