Lunar Blooper Reel

I noted in my post Adventures in Amateur Astronomy, Pt II that I had a difficult time aligning my phone with the eyepiece . I was pretty happy with the final picture I posted, but here are some of the misses. They are far from perfect, but I think each shot contains something interesting.

 

lunarproblem1lunarproblem2lunarproblem3lunarproblem4lunarproblem5

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Adventures in Amateur Astronomy, Pt II

 

I have been interested in astronomy since I was a child. I spent late nights sitting up with my Dad, watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos,  and we attended star parties and meetings of our local Amateur Astronomy Association together. Most of all, I’ve read nonfiction and scifi books that have encouraged my love of astronomy.

But the years went on, and as I grew I became distracted by my myriad other interests. Dance, music, photography, writing, and so many other wonders in this world have all held my interest, and I struggle to focus on just one topic. How can one lifetime be enough given everything this universe has to offer?

A few years ago, while sitting in a dark parking lot, I gazed up into the night sky and was drawn in, once more, by the infinite span of possibilities above me. After so many years, I was bitten by the stargazing bug again.

At first I was content to gaze with the naked eye, re-acquainting myself with the constellations with the help of the skymap app on my phone. Then I remembered that I owned a pair of cheap binoculars, which I used to take a shaky, blurry look at the moon and planets. Then I decided enough was enough, and gave into the temptation to buy a telescope.

In Part I of Adventures in Amateur Astronomy, I introduced several reasons why I should not get a telescope. I have no safe place where I can reliably stargaze, and I have no place to store my telescope when it isn’t in use. Still, I decided to get my telescope anyway, and after the initial ordeal of getting it set up, I was ready to go. So- given the limitations I’ve already named, how is my stargazing going?

My stargazing is going brilliantly, even though I’m struggling with even more limitations than those I’ve listed.

First of all, I still don’t have a place to store my telescope. It’s in the dining area of my house right now, next to the dining room table that was cleared out to use for eating and displaying my tea set. The table has been taken over again by a lot of *stuff,* including all of the eyepieces I’ve acquired for my telescope. My telescope, however, takes precedence over the dining room, especially since my spouse and I very rarely eat there, anyway.

Secondly, I still don’t have a safe place I can use for viewing. I live in a townhouse, where there is no backyard- just a garage that leads directly into the alley. There is a small front yard, but it’s on a busy street across from a well-lit shopping center. I have a good view of the sky from the alley, however, so most often I set up my scope across the alley on a patch of pavement protected by a transformer. I keep watch for cars and trucks that sometimes travel through the alley at night, and I wear a red light-up armband for safety. I also have to remain very still and quiet so I don’t activate my next door neighbor’s bright security lights.

I must admit that I tend to get a little nervous standing by myself in a dark alley. I’m not afraid of human attackers so much as nameless horrors that lurk in the night. I have, on occasion, gone inside because of this.

The first object I viewed with my telescope was Saturn, and I was blown away by how sharp the rings looked. I had to collimate the telescope because of some smearing in the image, but the process wasn’t as painful as I’d anticipated. The only problem I’ve had was with the finder scope, which I hate. It is a laser finder that is still not fully aligned despite a long effort. To make things worse, there is a small reflection in it which can trick me unless I’m very careful.

I wish I could show you what I see when I gaze through my telescope. I have an old CCD camera, but not one I can get set up at this time, so this is the best I can do.

The Moonawesome

I took this photo by carefully holding up my phone to the eyepiece. For contrast, here is a picture taken with the same phone of the same moon without the use of my telescope.

Themoonnotawesome

And here’s the best image I have been able to take with a proper camera sans telescope. This was taken of Fthe umbral emergence during the 2015 lunar eclipse.

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Keep in mind that the first image is just a poor replication of what I actually saw. The cell phone camera flattens everything out. The contrast is very poor, and you can’t see the shadows and the overall shape that pops out at you when you look directly through the eyepiece.

Still, these images should illustrate how my prospects have expanded. I can go outside on any clear night, now, and see the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus, the Galilean satellites, globular clusters, nebulae, double stars, and galaxies. The universe is mine to explore more deeply than I have in years.

My telescope has been worth all of the trouble and more.

 

 

Solar Eclipse 2017

I was lucky enough to witness one of nature’s wonders today- the rare spectacle known as a solar eclipse. I live in Texas, so I was not in the path of totality, but the partial eclipse was still an awesome sight.

I was unable to take photos because I lacked the proper equipment, but I will share my experience as best as I can with words. I used three pieces of equipment to view the eclipse- my smartphone, with help from the NASA livestream, a pair of ISO certified glasses, which I obtained courtesy of my local astronomy association, and a camera obscura (i.e. a card that I tore in half and poked a hole in with a thumbtack.)

eclipse_equip

(Not pictured- my smartphone and the thumbtack.)

