Heads Up! – The Easter Eclipse of the Moon


Total Eclipse of the Hunter's Moon

On the morning of April 4 (for North America) the Moon turns bright red in the third of four lunar eclipses in a row.

We’ve been enjoying a spate of total lunar eclipses over the last year. We had one a year ago on April 15 and again on October 8, 2014. This weekend, we can enjoy the third lunar eclipse in a year.

This Saturday, the Moon undergoes a total eclipse lasting just 4 minutes, making this the shortest total lunar eclipse since the year 1529. Typically, lunar eclipses last 30 to 60 minutes for the total phase, when the Full Moon is completely within Earth’s shadow.

But this eclipse is barely total, with the Moon grazing across the northern edge of the umbral shadow, as this diagram courtesy of SkyNews magazine illustrates. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Lunar Eclipse Diagram

• The partial eclipse begins at 4:15 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time on the morning of Saturday, April 4 for North America.

• Totality (when the Moon is reddest and darkest) is from 5:58 to 6:02 a.m. MDT.

• The partial eclipse ends at 7:44 a.m. MDT.

Add one hour for Central time, and subtract one hour for Pacific time.

LE2015Apr04T

This lunar eclipse is best from western North America where totality can be seen. From eastern North America, in the grey zones here, the Moon sets while in the initial partial phase and before totality begins. Those in Australia and New Zealand can also see the eclipse, but late on the night of April 4 into April 5. Europe and Africa miss out.

Total Lunar Eclipse (Dec 10, 2011)

Even from western North America, the Moon will be eclipsed while it is setting into the west, and the sky is brightening with dawn twilight, presenting a view such as in the above photo, which I took in December 2011.

This eclipse occurs over the Easter and Passover weekend – and actually on Easter for some time zones. The last time we had a total lunar eclipse on Easter Sunday was March 23, 1913. The next to occur on Easter won’t be until April 14, 2340.

If you miss this eclipse, you have one more chance this year. On Sunday, September 27, conveniently timed for the evening in North America, we have the last in a “tetrad” series of four total lunar eclipses. After that, we wait until January 31, 2018.

For more details, see the April/May issue of SkyNews magazine.

Clear skies!

– Alan, March 30, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Nova Sagittarii Close-Up


Nova Sagittarii (March 28, 2015)

The nova star in Sagittarius has re-brightened. I captured it in a telephoto closeup.

Here is Nova Sagittarii – likely an exploding white dwarf star – as it appeared before dawn on the morning of March 28. This is the brightest nova visible from the northern hemisphere for many years, though even now it is barely naked eye at fifth magnitude.

After dimming for a few days the nova has re-brightened somewhat. What titanic forces are going on at this white dwarf star causing it to fade then brighten remain to be determined.

It will certainly be worth keeping an eye on. With luck it might really get bright!

This telephoto image frames the “Teapot” configuration of stars that forms the main part of Sagittarius the Archer. The nova has appeared from out of nowhere in the middle of the Teapot just below the lid!

The image is a stack of 4 x 90-second exposures, plus an exposure taken through a Kenko Softon A filter to add the star glows, to accentuate the brighter stars. I shot this from the backyard in New Mexico.

– Alan, March 28, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Nova Star in Sagittarius


Nova Star in Sagittarius

It’s a nova needle in a Milky Way haystack – an exploding star appears in Sagittarius. 

On March 15 a very observant amateur astronomer in Australia spotted a star in Sagittarius that wasn’t there the night before. It was a nova, Latin for “new.”

But this was not a new star forming, but an old star in the process of dying.

This star is likely an ancient white dwarf drawing material off a close companion. When the in-falling material builds up on the surface of the white dwarf it ignites in a nuclear explosion, causing the star to brighten, in this case by hundreds of times.

At its peak last week, Nova Sagittarii was just bright enough to see naked eye. It is now below 5th magnitude and barely naked eye. In my long exposure photo it appears lost amid the blaze of stars in the Sagittarius Milky Way.

Still, this was the brightest nova visible from the northern hemisphere in many years. Indeed, we haven’t had a really bright naked-eye nova since the 1970s.

Considering all those stars, you’d think some would blow up for us to enjoy!

– Alan, March 26, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Moon Amid the Hyades


Waxing Moon Amid the Hyades (March 24, 2015)

The waxing crescent Moon shines amid the stars of the Hyades cluster.

I shot these on the evening of March 24 when, from western North America, the Moon appeared superimposed in front of the sprawling Hyades star cluster in Taurus.

The main image at top is with a 200mm telephoto lens and takes in most of the Hyades and the bright red star Aldebaran at lower left. Unfortunately, it also includes a blue lens flare from the brilliant and overexposed crescent, a tough element to “photoshop” out.

The image is a high dynamic range stack of 3 exposures. Even so, I purposely overexposed the Moon to bring out the stars and their colours.

Waxing Moon Amid the Hyades (Telescope)

This close up of the Moon includes fewer Hyades stars, but with the Moon centred I was able to avoid the lens flare. It’s an HDR stack of 5 exposures, to capture details in the sunlit crescent as well as on the dark side of the Moon lit by blue Earthshine.

These are the last telescopic shots from my winter in New Mexico, as the telescope and mount gets packed up tomorrow, in preparation for the trip back to Canada.

It’s been a fabulous winter of sky shooting, with some 500 gigabytes of images shot, processed, and archived!

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

Moon and Venus at the Place of the Mountain Gods


Moon and Venus Meet Over Pond

The Moon meets Venus over a New Mexico pond in the heart of the Apache homelands.

This was the scene on Sunday evening, March 22, 2015, as the waxing crescent Moon appeared near Venus in one of the best conjunctions of the spring.

Earthshine lights the dark side of the Moon, while Mars also appears, below the Moon-Venus pair.

For these images I set up on the picturesque grounds of a resort called the Inn of the Mountain Gods, near Ruidoso, New Mexico, a ski resort in winter and a cool mountain retreat in summer.

The resort, run by and on land owned by the Mescalero Apache, honours the spirits of the four sacred mountains on Apache land: Sierra Blanca, Guadalupe Mountains, Three Sisters Mountain and Oscura Mountain Peak.

As the resort brochure states, “These four mountains represent the direction of everyday life for our Apache people. Our grandparents would often speak of the place called White Mountain. It was there that the creator gave us life and it is a special place.”

Moon & Venus Conjunction Over Pond #2

I shot this image a little later in the evening when the sky was darker, stars were beginning to appear, and thin clouds added haloes around the waxing Moon and Venus. I think the clouds added a photogenic touch.

– Alan, March 22, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Heads Up! – Moon Meet-ups in March


March 21-24, 2015 Evening Sky

This weekend and early next week look for the Moon passing planets and star clusters in the evening sky.

The waxing Moon returns to the evening sky on Saturday night, March 21, a day and half after it eclipsed the Sun over the North Atlantic and Europe.

On Saturday, March 21 look for the thin crescent Moon very low in the west sitting just a degree (two Moon diameters) left of reddish and dim Mars.

The next night, Sunday, March 22, the Moon, now a wider crescent, shines three degrees (half a binocular field) left of brilliant Venus, for a beautiful close conjunction of the night sky’s two brightest objects. The photo ops abound!

This is one of the best Moon-Venus meet-ups of the current “evening star” apparition of Venus this winter and spring. Next month, for example, the Moon will sit six degrees away from Venus on April 21.

On Monday, March 23, the crescent Moon sits between Venus and its next destination, the bright star Aldebaran.

On Tuesday, March 24, the Moon, still a crescent, shines amid the stars of the Hyades star cluster near Aldebaran in Taurus, for a wonderful binocular scene. The more famous Pleiades star cluster is near by.

On all nights, you’ll see the night side of the Moon dimly illuminated by Earthshine, sunlight reflecting off the Earth and lighting up the dark side of the Moon.

