Heads Up! – A Picturesque Snow Moonrise


Feb 3 Moon & Jupiter

This Tuesday, Feb. 3, watch the Full “Snow” Moon rise accompanied by the giant planet Jupiter.

Tuesday is Full Moon, the February “Snow Moon” according to some interpretations. Indeed, from most places in North America the Moon will rise over a snow-covered landscape to light the winter night.

This Full Moon is also special because it will pair with bright Jupiter. Both worlds are now at or near “opposition.”

Any Full Moon is always opposite the Sun – that’s why it is fully illuminated by the Sun.

But Jupiter is also near its annual opposition point in its orbit. The official date of opposition is Friday, Feb. 6. On that date Earth passes directly between the Sun and Jupiter – our three worlds lie in a line across the solar system. We are then closest to Jupiter and Jupiter appears opposite the Sun.

Being opposite the Sun, Jupiter rises as the Sun sets. And so will the Full Moon on Tuesday, accompanied by the giant planet now at its brightest for the year.

Look east at sunset. It will be a photogenic sight for the prepared photographer.

But you can also enjoy it with just the unaided eyes or binoculars, as the two worlds will appear about a binocular field apart, 5 degrees.

The double circles on the chart mark the position of the Earth’s shadow, which is always opposite the Sun. You can’t see our shadow out in space – not unless the Full Moon passes through it, which it will on April 4, for a total eclipse of the Moon. More about that in two months.

For now, enjoy the Snow Moon with the Giant Planet.

– Alan, January 31, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Old Hearst Church in Moonlight


The Big Dipper over Hearst Church

The Big Dipper and the Pole Star shine above the moonlit historic Hearst Church.

Tuesday was a productive evening of shooting in the moonlight. One of the best from the night pictures the Hearst Church in the rustic town of Pinos Altos in the Gila Forest of southern New Mexico.

The Big Dipper stars shine at right, with the Pointer stars in the Bowl aiming at Polaris above the Church. Illumination is from a waxing quarter Moon and from some decorative lights in the yard next door across the street.

The Hearst Church was opened in May 1898 and indeed is named for the famous Hearst family. Money to build the church was raised by the local mining families with a major donation from Phoebe Hearst, wife of the mining magnate and senator George Hearst. Phoebe was also mother to newspaper tychoon William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for Orson Welles’ movie Citizen Kane. Gold that decorates Hearst’s mansion in California came from the family mine near Pinos Altos.

As the mining boom went bust the Methodist church lost its pastor then its congregation. It is now an art gallery and home to the Grant County Art Guild. See their website for details on the historic church.

While I know many of my blog’s followers enjoy the photos for their own sake, lots of folks also like to learn more about the technical aspects of the images.

So with this blog, and selected others in future, I’ll present a bit more of the “how-to” information.


How the Image Was Shot and Processed

Taking the image could not have been simpler. It is a single 45-second exposure at f/2.8 with the 24mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 800, on a static tripod, about as basic as you get for nightscape shooting. There is no fancy stacking or compositing.

The trick is still in the processing, however. Here is a breakdown of the Photoshop CC 2014 file and its various layers. Every aspect of the processing is non-destructive. No pixels were ever harmed in the process. Every adjustment can be tweaked and modified after the fact.

Heart Church Processing Layers

< Star spikes top layer added with “Astronomy Tools” actions from Noel Carboni.

< Sharpening layer created from stamping the final layers into one layer using the Command-Option-Shift-E command, then a High Pass filter applied, blended with Soft Light and masked to sharpen just the ground.

< Adjustment layers for colour, brightness & contrast, and levels, applied to the sky and ground separately with masks, created using Quick Selection Tool and Refine Edge.

< A Clone & Heal layer for wiping out the power lines & power pole, using the Patch & Spot Healing Tools.

< The base image, opened from the developed Raw file as a Smart Object, with noise reduction and sharpening applied as Smart Filters.

I know this won’t explain all the processing steps but I hope it provides some idea of what goes into a nightscape.

All this and much more will be explained in an upcoming half-day “Photoshop for Astronomy” Workshop I’m presenting Saturday, May 9. If you are in the Calgary, Alberta area, consider joining us. For details and to register, see the All-Star Telescope web page

Also, my ebook featured below has all the details on shooting and processing images like these.

Clear skies and happy shooting!

— Alan, January 29, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Triple Shadow Transit on Jupiter


Jupiter put on quite a show last night, with transits galore on its cloud tops.

Not since Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter in 1994 have I witnessed such amazing and dramatic sights on Jupiter.

Last night, January 23, was the night of the triple shadow transits on Jupiter, with Io, Europa and Callisto all casting their shadows onto the Jovian cloud tops at one, but just for 24 minutes.

In addition, the disk of Callisto and Io were also superimposed on the disk, though only Callisto’s disk was obvious. With it, for a time I could see Jupiter dotted with 4 dark spots.

I make no claims that the video shows amazing detail. I shot it with the biggest telescope I have at my disposal here in New Mexico, a short-focus 92mm refractor. Such an event really needed a large reflector with lots of focal length to do it justice and magnify Jupiter enough to see the details well.

However, I shot the video clips to serve as my personal souvenir of the event. I hope the video and my commentary convey some of the excitement of the night, in seeing an event we will not see repeated until 2032.

– Alan, January, 24, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Heads Up! – Watch a Monster Asteroid Miss Us!


2004 BL86 by M44

On Monday, January 26 North American stargazers have a ringside seat for the near miss of a monster asteroid.