I got an early start viewing the solar eclipse from my smartphone, watching the live feed of the eclipse that NASA was streaming from Oregon. When I was able, I went outside to view the eclipse firsthand. I went outside at 12:08pm CDT, and followed the eclipse’s progress until 12:26pm CDT. The view through my eclipse glasses was sharp, and the dark curve of the moon was starkly visible against the sun’s orange crescent. When I began viewing, the coverage was ~15%, and before I went inside again the coverage was ~30%.

I went back outside at 1:00pm CDT. I viewed the eclipse through my glasses, and also decided to try using a little pinhole viewer I’d made. The pinhole viewer worked much better than I’d anticipated. I didn’t have to adjust the angles of the cards very much at all before the eclipse became visible, and though it wasn’t as big and clear as the view through the glasses, I could clearly see a bright little crescent of light on the card. The last time I viewed the eclipse, the coverage was ~50%.

Viewing nature’s wonders was its own reward, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to discover any superpowers the eclipse might have unleashed from deep within me. I haven’t tried everything, of course, but here are the possibilities I’ve eliminated.

I cannot stop time.

I’m not indestructible. (I still have a little scab on my chin that hasn’t miraculously healed.)

I cannot pass through solid objects.

I’m not a magical girl. (I tried shouting “moon prism power, make up!” but nothing happened.)

I cannot see the future.

 

It’s too hot for me to attempt to try super strength or super speed, and I haven’t had enough time alone to try to fly. If anyone else has any ideas on superpowers for me to try, leave them in the comments. I assign a very low probability that I received any superpowers at all, but I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain in testing it.

Keep your eyes on the skies, everyone, and happy viewing.

Attention Citizen Scientists

If you are a layperson, there are still opportunities for you to contribute to scientific progress. Below are some links to interesting research projects where amateur scientists can contribute.

 

The 4*P Coma Morphology Campaign is asking for amateur and professional images of comet 45P/HMP and comet 41P/TGK.

 

4*P Coma Morphology Campaign

 

You can do comet hunting with the SOHO mission- instructions are found here.

 

Guide to SOHO Comet Hunting

 

Also for amateur astronomers, the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). By timing and observing lunar and asteroid occultations, scientists hope to discover double stars and understand the lunar terrain better, among other benefits.

Citizen Science Alliance

IOTA

 

This project also caught my eye, as the last time I went down to a local park for some stargazing, I was assaulted with a cacophony of frogs.

 

FrogWatch USA
These are just a few projects, but there are many more available here.

 

 

Adventures in Amateur Astronomy-Part I

I had many reasons not to get a telescope, from lack of storage space, to the lack of a safe, dimly-lit place to stargaze. So, naturally, when asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I’d already chosen the model of telescope I wanted.

I chose the Orion 4.5 starblast based on several recommendations;  the telescope has a reputation of being good for beginners. I ordered a model with an equatorial mount because it was not recommended for beginners. If I’m going to learn astronomy, I figured, I should learn astronomy. Once I get used to finding and tracking objects on my own, I’ll look into computerized object locators and motorized tracking.

I felt giddy with anticipation as my birthday drew near, but I managed to wait until midnight on my birthday to open it. I wasn’t able to do a very thorough examination of the box’s contents, due to an unexpected illness in the family, and I spent the next day in the doctor’s office.

The day after my birthday, however, I was able to begin setting up my telescope.

tripod

 

I was halfway through the assembly before I realized that one of the mounting rings, which is necessary to attach the telescope to the mount, was missing. I called the Orion company’s customer service line, and they told me that, since the telescope had been purchased through amazon, I would need to e-mail them a copy of the invoice.

I sent Orion an e-mail with a note stating that the second mounting ring was missing, and I attached the invoice. Orion sent an e-mail in reply stating that they would soon send me another e-mail. Finally- progress!

When I received the second e-mail, the representative expressed confusion regarding which item I was missing. I’d told them, twice now, that a tube mounting ring was missing, but the representative thought that perhaps I didn’t mean the entire mounting ring, but rather a small black washer that screwed into the top.

 

In order to avoid any further confusion, I called the customer service line directly, armed with my case number. When I was finally transferred to the right person, I explained that yes- in fact- the whole tube mounting ring was missing, and yes, I had checked all of the boxes.

“That’s weird- the telescope should have come with two tube mounting rings.”

“I know, right?”

After confirming that I’d really ordered the telescope, I was really missing a mounting ring, and I wasn’t some random person trying to scam them so I could run a black market for telescope mounting rings, Orion was nice enough to send me the missing part, and I was able to assemble the telescope.

telescope

If you’ll notice, the black washer was missing from the top of my new mounting ring, but at this point, I really didn’t care.