March 24, 2015 CU

Here’s a close-up of the March 24 scene, with the Moon in the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull that is marked by the widely scattered Hyades star cluster.

Please note: This diagram and the main chart above, are for western North America. From eastern North America, the Moon will be 2 to 4 Moon diameters lower in the sky for each of the dates indicated.

Clear skies and enjoy the Moon meet-ups in March!

– Alan, March 19, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.net

The Waning Moon of Morning


Waning Moon in the Morning Sky

The waning crescent Moon shines with sunlight and Earthlight in the morning sky.

This was the Moon before dawn this morning, March 16, 2015. It’s the waning crescent Moon four days before the New Moon of March 20, when the Moon will eclipse the Sun.

This view shows the sunlit crescent and the dark side of the Moon also lit by sunlight, but sunlight reflecting off the Earth first. The night side of the Moon is lit by blue Earthshine.

To record details in both the bright and dark sides of the Moon I shot six exposures, from 1/160th second to 6 seconds, combining them in a high-dynamic range stack with Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw for the tone-mapping.

I shot it through my 92mm refractor, shown here in a beauty shot from the evening before.

TMB Refractor & Mach1 Mount

The upcoming solar eclipse by the Moon is visible as a partial eclipse from much of northern Europe (but not from North America, except from a teenie bit of Newfoundland), and as a total eclipse from a path running up the North Atlantic.

The only landfall for the total eclipse path are the Faroe Islands and the Arctic island of Svalbard.

For more details about the eclipse see The Great American Eclipse

I’ll be missing this eclipse, the first total solar eclipse I’ve chosen to sit out since 1995, 20 years ago. My next total solar eclipse will be August 21, 2017. At least, that’s the plan!

Clear skies to all my eclipse chasing friends, on land, on the sea, and in the air on Friday morning.

– Alan, March 16, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Ghostly Glows of a Truly Dark Sky


Ghostly Glows of a Truly Dark Sky

A truly dark sky isn’t dark. It is filled with glows both subtle and spectacular.

Last night, March 10, I drove up into the heart of the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico, to a viewpoint at 7,900 feet in altitude. I was in search of the darkest skies in the area. I found them! There was not a light in sight.

The featured image is a 180° panorama showing:

– the Zodiacal Light (at right in the west)
– the Milky Way (up from the centre, in the south, to the upper right)
– the Zodiacal Band (faintly visible running from right to left across the frame at top)
– the Gegenschein (a brightening of the Zodiacal Band at left of frame, in the east in Leo)

The Zodiacal Light, Zodiacal Band, and the Gegenschein are all part of the same phenomenon, glows along the ecliptic path – the plane of the solar system – caused by sunlight reflecting off cometary and meteoric dust in the inner solar system.

The Gegenschein, or “counterglow,” can be seen with the naked eye as a large and diffuse brightening of the sky at the spot exactly opposite the Sun. It is caused by sunlight reflecting directly back from comet dust, the scattering effect greatest at the point opposite the Sun.

The Zodiacal Light requires reasonably dark skies to see, but the fainter Zodiacal Band and Gegenschein require very dark skies.

Now is prime season for all of them, with the Moon out of the way, and the Zodiacal Light angled up high in the western as twilight ends. In March, the Gegenschein is now located in a relatively blank area of sky in southern Leo.

The Milky Way is much more obvious. Along the northern winter Milky Way here you can see dark lanes of interstellar dust, particularly in Taurus above and to the right of Orion. Red nebulas of glowing gas also lie along the Milky Way, such as Barnard’s Loop around Orion.

– Orion is at centre, in the south, with Canis Major and the bright star Sirius below and to the left of Orion. Canopus is just setting on the southern horizon at centre. It barely clears the horizon from 32° North latitude.

– To the right of Orion is Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster at the top of the Zodiacal Light pyramid.

– Venus is the bright object in the Zodiacal Light at right, in the west, while fainter Mars is below Venus.

– At far right, in the northwest, is the Andromeda Galaxy, M31.

