Ceres | My First Views

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.

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Vesta Near Saturn | 3 Views

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.

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In the Pine Woods

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.

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ISS Transits Sun | 20180825

I enjoy trying to capture passes of the Space Station over my location. Sometimes it passes in front of the Sun. That happened today at 2:20:30 local time. Here is how the Sun looked before passage. Notice the two sunspots at the right. It is in a period of quiet sunspot activity now.

There are two videos of the transit of the ISS. This first one is in real time. At about the 4 second mark, it crosses across the lower left part of the Sun. Don’t blink or you will miss it. The second video is slowed to 10% real time. The actual speed of ISS is about 5 mi/sec (8 km/sec).

It will help to adjust the quality to 1090 or 720 using the gear icon down by the YouTube label.

ISS Passed by Saturn and Mars

The International Space Station approached from the northwest at 9 pm on 8 Aug 2018. It went high overhead in a southeasterly direction. It tracked above Saturn and the Teapot in Sagittarius before disappearing near Mars. There it entered the darkness of Earth’s shadow.

Taken on iPad with NightCap | ISS mode | 189 sec exp

Here is the same image annotated. Can you also see the light trails left by two passing jets? Tap images for more detailed views.

Looking SE at 9 pm

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.