VLA Dishes at Sunset


VLA at Sunset with Crepuscular Rays

The photogenic dishes of the Very Large Array aim skywards as the setting Sun casts shadows across the sky.

If these were optical telescopes I could write that the telescopes were getting ready for a night of sky viewing. But radio telescopes can observe day and night.

Still, there is something magical about catching any type of telescope in action as the Sun sets and night falls. Here, the last beams of sunlight coming from the west illuminate the dishes, while dark shadows – crepuscular rays – cast by clouds converge toward the anti-Sun point in the east.

As part of my trek around New Mexico this past week, I shot this on Sunday, March 17, about an hour before I took the image of Comet PANSTARRS over the VLA dishes – for that image I was east of the array looking back to the west and to the comet.

But for this image I was at one of the public access areas, standing under one of the dishes, looking east.

At first, all the dishes were aimed up to the zenith, stowed I assume due to the high winds that were blowing all afternoon. But then, right on cue as I began shooting, all the dishes began to move in unison. The dishes first aimed toward me, then turned to aim up to the south, as here. It was an amazing dance to watch. It gave me goosebumps. And tears.

There is likely no more iconic image of our exploration of the universe from Earth than this array of antennas listening for the faintest signals from deep space – not alien radio programs, but the natural signals emitted by atoms and molecules where stars are forming and dying.

– Alan, March 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Moon Meets Jupiter and the Hyades


Moon near Jupiter & Hyades (March 17, 2013)

On Sunday night, March 17, the waxing Moon came very close to Jupiter and the Hyades star cluster for one of the best conjunctions of the year.

This was certainly a night to remember. Minutes after I took the images for this shot, I took the frames for the Comet over the VLA image in the previous post. Here, I caught the Moon shining just below Jupiter (you can see a couple of its moons as well) and just above the Hyades star cluster and the bright yellow star Aldebaran at the bottom of the frame. All are set in the deep blue of twilight.

This is a high dynamic range (HDR) stack of seven exposures ranging from 6 seconds to 1/13 second, to capture the huge range in brightness from the sunlit Moon to the faint stars. Even so, the daylit side of the Moon remains overexposed. But the “dark side of the Moon” lit by Earthshine shows up well. A 135mm telephoto frames the field much as binoculars would show it.

This night recalled a similar evening on April 10, 1997, when Comet Hale-Bopp appeared low in the northwest, much as PANSTARRS is now, and the Moon actually passed in front of Aldebaran. An aurora display also broke loose that night, but not so last night – they are unlikely from New Mexico, though some northern lights were seen the night before from as far south as Colorado.

– Alan, March 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer