Welcome to SJAstro.org
    astronomical snapshots by

 

 

 

 

Venus and the Crescent Moon
June 21, 2017

Venus was about 18.5° altitude above the eastern horizon and 7.2° west of the 11% illuminated, earthshine-filled Crescent Moon in morning twilight on June 21, 2017, when this image was captured at 4:46 am EDT from the railroad tracks in Maple Shade, NJ. It was 4 hr 22 min after the moment of Summer Solstice at 12:24 am, and 45 minutes before sunrise at 5:31 am. Taken with a Canon 6D digital SLR camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Canon 24 to 105 mm f/4L zoom lens set to 70 mm focal length, then mildly cropped. This single frame was automatically exposed 1/2 second at f/4, ISO 400, using automatic color balance.

Later in the morning, from the top level of the Penn Medicine garage on Rt 70 in Cherry Hill, NJ, I used 10x50 binoculars to spot the 9% illuminated crescent moon at 11:30 am, then Venus at 11:34 am, now 10° west of the moon and 56° altitude. Venus was 59% illuminated at the time, but I could not see a distinct gibbous shape in the 10x50s; however, it did look somewhat elongated, roughly from the 2 to 8 o'clock positions. With unaided eyes, I was able to spot the moon at 11:35 am, but could not find Venus. The blue sky was slightly milky between billowing cumulus clouds.

 

 

Comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson)
June 13, 2017

We were back at Carranza Field on June 13, 2017, for the seventh attempt to launch a sounding rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia, that would disperse colorful chemical clouds to track high altitude winds. The launch was scrubbed once again, this time due to clouds at Wallops. The sky at Carranza wasn't cloudy in the usual sense, but transparency wasn't that good. However, there was almost an hour between the end of astronomical twilight at 10:30 pm EDT and moonrise at 11:27 pm, so I looked for comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson). With 10x50 binoculars, I could not see it, unlike the evening of June 11 when it was spotted 43 minutes before the end of twilight with the 10x50s. Of course, the transparency was much better on June 11, and reduced transparency has a greater impact on diffuse objects like comets. On June 13, I could just see Johnson with 16x70 binoculars and I didn't get a decent view until I rested them on my photo tripod head. This image of Johnson is a single frame captured at 10:27 pm with a Canon 6D digital SLR camera and a Canon 70 to 200 mm f/2.8L zoom lens (on a fixed tripod) set to 200 mm focal length, then cropped. It was exposed 3.2 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 25,600, in monochrome mode. It was easy to locate since it was next to a half-degree long diagonal row of 4.8 to 6.2 magnitude stars, 11° below (SSE) of Arcturus. Mouseover for labels. Here's a splendid image of Johnson taken 5¼ hr earlier by Austria's Michael Jäger.

 

 

Moonrise at Carranza Road
June 11, 2017

After another disappointing non-launch of a sounding rocket from Wallops Island, VA, during the 9:04 to 9:19 pm EDT window on June 11, 2017 (scrubbed due to boats in the hazard zone), the moon rose at 10:05 pm. On top of that, astronomical twilight didn't end until 10:28 pm for Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, so there was little opportunity for general observing. We did spot comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson) at 9:45 pm with 10x50 binoculars. On the way out, I did some flashlight botany at the nearby Skit Branch bridge (didn't see any orchids, but did see a few Curly Grass Fern sterile leaves). I also went down Carranza Rd to look for Pickering's Morning Glory at the old railroad crossing. Again, no flowers were seen, but it then occurred to me that Morning Glories might not be open at night.

Anyway, before I turned around to head home, I noticed this scene looking down Carranza Road (unpaved past this point at the former RR crossing). It was lit up by my headlights with the 94% illuminated moon, 2½ days past full, just clearing the the distant tree tops at 7¼° altitude. Above the moon is the constellation Scutum, and to its left at the edge of the tree is the "C" asterism in western Aquila. The Teapot asterism of Sagittarius is behind the trees to the right of the moon. This snapshot was taken at 10:55 pm with a Canon 7D Mark II digital SLR camera on a fixed tripod with a Canon EF-S 24 mm f/2.8 STM "pancake" lens. Exposed 2.5 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 800, using autoexposure and auto white balance, but some mild post-processing was applied too. The moon, of course, is greatly overexposed.

