Crescent of Venus

Evening views of Venus have been beautiful. The planet is passing us in orbit and by the end of May will be hidden in the glare of the Sun. It will emerge again in June but as a morning object.

Last evening was clear and cold, providing a perfect view of Venus. With the camera mounted on a tripod and fully zoomed, the crescent was obvious. A small telescope or steadied binoculars will work, too. Give it a try. Your evening opportunities are waning.

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS | 1/500s | ISO=400 | 9:21pm

Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2019

ūüĒ≠ ¬†Updates an¬†earlier post to¬†include recent changes and new information.¬†¬†ūüĒ≠ ¬†


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.

SaturnRingsTop

NASA

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An Opportunity To Be Missed

I knew it would happen someday. NASA officially declared the Mars Opportunity Rover mission was over. It was active for nearly 15 years and had driven more than 26 miles exploring craters, various rock features, and the weather. Last year, a global dust storm on Mars darkened the skies for many weeks. Opportunity went into a hibernation to save power. After the dust settled and the sun returned, multiple efforts to make contact failed. This is the final transmitted image back in June 2018.

Previously in 2010, Spirit, the other identical rover, had succumbed to the harsh Martian conditions. Both were launched in 2003. They landed with the aid of airbags to soften the impact. They were ‘warranted’ for 90 day missions. Spirit exceeded that by 20x.

Randall Munroe of xkcd published a nice commemorative cartoon for the occasion. Thanks to the intrepid rover for taking us along during its explorations.

Randall Munroe | xkcd.com

NASA published this short video showing some of the highlights of the Opportunity mission.

My Heavy Binoculars | Now Steady

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 60ňörange 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.