Orion Rising

I went outside Wednesday evening to photograph our exterior Christmas lighting decorations.  As I walked down the front steps, I could see most of Orion rising in the east.  The Hunter seemed to be reclining in a dreamy, wispy, foggy pose.  I couldn’t resist taking a couple of photos, the best of which is displayed below:

Orion Rising
Orion Rising (click image for rest of album)

Return of Saturn

The new moon occurs tomorrow just eight minute’s past four o’clock in the afternoon.  I reviewed the sun rise and moon rise times for today, tomorrow and the next day as compared to the time the new moon happens.  And, once again, the ‘holy grail’ of observing a moon less than one day from dying or one day new-born eludes me.  Tomorrow morning, on the 13th of November, 2012, moon rise occurs at 6:41 a.m. Central, just twenty minutes before the sun rises.  If that wasn’t ‘bad’ enough, I’ll be driving the van for the Tuesday commute to work at that time.  My final rider pickup occurs at that time, so I may be able to take a couple of minutes with my binoculars to see if I can see the almost dead moon about eight hours before it is reborn as the new moon.  I don’t have high hopes though, as twenty minutes before sun rise is quite bright and the eastern horizon will be hazy unless I’m extremely lucky. And the chance of catching any sign of the extremely young moon (less than an hour old by sun set tomorrow night) is even slimmer than the crescent moon would appear at that time. 

Countertop & Backsplash Refinishing
Countertop & Backsplash Refinishing (click photo for rest of album)

I woke up knowing the temperatures had plummeted to the lower 20s overnight, leaving the sky crystal clear and killing the wind we’ve had for the past week.  Since my kitchen is completely unusable for the next week or so, I decided to pack up the van for the Monday commute, start it up (since frost completely covered all the windows) and gather up my camera equipment for an pre-dawn frigid photo shoot of the nearly dead moon.

NineteenMinsAfterMoonrise12Nov2012I drove the still cold and nearly empty van up the hill to the dead-end in front of City Hall.  I left the van running to continue the process of thawing out the windows and doors while I took the tripod and camera a few feet back up the hill to the east side lawn of City Hall.  I could barely see the new risen moon through the leafless trees lining the south and southeastern horizon.  I found a spot where the moon just clear the tree limbs and setup the camera equipment.  I took my first photo at 5:47 a.m., about nineteen minutes after the moon rose (at 5:28 a.m.).  I tried various settings and exposures, while trying to keep my hands warm and not shake the camera too much.  I took several unsatisfactory photos for about ten minutes and then returned to the van.  I needed to fill up the gas tank and get something warm to drink before heading south to pickup my first setup of riders.  My local rider had the day off because he’s a federal employee and today is the day set aside to observe and honor our veterans.

Illuminted 3% at 6:10 a.m. Central Mon 12 Nov 2012

After filling up the van, I drove back up the hill so I could cross Main Street using the light between City Hall and the Library and just happened to look east again. I noticed the colors caused by twilight and pulled into the Library’s parking lot for a second photo shoot.  I quickly reset up the camera and took another ten minutes worth of photos before continuing on to Scooters for a warm mocha and a caramel apple scone. 

Venus, Saturn, Spica and the Waning Moon

I downloaded the photos from the camera and reviewed them. I threw away most of the first photo shoot because I forget to set the two second delay timer and most of them were blurry. I logged into my Astronomy.com account and downloaded the sky dome for the east-southeastern horizon to confirm and label the objects photographed above.


I had completely forgotten that Saturn had finally come out from behind the sun to become visible once again in the early morning.  In fact, Saturn rose just nine minutes after the moon did, although my camera did not capture it in my first photo shoot, probably because it was hiding behind some tree limbs.

I also photographed the Big Dipper, Orion, Canis Major and the Pleiades, but decided not to share the photos with anyone yet.  Because I didn’t change from my telephoto lens to my normal one, I did not get all the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper nor did I capture all of the stars in Orion. 

I’ll probably miss this weekend’s meteor shower, as I will be otherwise occupied during the day and not in a location that will provided dark enough skies to properly observe a shower.   A solar eclipse occurs tomorrow, but only for those excessively lucky people who live in the South Pacific.  For more of what’s up this week, visit Astronomy’s the Sky this Week website.

Beeline to Beehive

I received the alert from my calendar ten minutes before five o’clock Wednesday morning.  I wanted to make sure I woke up early enough to have dark skies (well, as dark as they get in my neck of the woods) to observe the Beehive Cluster aligned with Venus and the waning Moon.  I planned ahead and had all my equipment ready to go before I went to bed Tuesday night.  I subscribe to several astronomy related RSS feeds and always review Astronomy.com‘s “The Sky This Week” as soon as it’s updated to make sure I mark my calendar for interesting observation events.  The following is an excerpt from this week’s article:

Venus meets the swarm of stars known as the Beehive Cluster (M44) in mid-September. Binoculars deliver great views, particularly when a waning crescent Moon joins the scene on the 12th. Astronomy.com: Roen Kelly

Wednesday, September 12: If you enjoy seeing spectacular celestial alignments, this is the morning for you. A waning crescent Moon stands 4° southwest of brilliant Venus before dawn while the planet resides 3° southwest of the Beehive star cluster (M44). Although the scene will be lovely with naked eyes under a dark sky, binoculars will deliver the best views. To see the Beehive clearly, you’ll need to observe before twilight begins around 5 a.m. local daylight time. The Moon and Venus remain stunning until about 15 minutes before the Sun rises (from Astronomy.com‘s “Sky This Week” article).