 

 

Venus and Uranus
June 4, 2017

On the morning of June 4, 2017, there was a scheduled launch of a sounding rocket from Wallops Island, VA, to disperse luminous clouds for upper-level atmospheric studies. There had already been three scrubs (June 1, 2 and 3) for various reasons, and this fourth attempt was no different. They will try again on June 11. However, while at Carranza Field to watch the rocket launch during morning twilight, brilliant Venus was prominent above the tree tops to the east, and Uranus was just 2° above Venus. At magnitude –4.3, Venus was 10.2 magnitudes (about 12,000x) brighter than magnitude +5.9 Uranus. The latter required binoculars to be seen visually. Both planets are along the eastern rope of Pisces. Mouseover for labels.

This picture was taken at 4:04 am EDT with a Canon 7D Mark II digital SLR camera on a fixed tripod and a Canon 24 to 105 mm f/4L zoom lens set to 105 mm focal length (providing a field about 12° wide x 8° high). It was exposed 4 seconds at f/4, ISO 1600 and 3600K white balance. In order to capture objects in the background sky, Venus is greatly overexposed; therefore, it's not evident that Venus is 50% illuminated (it was at Greatest Western Elongation the day before, June 3). Venus' terminator was tilted with respect to the horizon along a line between the approximate 11 o'clock and 5 o'clock positions, so a line perpendicular to the terminator would point towards the sun, which is out of the frame to the lower left below the horizon. On June 4 at Carranza, astronomical twilight started at 3:32 am and sunrise would be at 5:31 am. Nights are brief and twilight is long as we approach the Summer Solstice on June 21.

 

 

The Moon and Jupiter in Daylight
June 3, 2017

On June 3, 2017, the nine-day-old gibbous moon was 1°47' from Jupiter (center-to-center) when this image of them was captured at 7:41 pm EDT, 43 minutes before sunset at 8:24 pm. Taken from Maple Shade, NJ, with a Canon 7D Mark II digital SLR camera and a Canon 70 to 200 mm f/2.8L zoom lens (on a fixed tripod) set to 200 mm focal length, then moderately cropped. Exposed 1/4000 second at f/6.3, ISO 800, daylight color balance. Mouseover for labels.

Jupiter was also visible with unaided eyes at 7:41 pm, with some effort, after failing to see it a few times during the previous three hours since the moon was first spotted with unaided eyes low in the east around 4:30 pm (although Jupiter was seen at the time with 16x70 binoculars). At 8:05 pm, Jupiter was easy with unaided eyes, and at 8:10 pm, Jupiter's satellite Io was seen near the eastern limb with an 85 mm spotting scope at 60x. At 8:20 pm, Ganymede was seen hugging the northwestern limb with the 85 mm scope, just after emerging from a transit of the Jovian disc.

 

 

Supernova 2017eaw in NGC 6946
May 21, 2017

On May 21, 2017, during the West Jersey Astronomical Society's Public Star Watch at Batsto in Wharton State Forest, NJ, I was able to spot Supernova 2017eaw in the galaxy NGC 6946 at 12:45 am EDT with a 13.1-inch, f/4.5 Newtonian and a 9 mm Nagler eyepiece, yielding  166x. Based on the reported observations at the AAVSO, SN 2017eaw was about magnitude 12.8 at the time. The image above is a single frame captured at 1:10 am with a Canon 7D Mark II digital SLR camera and a Canon 70 to 200 mm f/2.8L zoom lens (on a fixed tripod) set to 200 mm focal length. It was exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400 and 3600K white balance. Mouseover for labels.