On Monday night an asteroid known as 2004 BL86 will pass just 1.2 million kilometres from Earth, a close approach that brings it to within three times the distance to the Moon. Many small asteroids have made the news of late that have approached much closer than this.

The difference with 2004 BL86 is that this hurtling interplanetary rock is 1/2 kilometre across. That’s big for a near-Earth asteroid. If one this size were to hit Earth it would create a city- or region-devastating catastrophe of epic proportions.

No bigger asteroid is known to be coming this close to us until the year 2027 when 1999 AN10 comes as close as the Moon.

On Monday night 2004 BL86 will be moving so fast (about 2 degrees an hour) that, through a telescope, you should be able to see it move in real time, appearing as a dim star gliding against the background stars.

The best time to watch will be between 10 and 11 p.m. Mountain Time (or midnight to 1 a.m. Eastern) when the asteroid will be buzzing past the Beehive star cluster, aka Messier 44. It will be high in the east and any star chart, planetarium software or GoTo telescope will show you where to find the Beehive cluster in Cancer. From a dark site, the Beehive appears as a fuzzy glow in Cancer between Gemini and Leo.

Locate the Beehive in a low-power, wide-field eyepiece. The asteroid will be moving up (north) past the cluster on the east side of the cluster. The diagram provides a normal view matching the naked-eye orientation of the sky, with north up and east to the left.

In a Newtonian telescope the field will appear upside down – the asteroid will appear to the right of the cluster moving down. In a refractor or Cassegrain telescope with a star diagonal the field will appear mirror-reversed, with the asteroid again on the right side of the cluster, but moving up.

The asteroid will appear at ninth magnitude, the brightness of some of the moderate brightness stars plotted. Using any telescope 80mm or larger in aperture, picking out a ninth mag star should be easy, even in city skies and with the waxing Moon up, as long as you have clear skies. Just be sure to use your lowest power.

Happy asteroid hunting! Just remember to duck!

For more info and finder charts, see Sky and Telescope’s page.

– Alan, January 23, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Moon, Mercury and Venus in Conjunction


Moon, Mercury & Venus Conjunction (Jan 21, 2015)

This was the scene on Wednesday night, as the waxing Moon formed a triangle with Mercury and Venus.

Skies cleared nicely this evening, providing a beautiful view and photogenic scene of the inner planets near the waxing Moon.

On January 21 the crescent Moon appeared with Venus (at left) and Mercury (below), and with the trio above the lights of Silver City, New Mexico.

Compare this view of reality with the graphic from my blog of a few days ago, and with a similar scene a month earlier with the Moon closer to Venus but with no Mercury.

With the Moon now returning to the sky, sighting Comet Lovejoy will become more difficult.

On Thursday night, January 22, the Moon will be higher and shine near Mars.

Happy viewing!

– Alan, January 21, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Heads Up! – Triple Shadow Dance on Jupiter


Triple Shadow Transit2

Something very special is going to happen on Jupiter this Friday night.

If you have a telescope be sure to train it on Jupiter Friday evening or into Saturday morning for a rare sight. For 24 minutes we will see three of Jupiter’s moons casting their shadows onto Jupiter’s cloud tops at once.

We will not see this sight again until March 20, 2032. 

The shadows of the Jovian moons Io, Europa and Callisto will be on the disk of Jupiter from:

• 1:28 a.m. until 1:52 a.m. EST, after midnight on January 27 for those in eastern North America.

For those in western North America the times are:

• 11:28 p.m. until 11:52 p.m. MST, or 10:28 p.m. to 10:52 p.m. PST, before midnight on January 26.

Callisto’s shadow enters the disk earlier in the evening for North America, at 10:11 p.m. EST. A double shadow transit begins when the small but intense shadow of Io enters the disk at 11:35 p.m. EST. Double shadow transits are fairly common.

The rare sight begins just under two hours later, at 1:28 a.m. EST or 11:28 p.m. MST when Europa’s shadow also enters the disk.

It is short-lived, however. The fast-moving shadow of Io leaves the disk 24 minutes later, at 1:52 a.m. EST, or 11:52 p.m. MST, leaving only the shadows of Callisto and Europa on the disk. (The graphic illustrates the triple transit halfway through the 24-minute-long window.)

You’ll need a telescope to witness this rare dance of shadows. An 80mm refractor or 100mm reflector should suffice. Use high power. The shadows will appear as dark spots of varying size and intensity. Io’s will be darkest, Callisto’s will be largest but less intense. Europa’s shadow will look the smallest.

The disks of Io and Callisto will also be on the disk but will appear as bright dots, making them harder to pick out against the bright cloud bands.

Jupiter is the brightest object in the eastern sky in the late evening. You can’t miss it!

For more details see Sky and Telescope’s webpage.

— Alan, January 21, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Heads Up! Sight the Thin Moon by Mercury & Venus


Jan 21 Planets

On Wednesday, January 21 look low in the southwest for a conjunction of the Moon and inner planets.

Mercury is ending its brief evening appearance and proximity to Venus. But this week you can still spot it a binocular field or so below Venus as it descends back toward the Sun.

On Wednesday, January 21, look low in the southwest to sight the thin waxing crescent Moon sitting near Venus and Mercury, forming a wide triangle of inner rocky worlds.

The other rocky planet in the inner solar system, Mars, shines higher up in the evening twilight as a moderate brightness reddish star. The next night, January 22, the waxing Moon will sit beside Mars in a wide conjunction.

Catch the Moon-Mercury-Venus trio early, as they will set an hour or so after local sunset.

Clear skies!

– Alan, January 19, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com