Last night’s Venus and Jupiter close encounter

Venus and Jupiter are going their separate ways.

It was nice while it lasted, but they are so different – they travel in different orbits, one’s a gas giant and the other a terrestrial rocky planet. Even when we saw them together last night, so close, so inviting, you could see it could never work.

Venus is slowly climbing out of the solar glare, Jupiter is sliding down and to the right behind the Sun.  They are only 25 degrees out from the Sun, so they set less than an hour after the Sun sets.  They were hard to find, but once found this bright couple was stunning.

We could just barely pick them out with the unaided eye after finding them in a low-power telescope, peeking around the clouds that looked like they exploded from a storm far to our west. Venus was intensely bright and Jupiter, so much further away and faint, like a ghost with tan bands.

The photos don’t do it justice. Venus in the photo is larger is than it looked to the eye in the telescope due to its intense brightness. Jupiter looks so much larger than Venus; even though it’s much further away.

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Venus and Jupiter about to be engulfed by the wavy cirrus clouds. Canon XS with a 250mm telephoto at f/5.6, 1/250 sec ISO 800.

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Venus (overexposed) ghostly Jupiter through an 8-inch dobsonian with a Canon XS 1/160 second at ISO 800.

Wed. Night’s Very Dark Sky

In the following photos notice the details in the shape of the Milky Way and the star clusters, expectantly as the exposure gets longer.

Here’s some photos with my Canon XS, but this time on a iOptron camera mount that follows the stars.  It’s a fancy clock that matches the rotation of the Earth and keeps the stars on the same place on the camera.

Here’s a photo of Sagittarius and Scorpius with a wider lens that came with the camera. It gets less light than my regular one I use for star photos.


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker; 18mm lens 30 second at f/4

A narrower view of the same area, but also more light taken in.


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker 30 sec at f/2

Note the starclusters!

Now, a longer exposure…..


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker 66 seconds

More light! Note the stars don’t show up as trails, even though after 15 seconds (see previous nights), the stars trail when you look at a full size photo.

One more…. let’s double the exposure time again….


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker 124 seconds. Little or no trailing (except the trees in the foreground – they are blurred because the tracker moved to follow the stars, the trees didn’t move!).




Oh what a night!

I finally went ‘home’ about 3:15am.

These are the darkest skies I’ve ever seen, excepting when Carol and I  watched the sky one night on a mountain in North Carolina. Here’s a sampling of photos from last night.

The sky is so dark, I saw more of the Milky Way than ever before.

The Milky Way looks like ‘steam’ from the teapot of Sagittarius  in this brightened shot.

IMG_4134 auto bright pict mang

Canon XS on tripod 50mm lens f/2 10 second exposure ISO 800, quick auto brighten in Picture Manager.

If you can’t find the teapot. Here’s a ‘mistake’ when the focus slipped, making the brighter stars larger….


More later. We have a seminar on taking scenic astro photos all day today.


Heads UP! for Early July 2016

The planet Jupiter is still outstanding in the evening sky. It’s the brightest object in our sky, even though Jupiter looks 4% smaller by the end of the month.  It’s still a great time to get any telescope out and look for the dark cloud bands and Jupiter’s four brightest moons.  If you are lucky or plan well, you can see the Great Red Spot.  It’s smaller than it used to be, but looks much redder than the darker cloud bands – almost orange.


Here’s a photo from the Juno spacecraft from earlier this week.  What it shows is what we can see in our humble telescopes.


Photo from Juno, released by NASA and labeled by the Planetary Society.

(But we don’t see a ‘half Jupiter’ – our view is a fully lit Jupiter.)  Juno is preparing to enter orbit around Jupiter on July 4th  .  While its camera is small, it’s primary mission is to measure the strength of microwave radiation from the interior of Jupiter.  This is like weather radar, where microwaves are used to measure water in Earth’s air.  In this case, Jupiter is the source of the microwaves.  Data from Juno will allow scientists to learn about what the inside of Jupiter is made of.  From Earth’s point of view, Jupiter is 4 percent smaller by the end of the month, but worth watching to see if the Great Red Spot keeps its recent brightening and if the darker cloud belts stay constant.