The image below is a magnifying crop of the area from the image above showing open cluster NGC 6939 and galaxy NGC 6946 with the supernova. Mouseover for labels.

 

Here's an even closer (and very noisey) crop of galaxy NGC 6946 with the supernova (same original image as above). The small-scale patterns used to visually pinpoint the SN in the scope are connected with blue lines on mouseover (here's a negative of the labeled version for printing). V778 Cygni, with a noticeably reddish color, is a silicate carbon star, a carbon star that shows circumstellar silicate dust features.

 

 

Barnard's Star
May 21, 2017

While at Batsto for the May 20, 2017, WAS Public Star Watch, Barnard's Star was observed. Located in Ophiuchus, near the obsolete constellation Taurus Poniatovii, this red dwarf is interesting because it has the greatest proper motion of any star at 10.3"/year, in large measure because it's just 6 light years away. This picture was captured at 1:19 am EDT on May 21, 2017, with a Canon 7D Mark II digital SLR camera and a Canon 70 to 200 mm f/2.8L zoom lens (on a fixed tripod) set to 135 mm focal length, then mildly cropped. It was exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 3200 and 3600K white balance. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

The Constellation Lyra
May 15, 2017

This image of the constellation Lyra was captured at 11:49 pm EDT on May 15, 2017, from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, with a Canon 7D Mark II digital SLR camera, on a fixed tripod, and a Yongnuo 85 mm f/1.8 lens (providing a field 15° wide x 10° high). It's a single frame exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400, with white balance set to 3800K. Besides size reduction for this web page, no post-exposure adjustments were made. Mouseover for labels.

This is mainly a test of the fast, but inexpensive prime lens. Alas, it shows violet halos around brighter stars here, and it's even worse wide open at f/1.8. Cursory testing shows that at least f/4 is needed to keep the violet halos under control, which diminishes the value of the fast maximum aperture. However, the large aperture does help with composition and manual focusing of a night sky scene in live view mode. Limited testing on ordinary photo subjects suggests the autofocus is noisy, sluggish and uncertain, but I haven't evaluated the effect of violet fringes yet. Update: On May 26, I took a quick snapshot of my friend Bernie during twilight at Tatem Observatory with the 85 mm Yongnuo on the 7D2 (auto-exposed 1/125 sec at f/2, ISO 3200; besides size reduction, no adjustments). Not too bad for a handheld grab shot.

The image below is a magnifying crop of the original image above, better showing the stars Vega, T Lyrae (a reddish carbon star) and Epsilon Lyrae, the "Double Double." Again, besides cropping and resizing for this page, no adjustments were made (such as brightness and contrast). Mouseover for labels.

 

This magnifying crop of the first image shows the area around M57, the greenish Ring Nebula. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

Mercury Update - May 2017

Mercury has six elongations in 2017. The initial sighting for each of these is tabulated below:

Sequence

Initial Sighting Date (2017)

Observing Location

Greatest Elongation (2017)

#1

January 5, 6:15 am EST Old Mart Site, Pennsauken, NJ

January 19, western (morning)

#2

March 16, 7:16 pm EDT Baseball Fields, Maple Shade, NJ

April 1, eastern (evening)

#3

May 14, 5:05 am EDT Old Mart Site, Pennsauken, NJ

May 17, western (morning)

#4

   

July 29, eastern (evening)

#5

   

September 12, western (morning)

#6

   

November 23, eastern (evening)

Click here for the sighting details of each elongation this year. The current sighting streak is now 41 elongations in a row, starting in January 2011, which includes six complete calendar years of six or seven elongations each (click here for sightings from last year's elongations). This demonstrates that locating and seeing Mercury is not nearly as difficult as many suppose. It just takes some planning and a little effort.

