Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Trident Missile Test from Portal, AZ!

This past weekend I spent in Portal, AZ for what was again a spectacular 4 nights of observing with great friends.  The skies are wickedly dark, and when the atmosphere cooperates, some among us can see stars around magnitude 7.2 - 7.3 at zenith!  Over the years the El Paso light dome has grown slightly to where it can be seen faintly rising about 5 degrees above the southeastern horizon.  It does not impact observing in any fashion, yet it is a stark reminder that even in the proverbial middle of nowhere, our dark skies are a diminishing resource.

The two images of the milky way seen here are each a 30 second shot- taken with my Canon 6d and a Rokinon 14mm wide angle lens.  (At left, you can see my very sexy TEC 140 posing with the Milky Way.)  The picture below was taken with the camera tracking the stars on my Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer mount.

As pretty much everyone has heard, there was a Trident Missile (ICBM) test conducted off the coast of Huntington Beach, CA on Saturday night.  While this is approximately 525 miles northwest of Portal, AZ, the test lit up the sky to the point where the milky way was nearly invisible!  The expanding cloud of vapor from the test rose at least 40 degrees into the sky and appeared to be rather layered.  As we later learned, the layers were caused by the separating stages of the rocket as it rose into the upper atmosphere.  Anyway, after watching this military muscle flexing freak show for a few moments, it occurred to me that I should take a picture of it....so I ran and grabbed my camera and quickly tried to capture it before the missile itself disappeared behind the Chiricauhua mountains just to our west.  Below is an image that represents what we saw, and given how quickly I was trying to get the camera on tripod and working, came out better than I deserved!  I got several more, but this one has a little of everything from the stars to the layers of vapor to the missile itself.  Be sure to click to enlarge it (and this is reduced in size for the blog...thanks Google!)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lunar Eclipse

By now, there have been many images of the Total Lunar Eclipse this past Sunday circulating around the internet.  I was leading a public eclipse observing group of about 75 folks so taking pictures was not my primary objective for the evening...yet, I did try and capture some between talking about the eclipse, debunking the "blood moon" nonsense, and generally just enjoying the warm fall evening.

Two images below, one of the partial phase prior to totality, and one image from near totality.  These were taken with my Canon 6D and a 70-200mm f/4 set to 200mm with a 1.4 extender.  There was a slight breeze and I wish I had more time to play with the camera as I would have set the ISO a bit higher in order to capture images a bit faster (resulting in sharper images).   As things were, the images near totality was a 2 second exposure.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hawkish behavior

No, this is not a post about politics or the Presidential campaigning shenanigans that we are already suffering on a daily basis here in the U.S.A.  Rather, it is a post to share some pictures of juvenile Red-Tailed hawks that I took yesterday on the summit of Mount Lemmon at Steward Observatory's field station.  I had spent the better part of the day on the mountain working as we had a group of students from Catalina Foothills School District visiting us at the UA Sky School (you can see pictures here).  Following the students departure there was a group of three hawks that were playing near the summit.

The hawks often circle overhead, floating on the laminar airflow that rises over the western summit ridge line and flows to the east.  Sometimes they can 'surf' the air current and appear nearly motionless overhead for 10-20 seconds, or longer.  (It is this same laminar airflow that is a factor in our frequently excellent astronomical seeing conditions).  Below is an image of one of these hawks 'surfing' taken with my Canon 6d and a 70-200 mm lens at the 200 mm setting.  The exposure was 1/1600 of second at ISO 100, with an aperture of f/4.5.  Click on it for the full size image.

The picture below shows two of the hawks playing- the one on the left had landed in the tree and was then dive bombed by the one on the right.  I took the image a fraction of a second too late as I was hoping to get the hawk on the left still in the tree looking at the incoming hawk.  Both of these pictures are crops from the center of the original image but have not been reduced in size. (EDIT: Apparently, however, Blogger does compress them...)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Zodiacal light

As I catch up at work and attempt to at least get my desktop organized (the Windows desktop on my laptop that is...) I found this image of the Zodiacal light that I took out in Portal Arizona this past winter.  I had just acquired a new Canon 6D and a small German Equatorial tracking mount to take long exposures of the sky...It is a fun image with the Milky way on the right running parallel to the Zodiacal light on the left.  Brian Koberlein published a nice explanation of the Zodiacal light on his blog, check it out.

I actually did not set out to take pictures of the Zodialcal light, but was just trying to practice using the camera-mount system as it darkened, in preparation to take pictures of Comet Lovejoy.  I do not remember the details of this capture at all, other than it was 90 seconds at ISO 1600, and I suspect I was using my 14mm Rokinon wide angle lens.  If you look at the upper part of the image, just to the leftt of the Milky Way, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy.  The light dome above the horizon is likely Sierra Vista, and is invisible to the naked eye.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Here Kitty, Kitty

A quick post to share another of the local denizens...this bobcat was wondering through the yard on the 4th of July, and by the time I grabbed my camera the cat had headed across the street...Having no time to change lenses either, this was shot with the Canon 24-105L, at the 105mm setting.  Below is a crop from the center 20 percent or so of the original image.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Beep Beep!!

Wow...I avoided going 4 months between posts by two days!  I really need to prioritize posting more frequently but between an amazing job that has me working nearly every day between March 15 and May 30, spending my few free days with the family, and trying to learn to play guitar in between...well, the blog has just fallen off my radar.

I am working today so will keep this short and sweet.  This morning, I awoke to the noisy fellow below making a racket as s/he used our backyard as his (her?) personal hunting grounds and dining facility.  A quick search online and I learned that there is no easy way to identify the gender of the Greater Roadrunner from looks alone.  This particular noise monger is likely a juvenile, given the gray color of his facial skin.  When the roadrunner matures its facial skin becomes colored red and blue.  In any event, despite the cacophony, this young bird (in the cuckoo family) was obviously happy and satiated (shout out to the memory of the fence lizard) and did not at all mind me coming within about 10 feet for a picture.  He did not, however, agree to a selfie with me.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

Comet C/2104 Q2 Lovejoy has been putting on quite a show for observers in the northern hemisphere for the last month, and as the moon begins to wane there are again a few hours after sunset to observe this beautiful comet.  I had not taken a good look at Lovejoy since the last new moon weekend when I was camping with friends in Portal, AZ and the comet was very near the Pleiades in Taurus.  Tonight it was very near the bright star Almach in the constellation Andromeda and made for a very pretty sight in both binoculars and in my TEC 140mm refractor.

I recently acquired my first full frame DSLR, a Canon 6D, and below is a 120 second exposure of the comet at ISO 800 taken through the telescope.  I had to stretch the image a bit to bring out the tail, but it was visible with averted vision in the eyepiece.