Mars and Saturn are low in the southern sky as seen from the northern hemisphere.


Mars and Saturn 1/3 of the way up from the southern horizon. Sky and Telescope chart.

Venus and Mercury are close to the Sun in the sky. See this photo from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory of the sky near our Sun.


The International Space Station returns to the dawn skies starting on the 6th.

On July 4th, at local noon in the Eastern United States, the Sun is furthest from the Earth for 2016.  Doesn’t that make you feel cooler?




Rough weather before a nice holiday weekend

Before the holiday weekend starts, nature is going to do some rough sweeping through our area. Be alert for showers, thunderstorms and the possibility of strong, damaging winds later this afternoon and evening.

After that, the weekend looks warm, but nice, with next chance of rain depending on a system passing to our Monday night and early Tuesday.




From the National Weather Service Forecast Discussion: The threat for storms falls off fairly rapidly from west to east
this evening (maybe lingering into the first part of the overnight
hours far eastern zones), as the surface cold front reflection of
the upper trough pushes to the east.

How to find Mars!

The fourth planet from the Sun, Mars is a bright reddish dot in our night skies. To find it, look low the southeast sky after the sky gets dark.

Southeast is on the other side of the sky from where the sun sets. By 9:30 pm local daylight time, about the time it gets dark out, Mars will have risen above the southeastern horizon.  It will rise a bit earlier each night.  Mars will be highest in the sky about midnight in May and by 11pm in June.


Mars and Saturn low in the southeast sky at 9:30pm Daylight Time.

You can use the star chart above from the or the map for May (and June, when it’s published) to find Mars in the sky.

What will you see in a telescope?

If you point a telescope of any size at Mars and focus it carefully, you’ll see a tiny reddish dot.  Once you get the planet centered in the eyepiece, take a good long look and see if you can pick out any gray or light colored areas.  Then use a higher power eyepiece to see how much detail you can see on Mars.  It’s still going to be small.  How much power can you use?  A good rule of thumb is to find out the highest power you can use is to measure the opening where the light comes though in millimeters and multiply it by 2.  A 2.4 inch objective (where the light comes into the telescope) is about 60 millimeters wide.  Multiply that by 2 and the maximum usable power is 120x.  See if your telescope came with eyepieces marked with power ratings or if the materials with your telescope tells you what power the eyepieces can give. If you have a ‘barlow’ lens, multiply the power by the ‘2x’ or ‘3x’ stamped on the side to get the total power.

If Mars is very fuzzy, it’s either a night with a turbulent jet stream overhead or you are using too much power.  The gray areas are areas of volcanic rock where the reddish dust has blown off the solid rock.

While you are in the neighborhood, Saturn rises about an hour and a half after Mars rises, so check out the ringed planet.  While you are waiting for Mars to get above your trees, look for Jupiter, just as bright as Mars higher in the southwest sky.  They are also on the sky maps.

Added May 23rd… A more detailed discussion of what your telescope can see on Mars is at astrobob in Duluth, MN:

Happy hunting!




Use the Solar Observatory to See the Pleadeas In Daytime

The lovely Pleiades  star cluster is not visible in our nighttime sky, because it’s lost in the glare of the Sun.  But it’s fun to look for it while it moves past the Sun in our skies.  And we can do that with the SOHO solar telescope.  SOHO (Solar & Heliospheric Observatory) is a joint USA and European Space Agency space mission to study our star.

SOHO has special cameras, some of which block out the Sun so we can see the Sun’s outer atmosphere and how the Sun’s magnetic field affects it.  SOHO blocks out the Sun so well, we can see stars and planets passing through the glare of the Sun.

Check this week and watch the Pleiades, that star cluster that looks like a little dipper, or nameplates on older Subaru cars, pass through the view of the C3 camera .  Here’s a sample from yesterday:

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The Pleiades are in the upper left of this scene and will move to the lower right this week. The incredibly bright object on the right is the planet Venus.

Here’s a movie of the past three days, showing the Sun moving in front of the star field and Venus racing to keep up.

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