A few stray small puffy clouds drifted around the night sky.  A slight breeze blew in from the south or southwest, but my house sheltered the driveway where I setup the tripod and camera.   I could not see any of the stars in the constellation Cancer with my naked eye.  I live less than ten miles due west, as a bird flies, from the Kansas City International Airport, and the rest of Kansas City sprawls continuously south along the eastern horizon down to the southeast quadrant.  Seeing anything faint below 20 degrees above the horizon is not easily accomplished.

With my binoculars, I could see the stars that make up Cancer, and I could clearly see the Beehive Cluster (M44).  I affixed my telephoto lens to my camera, but looking through the tiny viewfinder I could only see Venus. So I guessed as best I could with placement relative to Venus and took a few photos.  I tried to capture a few other interesting objects much higher in the sky, like Jupiter, Orion’s sword, and the Pleiades again.

Waning Moon and Venus
Waning Moon and Venus (Wed 9/12/2012)
Beehive Cluster
Beehive Cluster in constellation Cancer (Wed 9/12/2012)
Pleiades (Wed 9/12/2012)
Orion's Belt and Sword
Orion’s Belt and Sword (Wed 9/12/2012)

Click here to see the entire album of photos from Wednesday morning.

Thursday dawned completely overcast, with rain scheduled for the entire day.  We need it so I’m not complaining.

Friday night I’ll attend the club’s local star party and have already organized my observing list so I can make great strides towards my Astro Quest observing award.  Friday morning, if I can manage it after observing late into the night, I hope to capture the last glimpse of the old moon before it turns new around nine o’clock Saturday evening.

Betwixt and Between

Redundant title, but I felt the need to bewitch you by using the word ‘betwixt.’  When I stepped outside this morning, about ninety minutes before sunrise, I looked up and couldn’t believe the incredibly bright stars and planets I could see against a dark sky.  Very unusual sight from my front steps.  I even called my husband out to look at the gorgeous perfect visibility of the entire constellation Orion.  We could even see all seven stars of the Pleaides, directly overhead.  I couldn’t resist the siren call of my camera, so I went back inside, grabbed the tripod and the camera and took a half dozen photos.

Waning Moon Equidistant Between Venus and Jupiter
Waning Moon Equidistant Between Venus and Jupiter (Monday 9/10/2012)

Yesterday morning, the moon was a bit brighter and closer to Jupiter.

Orion, the Hunter
Orion, the Hunter (Monday 9/10/2012)
Jupiter with the Seven Sisters (Pleiades)
Jupiter with the Seven Sisters (Pleiades)

Click on any of the above images to see larger versions of them.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow morning has in store for me.

Bright Evening Star at Dark Moon

I got home from work yesterday before 5:15 p.m., leaving me plenty of time before the sunset to walk Apollo.  Terry got him so excited, whispering the word ‘walk’ in his eagerly raised ears.  By the time I had changed my clothes and laced up my walking shoes, Apollo was whining and jumping around the living room.  I grabbed my water bottle and the leash and off we went for a quick forty-five minute walk.

Once back home, I dashed down to the basement and unburied the telescope equipment from last week’s water heater install which necessitated a redistribution of the junk languishing down there.  The last thing I brought up to the band room was the large tripod.  I took it out the patio door and set it up on the strip of concrete patio just south of the hot tub.  I took the case of lenses out to the hot tub wooden steps as well as the box containing the hand-held device that controls the telescope, helping to align it and find objects in the night sky.

I took the telescope out of its box and secured it to the tripod’s base.  Something didn’t look quite right.  I dug out the manuals for the telescope and the tripod, but nothing would focus.  Ah, I needed my reading glasses!  I ran upstairs and grabbed them off the kitchen table.  Much better!  I refreshed my aging memory on the finer points of placing the telescope correctly on the tripod.  I disconnected the telescope, turned it 180 degrees and re-secured it to the base.  Then I aligned the tripod legs more-or-less on a north-south orientation. Finally, I was ready to connect to Autostar hand-held control device and the 12-volt power supply.

I looked over my shoulder to the southwest and could already see Venus and Jupiter in the still lit dusky sky.  I plugged in the power supply and the Autostar and flipped the switch at the base of the telescope to the on position.  The Autostar woke up and warned me not to look through my telescope, ever, at the sun directly.  Well, darn, the sun had already set so I didn’t really need to worry about that.