– Jupiter is the bright object at upper left, in the east, in the Zodiacal Band, and near the Beehive star cluster.

– The Zodiacal Light, Band and Gegenschein all lie along the ecliptic, as do Mars, Venus and Jupiter.

Glows on the horizon are from distant SIlver City, Las Cruces and El Paso. The brighter sky at right is from the last vestiges of evening twilight. Some green and red airglow bands also permeate the sky.

Standing Under the Milky Way
I shot this March 10, 2015 from the summit of Highway 15, The Trail of the Mountain Spirits, that twists and winds through the Gila Wilderness.

It was a stunning night, clear, calm, and silent. Just me under the ghostly glows of a truly dark sky.

NOTE: I first published this March 11 but had to republish this blog March 15 after WordPress deleted the original post in a software bug. Thanks WordPress! 

– Alan, March 11, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / http://www.amazingsky.newt

 

Lasers at Lovejoy


Lasers Converging on Comet Lovejoy

Laser beams point out Comet Lovejoy at a public star party at City of Rocks State Park.

It was a perfect night last night for public stargazing. I headed out to the State Park for the monthly star party, held at the Orion group campground (with Orion nicely placed in the sky above) and home to a fine public observatory.

Stargazing at the City of Rocks State Park Observatory

The Gene and Elizabeth Simon Observatory features a Meade 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope which gave great views of Jupiter with one of its moons, Callisto, in transit as a dark dot on the face of the planet.

Stargazing under Desert Skies

About 70 people turned out, from the Park’s campground and from the nearby communities. Here Matt starts the night with a laser guided tour of the constellations. These bright lasers are wonderful for public events like this but when in the wrong hands they can be dangerous.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has issued guidelines for their use. Check their webpage for more details.

Stargazing at City of Rocks State Park, NM

Another technical innovation popular at the City of Rocks Star Parties is an iPad running Sky Safari software, and on a tripod with handles so people can move it about the sky to identify stars and constellations for themselves. It works great. Here, I pose with it for a staged photo, with the Big Dipper in the background.

Observatory Telescope at City of Rocks State Park

Here I pose with the Observatory’s 14-inch telescope.

In all, it was a superb night at surely one of the finest places on the planet for public stargazing. I recommended to the Park officials that they should apply for official Dark Sky Preserve status. They would qualify without question.

Clear skies!

– Alan, March 15, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Dance of the Northern Lights



My new 3-minute music video compiles still and time-lapse imagery of the aurora I shot in February 2015 from Churchill, Manitoba.

Churchill’s location at 58° North on the shore of Hudson Bay puts it directly under the main auroral oval, the zone of greatest auroral activity. Over the 9 nights, 2 were cloudy, with a roaring blizzard.

But on the 8 clear nights we saw aurora every night. I shot time-lapses on 6 of those nights, shooting about 3,500 frames, most of which appear in the final cut of this movie.

Despite the amazing displays we saw, on no night was the auroral activity index (on a scale of 0 to 9) higher than 2 or 3. These were all “normal” quiet nights for auroras in Churchill. Anyone farther south would have seen little in their sky on most of these nights.

I shot many of the time-lapses with an 8mm spherical fish-eye lens, to create sequences suitable for projection in digital planetarium domes. One other time-lapse sequence (the last in this movie) I shot with a 15mm full-frame fish-eye. Even it is not wide enough to take in the entire display when the Lights fill the sky.

Exposures were typically 10 to 15 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 1600 to 4000, all with the Canon 6D. I powered it from its lone internal battery. Amazingly, despite temperatures that were considered extreme even for Churchill (often -32° C at night) the batteries lasted 90 to 150 minutes allowing me to take lots of frames with no battery change or perhaps just one battery change. Churchill is very dry and only on one night did I have an issue with the lens frosting up.