In all honesty, the representatives from Orion were friendly and helpful, and so far, I really enjoy my telescope.

 

Next time- collimating the mirror, using the finder “scope,” and being an astronomer who is afraid of the dark.

A Special Announcement

timewarp

Good day, citizens.

Due to last night’s bi-annual time warp, many of you may be experiencing strange symptoms. The most common symptoms include fatigue, headaches, and disorientation. However, as mild as the symptoms may be, they are a cause of concern, as they can cause increased accidents and decreased productivity.

To reduce your post-time warp disorientation, citizens are advised to get to sleep at your usual time, take rest breaks as needed, and report to your local stimulant dispensary, or “starbucks,” for chemical assistance. If you continue to experience symptoms that are unusually strong, or last longer than a week, please see a physician.

Despite the illness, fatigue, and increase in fatal accidents following the bi-annual time warp, please remember that the time warps are necessary to maintain the stability of the space-time continuum, as well as the fabric of society. If we did not create time warps are regular intervals, entropy would erode, causality would fail, broken vases would fix themselves, old people would turn into babies, and Earth would spin backward, flinging us all into space. Because of this, we must all sacrifice a steady sleep schedule to the greater good.

Please continue to monitor your health, and thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

The Department of Temporal Affairs

 

 

 

Lunar Eclipse, 2015

Last night provided a thrilling drama far beyond what I expected from a lunar eclipse, even a supermoon lunar eclipse.

Perhaps I should have expected drama. According to the mainstream, it’s not merely a lunar eclipse, but a “blood moon,” a term which conjures images of elder gods demanding sacrifice. I guess I’m lucky, then, that instead of having to deal with plagues of locusts, meteors striking the earth, and wormwood spewing from my faucets, the worst I had to deal with was a thin layer of cloud cover.

Even so, I did experience many ups and downs as the moon bobbed in and out of the clouds. One moment it shone full and bright, the next moment it was completely invisible. Then it peeked out of the clouds for just a moment more before plunging back behind the veil.

I was worried one moment that I would miss the eclipse entirely, and the next moment I was elated when the moon emerged, partially veiled in the dark umbra, and then in a bright crescent. I spent the evening live-tweeting the event, so I was rushing in the house to upload each clear shot I got before dashing out again to take more.

I do wish I had better equipment. I was once an amateur photographer, but this was back in the film days, and as far as digital equipment is concerned, I am at baffled by the features and shocked by the sticker price.

In my hobbyist days, I took photos using black and white film on a refurbished Minolta my dad bought from a flea market. For tonight’s eclipse, I used a Sony HD Handicam. It was far more expensive than my Minolta, and I find I can do less with it because everything is automatic. I can change some settings, but not many. The photos I took were hopelessly mediocre.

The first shots I managed were of the moonrise.

moonrise moonrise4

I added a filter for this next moonrise shot, which I think adds a lot more clarity in viewing the moon’s features.

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And here is the reason for my first panic, as the moon began to rise over the cloudline.

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After this, the moon was completely covered as it presumably moved into the umbra. I couldn’t see the moon at all until the eclipse was full.

eclipse shot

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Here we see my camera’s limitations. I can’t do long exposures with this camera, and the eclipsed moon was too dim for the camera to pick up, so I had to switch to the night vision function. I used the filter above to correct the green tint. You can’t see the “blood,” but to be fair, the moon didn’t seem that visibly red, here. To the naked eye, it looked a lot darker than the orange-red you see in most photos. Of course, this might also be due to the very thin layer of cloud cover that was still present.

And here we come to the happiest I was all night- the clouds shifted enough to allow me to photograph the umbral emergence.

These two shots are, by far, the best of the evening.

umbral2

umbra4

I was able to keep shooting until the eclipse was almost over, and the moon disappeared behind the clouds for the rest of the night.

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almostover2

almostover3

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You can see the irritating clouds here as they drifted back in, illuminated by the moonlight.

I wonder if the cloud cover didn’t add to my enjoyment of this event, just a bit. I would have been sorely disappointed if the clouds had entirely blocked my view, but each time the moon emerged, and I managed to get another shot, it felt like a moment of triumph.

I hope everyone out there got as much enjoyment out of the experience as I did, but for those who were unable to view the event, I hope my poor photos can convey the wonder I felt as I watched. Watching the lunar eclipse drives home the fact that yes- I am standing on a spherical object, suspended in space, and we can actually observe the shadow it casts for ourselves. Anyone can observe the reality.

I hope to record other celestial events in the future. Until then, happy stargazing.