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.
I photographed a satellite flare the evening of 10 June 2019. As the exposure was being recorded, a low flying airplane moved through the frame with lights blinking . It was fun to see. I had another opportunity to photograph a flare on 7 July. This time something else flew through the frame with lights blinking.
First, what I expected to see in shown in this chart from CalSky. The site emails me with alerts about coming events such as ISS passes or satellite flares. The field of view is toward the north and pointing almost straight up. The North Star, Polaris, is not visible but just off the chart at the bottom. The Big Dipper is at the left with the two pointer stars of the dipper pointing to Polaris. Satellite Metop-A was to pass through this field at a specific time. A reflective panel on the weather satellite was to direct a beam of sunlight down to my location for a few seconds. The grey circles show the pattern of bright-to-dark of the beam. It was to last a few seconds.
As the time of the pass neared, I set my iPad so it was pointed north and tilted up above Polaris. I opened the NightCap app and set it for a long exposure. I watched the sky during the 212 sec exposure and never saw the satellite flare. It must have been more dim than predicted. I went inside to see if anything was visible on the image.
The Big Dipper was easily visible. Short star trails were obvious during the 2.5 minute exposure. The flare was barely visible so I enhanced it with software (top center). Also visible were a few trails and spots of light that didn’t fit the pattern of the stars. Those were fireflies. Two of them were fairly close to the iPad and left bright long streaks (small squares). One was far away and blinked several times as it made a looping pattern (lower right). Click the image for a bigger view.
If you have followed my blog long enough, you might recall that I like to photograph Iridium flares. Link to examples. The constellation of 66 communications satellites provides a worldwide phone system. I get email notices when a flare, sunlight reflecting off an antenna, is visible at my location.
Recently, I have received notices about flares from three weather satellites of the European Union (EUMETSAT). They are known as Metop A, B, and C. Their polar orbits and altitude allow weather to be monitored continuously. Antennae sometimes reflect bright sunlight down to Earth causing a flare. I was notified of one at 9:54pm local time on 9 Jun 2019.
Using the NightCap app on my iPad, I set it on the sidewalk, angled it toward the correct part of the sky and let it capture a time exposure for a couple of minutes. A small plane flew over at low altitude just after I started the exposure. Right after that, the Metop-C satellite passed over leaving a faint flare trail. Both were going north, lower left. Notice the handle of the Big Dipper drawn in the top left. The two pointer stars of the dipper are not visible. I like when serendipity happens.
I stepped outside and looked up toward the sun. An arc of faint color caught my attention. It was actually a full circle of color around the sun. These halos are 22˚ in radius from the sun caused by refraction of light through ice crystals of the high cirrus clouds between me and the sun. The color saturation has been enhanced a little to show the redness of the inner edge and blueness of the outer edge due to their different wavelengths of light.
I went out several minutes later. The cirrus clouds were gone, as was the halo. It was my lucky day.
Update: Second date of views (4 Jan 2019) is at the bottom of this post.
The largest asteroid Ceres has been orbited by the ion-engine powered DAWN spacecraft since early 2015. DAWN ran out of fuel to maneuver in October 2018 and will remain silent in orbit at Ceres for decades. Previous to Ceres, it visited the second largest asteroid Vesta. This fly-over video gives a close view of Ceres.
The asteroid is far away and quite small and dim. It is not something most people have ever seen with the naked eye or in a telescope. I’ve been tracking Ceres with desktop planetarium software with hopes to see it. I am happy to report success.
Movement of Vesta and Saturn
I posted recently about my first view of the protoplanet and 2nd largest asteroid 4 Vesta. Later, on 23 Aug 2018, I managed to get an image of dim Vesta. With a magnitude of +6.5 at this time, it is not quite visible to my naked eye even under the best viewing conditions. It does show in binoculars. For comparison, Jupiter and Mars now have magnitudes of -1.8, and -1.2 respectively. They are bright. Here is a table of magnitudes of other objects.
At about 8 pm on 23 Sep, 26 Sep, and 4 Oct, the sky was dark with good seeing. Saturn was in a pattern of stars I could easily see. I knew Vesta was somewhere below Saturn. Below is the broad view using desktop software. South and southwest are labeled along the horizon at the bottom. Scorpius is at lower right. Sagittarius is in the center. The 2nd image is the zoomed-in view of the box in the center. Click for more detail.
Fourteen years ago I walked to a pine woods not far from our backyard. New construction was taking place. I wanted to get some images of the pine trees before they were cut down. Lots of other trees were removed as new streets and lots were installed. I am glad to say these pines are still there.
For the images of the tall pines, I wanted a different perspective. I chose a spot with a good view upward. Lying on my back, I shot about 10 pictures up into the trees. The images were overlaid so the trunks and branches were in good alignment. The end result was very close to how I saw it.