I entered today’s date and time and told the Autostar that, no, currently I wasn’t using daylight savings time.  I skipped the alignment, since I couldn’t see any stars yet, and, from past experience, the stars it would want to use for aligning the telescope would be blocked by either my house (which rose thirty feet high to my east only about six feet away from the base of the tripod) or the trees in my backyard (a very tall pine tree, tall maple tree and my neighbor’s large pear tree – all block my western, northwestern and north horizons from my backyard).  Basically, I can only look up, to the south or southwest, with a mostly unobstructed view from my back yard.  Oh, and there’s a large hill about a quarter of a mile to my west, so I can’t really see the sunsets either.

Using my finder’s scope, I zeroed in on Venus and then programmed the Autostar to find Venus, without actually finding it.  I found it in the Autostar’s database of observing objects and then told it to start slewing (also known as tracking the object so it always stays centered in the eyepiece).  I put in my 26mm eyepiece and then paused the slewing.  I used the directional arrow keys on the keypad to center Venus in the field of view and then unpaused slewing.  Wow!  Was Venus bright!  But smaller than I anticipated.  I tried a variety of lenses (16mm, 9mm and the doubling one with a combination of all of those) and got brave and tried three different types of colored filters.

I quickly read through the one page reference guide for the lenses, each of which gave tips for the various types of objects you could observe and what you could expect from the different colors.  I first tried the blue filter, which helped reduce the glare from the still well-lit western sky.  Venus was still very bright.  I next tried the orange filter, which really brought down the brightness and I believe I even saw some cloud formations.  The last color I tried was the green filter, but I don’t believe that one added to my viewing experience.

After observing Venus for several minutes with various filter and eyepiece combinations, I told the Autostar to go find Jupiter.  Since I had not aligned the telescope previously, I had my doubts as to whether the computer and the drives could actually find it.  I knew where it was, because I could see it.  The Autostar got close, but not close enough to see Jupiter in my 26mm eyepiece.  I pause slewing and used the finder scope and the directional controls to center Jupiter.  I unpaused slewing and was amazed at the size and clarity of Jupiter and four of its moons.

The first thing that struck me was the fact that Jupiter looked at least as large as Venus had, if not larger!  Yet Venus is closer to Earth by a long shot.  This really  made me wonder about the sheer size of Jupiter, all those billions of miles away, out past Mars and the asteroid belt.  It’s own miniature solar system.  Awesome!

All but one of Jupiter’s moons were lined up perfectly on one side of the gas giant.  I could clearly see the striations in the clouds, but I did not see the Red Spot.  I spent several very enjoyable minutes observing them all with various eyepieces, but no filters (as I could see detail very clearly without them).


My last longshot of the night was a whimsical hope that I would be able to see one of the nebulae in Orion.  I told the Autostar to go find the Horsehead Nebula.  Off it went, taking the telescope generally to the belt or sword area of the constellation Orion.  I hadn’t yet grabbed my Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas, so I couldn’t remember exactly where the Horsehead Nebula resided in relation to Orion’s belt.  I traversed up and down the sword, but did not further investigate the belt, where I should have concentrated.  However, since the skies were still quite bright (not dark) and the light pollution continued to obscure my ability to see such dark nebulae, I gave up on that hunt and saved it for another  night when I could transport my entire setup to a dark sky site.  Thanks to a gift from my father, the prospect of observing at a dark sky site have gotten markedly better.  He repaired an old portable emergency battery and light (both white and red) device that can be used as a power source, once I find (or buy) the power cord for the telescope that includes the standard car cigarette lighter-type connector.

On a whim, I told the Autostar to go find the Pleiades, another open star cluster I could easily see between Orion and Jupiter.  I couldn’t easily find it listed in the observing objects database, so I looked it up in my Sky Atlas and determined it also had the M45 designation.  The Autostar took the telescope to the general vicinity of the Pleiades, but I could not confirm this from the eyepiece.  And, since the Pleiades were very high in the night sky, I could not use the finder scope to manually re-align the telescope.  Why?  Because on the ETX-90, the OEM finder scope becomes unusable at vertical or near vertical angles when using the Alt/Az mount (instead of the Equatorial mount).  I have a replacement finder scope, but have not yet installed.  Terry volunteered to give it a go this week since I left the telescope on its tripod smack dab in the middle of the band room last night.

I may or may not be able to participate in Sky & Telescope’s Moon Mercury challenge this evening.  Tonight, about thirty minutes after sunset, the tiniest sliver of the new moon will be visible right next to Mercury.  My drive in to work today produced a stunning sunrise, thanks to a mostly cloudy sky, so unless these clouds blow away before I get home, I doubt I’ll be able to see the sun, let alone the pencil-thin moon and the small bright fleeting dot of Mercury.  If, by some miracle, the skies are crystal clear when I get home tonight, I will at least packup my digital camera and its tripod and find a spot on a hilltop with a clear unobstructed view of the setting sun.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB3khO8uMg4?feature=player_embedded]