Mars Passes Saturn | Spring 2018

Earth has been moving closer to Mars this spring as we orbit the Sun. We reach inferior conjunction, our closest to the planet, in late July 2018. Mars will appear larger in telescope views until then. No, it will not appear as large as a full moon contrary to an internet meme that has gone around for years.

Saturn is in the distant backround when viewed early in the mornings. Because Mars is closer to the Sun than Saturn, it passed by the slower moving Saturn. This short animation illustrates the passage. Watch Saturn slowly move across the frame. Also, watch for the Moon to pass by at the end of the animation. That happened on 7 April 2018.

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Supermoon | 31 Jan 2018

In the evening of 30 January, the Moon rose bright and large in the east. Within 12 hours, it would be in the shadow of the Earth. There were a few clouds. The forecast was calling for a 50% cloud cover in the morning.

7 pm CST

At about 3 am I noticed the Moon was shining brightly through the bedroom windows. I felt hopeful the much hyped Supermoon would be visible before moonset/sunrise. I got up at 5:40 and walked down the street a few houses with camera and tripod. The Moon was entering some clouds toward the horizon. Overhead it was very clear. Eclipse was in progress.

We drove to a location away from houses and lights to get one more chance to photograph the beginning of totality. Too late. Clouds took over and the Moon disappeared. We headed home to watch online. NASA carried excellent video from three sites in California. These four images were screen grabs from Griffith Observatory near Los Angeles. They show the blood moon and the emergence from totality.

Using video from NASA via Griffith Observatory, I layered frame grabs onto a disk the size of the umbra of Earth. It shows the relative size of the Moon compared to Earth. Progress was slow as it moved at a speed of about 2,300 mi/hr (3,700 km/hr or 1 km/s). Totality began at 6:51 and ended at 8:08 CST.

Video via NASA | Griffith Observatory

Here is a beautiful time-lapse of the view from Griffith Observatory. It takes only a minute.

As the event ended, the Moon appeared low to the horizon as viewed by a telescope at the Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB. These frame grabs captured the distorted Moon behind some hills with wind turbines in view. As the Moon disappeared, it added a sense of finality to the entire event. It was a lot of fun to watch. I hope you were able to see it.

A Dragon Flew Over Me

Just before 6:20 am, I looked to the western sky. Flying from the SW was the very bright International Space Station. Next to it, moving parallel, was another dim point of light. I realized it was the SpaceX Dragon which had been released a few hours earlier for its return to Earth with 4100 lbs of cargo.

I grabbed my iPad and set up in an east facing window with hopes of capturing the two in a NightCap app photograph. Dragon was too dim to show. But, ISS, the Moon, Jupiter, and Mars all shined bright in the 2 minute exposure. The ISS moved southeast toward the lower left.

Spaceflight Now  and SpaceX confirmed splashdown of Dragon in the Pacific.

Mars-Jupiter Conjunction | 2018 January 4, 5, 6, 8

Update: We did have cloudy skies on the 7th but the 8th dawned clear. I got the camera ready and grabbed the shot. Here are the four days superimposed. The latest position of Mars on the 8th is to the lower left of Jupiter. You might need to click to embiggen if using a small device for viewing.


Previously Posted:

It was bitter cold outside each of the past three mornings. But, the skies were clear. Jupiter and Mars were visible through the living room windows. I set the camera on the tripod and captured three images here superimposed. Mars approached Jupiter from the upper right. In the closest position, Mars was less than the width of a full moon from Jupiter. The next two mornings will be cloudy here. Mars will be seen to the lower left. If it is clear where you live, look southeast an hour before sunrise.

Supermoons | 2018 Jan 1 and 31

The first of two January supermoons occurs on Jan 1. If you have an unobstructed view to the east, the full moon will rise just before 5 pm CST giving you good viewing or photographic opportunities. The moon’s orbit is not quite a circle. When it is closest to earth in that orbit, it appears up to 14% larger than when it is at its farthest from earth. Popular culture calls it super.

The next supermoon occurs on Jan 31. A second full moon in a month is referred to as a blue moon. Alignment of the moon with the shadow of earth on that day gives us another treat as a total lunar eclipse. The moon often looks a red color and is referred to as a blood moon. Our popular culture has several labels to attach to this moon event. It is a super-blue-blood moon in total eclipse. More details about that upcoming event as it nears.

Iridium Flare Pass | 2017 Dec 1

The Iridium 21 satellite passed over my part of Iowa this morning before sunrise. I set the iPad Air 2 on a firm base pointed at an angle toward the NNW sky. At 6:02 am, I started the 102 sec exposure using the NightCap Camera app, same as for the ISS pass three days earlier. The satellite was going north as it entered the frame at the top. After about 30 sec, a highly reflective mirror-like antenna cast a beam of sunlight down toward me. It brightened to several times more than the planets Venus or Jupiter ever get. Then it dimmed and continued north.

Taken with NightCap Camera | ISS mode | 102 sec | click to embiggen

Another satellite passed at the same time going toward the upper left from north-to-south. It is very faintly visible to the left of the flare. According to the Heavens Above database for my area, it was either a Russian satellite, or an Ariane rocket body.

Space Station Pass | Plus Three

An email notified me of a pass over my region by the International Space Station. The large bright object is always fun to see as it crosses the sky. First visibility was at 6:15 pm in the southwest low in the tree branches at the lower right of the image. It rose higher in the southern sky toward the upper left and passed the Moon in the southeastern sky. There is disappeared as it went into the darkness of the Earth’s shadow.

I used an application on my iPad called NightCap Camera to record a time exposure of nearly 5 minutes. It has a setting designed to capture ISS passes. With the iPad pointed almost due south, it recorded more than the ISS. A passenger plane with its blinking lights moved right-to-left across the field of view starting under the edge of the roofline. A few moments later another plane moved, this time left-to-right, parallel to the first. I kept recording the image. When I examined the image later, I noticed another object had entered the frame from the top before I closed the shutter. It was probably a polar orbiting satellite. I hadn’t noticed it as it was quite dim in the sky.

Sometimes you get surprised with more than expected. I like when serendipity happens.

Click to embiggen