It is rare to have five consecutive nights of clear skies for star gazing. And, even more rare when those nights coincide with a special event I hope to photograph. The gods must have looked favorably on me. It started on 11 July 2019 with this view to the south-southeast at 9:44pm CDT. Far lower left was Saturn emerging from behind the bushes. Jupiter was proud above the trees. The overexposed Moon hovered at the right. I photographed this scene at 9:44pm over the course of the next four nights. The Moon tracked down to the left. Click for a better view.
🔭 Updates an earlier post to include recent changes and new information. 🔭
Desktop planetarium software helps plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. Many products are available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. Open source and free Stellarium is on my desktop computer. It can be customized to your location and has a nice look and feel. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like SkySafari. It isn’t free but is inexpensive.
Online planetarium sites are popular and offer many features. Below are highlights of a few I like. With multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail, they can help satisfy your curiosity about astronomical events. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.
Enter any month and day to see a high definition image. The composite images of Dial-a-Moon are made from those of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in low altitude orbit around the Moon since 2009.
You may leave the universal time (UT) at the default value. Your local to Universal time conversion can be done at this link. Or, type ‘universal time’ into Google. Go back to Dial-a-Moon to enter the UT.
A Year of Moon Motions
The collection of accurate images of the Moon for each hour have been made into the movies below each lasting about 5 minutes. Try watching full screen for the best effect. Versions of the movie are available for readers in the northern and the southern hemispheres.
I explain the Moon’s peculiar wobble and tipping motions at this blog post.
I really like my Celestron Skymaster Pro 15×70 mm binoculars. Their wide field of view, bright optics, and sharp focus enhance views of the night sky. What I don’t like is how heavy they are at 3.75 lbs (1.70 kg). They came with a tripod mount which works fine. But, I have found getting into good viewing position to look steeply up in the sky can be a challenge. The tripod legs are extended too far if I am standing which adds to it shaking. Sitting to view doesn’t work better as the tripod and my legs compete for the same space.
I wondered if there was a better and cheap solution to holding the binoculars steady and giving me flexibility for viewing. I browsed the local hardware store for inspiration and found this tool in the paint section. The tool had a swivel head with about 60˚range of motion.
In a display of extendable poles, I picked one that was a bit taller than me in its longest position. Total cost was $20.
The binoculars rest firmly on the foam pad of the paint tool with enough friction so they don’t slip. A small bungee cord might be a good idea. I can easily grip them and the pad and adjust focus if necessary. The adjustable pole gives comfortable and very stable control of height. I can tilt up-down and right-left easily to scan a portion of sky. Set up and take down is fast. Best of all, no more shaky binoculars. This is a winner for me.
Passes of the International Space Station are very predictable. There are internet sites that will email you notification of a coming pass. This one by NASA is easy to use. I use a site called CalSky which also notifies me if the ISS is going to pass in front of the Sun or Moon for my location. These transits are brief lasting barely more than a second. I’ve written about seeing several transits of the Sun in these posts.
Transits of the Moon are more difficult to see. The CalSky site has notified me fewer times about lunar transits. When they do occur for my location, the weather is sometimes a problem. This Christmas morning a transit was to occur but the forecast called for very cloudy skies. I woke not expecting to see it. When I looked out the window, the Moon was shining brightly in a clear patch of sky. I got my camera ready and hoped it would stay clear. It did just barely long enough. Here are three frame-grabs from the video showing the ISS just before, during, and after the transit.
This is the video slowed down to 50% speed. It is best viewed on a large screen with quality set to HD. It is not likely visible on a phone or tablet screen. The transit begins at the 7 o’clock position and ends at the 2 o’clock position of the Moon’s face. It lasts only 2.5 sec on this video, only 1.24 sec in real time.
I’ve waited a long time to see this. It was great to have it occur on Christmas morning. What a nice present.
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this video of some highlights in the night sky for December 2018. May your skies be clear so you can enjoy them.
The sky has been graced by four planets in recent weeks shortly after sunset. Farthest west has been Venus. Next toward the east has been Jupiter, then fainter Saturn, and brilliant Mars in the southeast. This view from Starry Nite desktop software shows their arrangement in mid-August soon after sunset.
The Moon was a new thin crescent on 11 Sep soon after sunset here photographed by Heiko Ulbricht in Germany.
Each successive night after 11 Sep, the Moon appeared farther east in the evening sky as it orbited Earth. Our weather forecast predicted a series of clear days which gave me hope of capturing an image of the Moon near each of the four planets during the coming week.