Music is by Dan Phillipson, his composition “Into the Unknown,” purchased for royalty-free use through Triple Scoop Music. I edited the movie in Apple Aperture, with a title sequence created in Photoshop. Processing of the original images was with Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop, and LRTimelapse, with assembly of movie frames done with Sequence for MacOS.

I hope you enjoy it! Do click on the Enlarge button to watch it full screen. It may take a while to start playing.

— Alan, March 6, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Copper Moon over a Copper Mine


Copper Moon over Copper Mine

A coppery Moon rises over the Santa Rita Copper Mine. 

The March 5 Full Moon was the smallest Full Moon of 2015, the “apogee” Moon. Or call it the March mini-Moon.

I captured it rising over the vast Santa Rita Mine, east of Silver City, New Mexico, my winter home this year. The Santa Rita mine is one of the oldest continuously operating mines in western North America. I shot the scene from a viewpoint west of the city, using a 135mm telephoto lens.

The image is a composite stack of two exposures taken moments apart: a long 1-second exposure for the sky and ground (but with the Moon overexposed) and a short 1/13-second exposure for the lunar disk to retain details in the disk, like the lunar mare, marking the face of the “man in the Moon.”

The March Mini-Moon

Later in the evening I used my telescope to shoot a close-up of the apogee Moon. I shot a single exposure but processed it with exaggerated vibrance, saturation and contrast to bring out the subtle colour differences in the lunar mare. You can see that some are much bluer than others, due to the higher level of titanium in the lava flows that formed these mare.

As I explained in my previous blog, in seven months the Full Moon will be at the close perigee point in the Moon’s orbit, giving us the closest Full Moon of 2015. That’s also the night of a total eclipse of the Moon. I’ll try to shoot the Full Moon with the same telescope to create a big and small Moon comparison pair.

– Alan, March 5, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The March “Mini-Moon”


Apogee-Perigee Moon Comparison

The Full Moon of March 5 will be the smallest and most distant Full Moon of 2015.

In recent years there’s been a huge ado about “supermoons,” the largest and closest Full Moons of the year. This year the biggest Full Moon occurs on September 27.

Photographers wishing to capture a comparison of the biggest Full Moon with the smallest will need to shoot the Moon this week, on March 5. That’s the date for 2015’s most distant and smallest Full Moon – the “mini-moon” of March.

On March 5 the Moon reaches its “apogee” – the most distant point in its monthly elliptical orbit around Earth about 10 hours before it reaches the moment of full phase at mid-day on March 5 for North America. On March 5 the Moon’s maximum distance will be 406,384 kilometres from Earth (measured from the centre of Earth to the centre of the Moon).

By nightfall on March 5 the Moon will be a little closer than that but not by much. Seven Full Moons later, on September 27, the Moon will reach its monthly “perigee” point closest to Earth less than an hour before full phase, at a distance of 356,877 kilometres.

That will be the much-publicized “supermoon” of 2015. Shoot both Full Moons with the same optical system (preferably a telescope with a focal length of at least 600mm to make the Moon large enough on the camera frame) and you’ll have a pair of real images comparing the minimum and maximum apparent sizes of the Moon, much like the simulations above.

You’ll certainly be out shooting the September 27 Full Moon, as that night it also undergoes a total eclipse. The Full Moon will turn deep red in the early evening for North America. But wait until the umbral phase is over, and you’ll have a normal looking Full Moon to create the comparison pair.

There’s also a total lunar eclipse next month, on the morning of April 4, six Full Moons before the September “supermoon” eclipse.

However, that’s not the smallest Full Moon of 2015. On April 4 the Full Moon comes three days after the Moon’s monthly apogee point, putting it a little closer than this week’s Full “mini-Moon” of March. The difference between the two extreme Moons is only about 12 percent, between a lunar disk 30 arc minutes across (1/2 degree) at apogee and one 34 arc minutes across at perigee.

The difference is impossible to detect to the eye, not without two Moons side-by-side in the sky, something we’ll never see. But by taking photos of the March and September moons with the same optics you can create a matched two-moon comparison.

Clear skies!

– Alan, March 1, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com