 

 

The Moon and Jupiter
May 7, 2017

On May 7, 2017, the 11.7 day old, 93% illuminated waxing gibbous Moon passed less than 2° from Jupiter before sunset. This picture of them is a single frame captured at 11:54 pm EDT when they were 3.0° apart. It was taken with a Canon 7D Mk II digital SLR camera (handheld) and a Sigma 70 to 300 mm f/4-5.6 apo zoom lens set to 300 mm focal length, then cropped to a 16:9 ratio (0.91 wide x 0.77 high) yielding a field 3.9° wide x 2.2° high. It was exposed 1/1000 second at f/8, ISO 800, with daylight white balance. Some modest adjustments were made to the brightness and contrast, otherwise Jupiter (bottom right) would be barely visible.

The image below was cropped from the same original image as the one above, with fresh adjustments to brightness, contrast and white balance.

 

 

C/2015 V2 (Johnson)
May 4, 2017

At Carranza Field on May 4, 2017, there was a brief window of full darkness between moonset at 2:51 am EDT and the start of astronomical twilight at 4:11 am. With a currently-clear sky and a poor weather forecast for the next nights, plus a later-setting moon closing the window of darkness anyway, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to look at comets 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak and C/2015 V2 (Johnson). I arrived at 2:40 am, and by 2:45 am, spotted both comets with handheld 16x70 binoculars, 41P about 4° from Vega and Johnson near the western foot of Hercules (although it had recently crossed the border into northeastern Boötes). 41P was not prominent as its low surface brightness coma was somewhat overwhelmed by magnitude 4.3 Kappa Lyrae less than half a degree away. Except for being close to the zenith, which is a difficult direction for handheld binoculars while standing, the view of Johnson was the best I've seen so far. The coma was plainly visible, unlike the vague glow on previous sightings. It may have been enhanced somewhat by its coma overlapping the vertex of a small equilateral triangle of 11th magnitude stars.

The picture above includes C/2015 V2 (Johnson). Mouseover for labels. It's a single frame taken at 3:38 am EDT with a Canon 7D Mk II digital SLR camera and a Canon 100 mm f/2.8L macro lens (on a fixed tripod), uncropped for a field 12.8° wide x 8.6° high. It was exposed 6 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 12800, using 3600K white balance.

 

 

The Summer Triangle
May 4, 2017

While at Carranza Field on May 4, 2017, to look for the comets, I couldn't help but notice the Milky Way running from Cepheus through the Summer Triangle then down towards Sagittarius in the south, and visually, it bordered on being billowing. I wanted to take some test pictures with a new combination of camera and lenses anyway, so this was a good place to start. It's a single frame taken at 3:05 am EDT with a Canon 7D Mk II digital SLR camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Sigma 20 mm f/1.4 Art lens, uncropped for a field 58° wide x 41° high. It was exposed 8 seconds at f/2.0, ISO 3200, using 3600K white balance. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

Looking South at Carranza
May 4, 2017

After imaging the Summer Triangle at Carranza Field on May 4, 2017, my attention was drawn to the Galactic Center of the Milky Way above the southern horizon. The respective cloud of stars was rising like celestial steam from the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius, with some competition from light pollution from Atlantic City and Hammonton near the tree line. This is a single frame taken at 3:14 am EDT with a Canon 7D Mk II digital SLR camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Sigma 20 mm f/1.4 Art lens, uncropped for a field 58° wide x 41° high. It was exposed 8 seconds at f/2.0, ISO 1600, using 3600K white balance. Mouseover for labels.

 

Here's another view of the Galactic Center of the Milky Way from Carranza Field on May 4, 2017. This is a single frame taken at 3:20 am EDT with a Canon 7D Mk II digital SLR camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Tokina 12-28 mm f/4 zoom lens set to 12 mm focal length, uncropped for a field 86° wide x 64° high. It was exposed 15 seconds at f/4.0, ISO 3200, using 3600K white balance. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

Click here for some older images.

 

 

 

 

 

West Jersey Astronomical Society

Rittenhouse Astronomical Society

South Jersey Astronomy Club

Coyle Field Astronomers

 

Some Astronomical Links

 

Botanical Images

 

Last Update: Friday, June 23, 2017 at 09:58 AM Eastern Time