What Magnitude Stars Can You See?

While we’ve been at home for the Great Distancing, I have been experimenting with what I can see from my suburban driveway.

I know that I can’t see the Milky Way from my driveway.  A long time ago, when I went to a star party in a rural area, I learned that Messier objects that are easily seen with my telescope with dark skies couldn’t be seen from my driveway.  But I can see the bright planets and the major constellations from my driveway.

I’ve been trying to figure out the limit on what I can see by going out with a sky map on my phone (I’m using GoSkyWatch), and looking at constellations and trying to find the dimmest star I can see.  With a quarter-full moon not in my field of view, I can see stars as dim as magnitude 3.5.  With no moon, I can see stars as dim as magnitude 4.

My next steps are to figure out the dimmest object I can see with the finder scope on my telescope, with the telescope itself, and with my camera.

What’s the dimmest star you can see in your skies?

Mercury and Venus – May 22, 2020

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Friday was another day when, because we didn’t get the predicted rain, I was able to enjoy some astrophotography: in this case, a conjunction of Venus and Mercury.  (A conjunction is when two objects appear near each other in the sky.)  Note that, even in the picture, you can see that Venus is a crescent.  Like the Moon, Venus has phases, depending upon how much of its sunlit side we can see.  In fact, it is even more of a crescent than it looks in the picture – only about 5.3% illuminated – as you can see in this neat animation.  If you zoom in, you can see that Mercury is also not a circle – it is 67% illuminated.  The two are different because they’re in different parts of their orbits relative to the Earth.  Venus is close to passing between the Earth and the Sun, so we see very little of its sunlit side.  The lines between Mercury and the Sun and the Earth and the Sun are almost perpendicular, so we see a much larger percentage of its sunlit side.

I have rarely seen Mercury, so this was a real treat.  It’ll be visible for a few more weeks in the evening sky, so if the clouds stay away, I’ll have another look.

Camera Geek Info

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/5.6, 1/30 second exposure, ISO 800
  •             Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens, set at 300 mm, manual focus
  •             Tripod

Moon and Venus – April 26, 2020

TaurusMoonVenus 20200426

Sunday evening the Moon moved closer to Venus in a lovely spot in Taurus.

Camera Geek Info (Moon and Venus in Taurus)

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4.5, 1 second exposure, ISO 6400
  •             Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8 EX lens, set at 42 mm, manual focus
  •             Tripod

MoonVenus 20200426

Camera Geek Info (Moon and Venus)

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4.5, 1/25 second exposure, ISO 500
  •             Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens, set at 135 mm, manual focus
  •             Tripod

Moon 20200426

Camera Geek Info (Crescent Moon)

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4.5, 1/320 second exposure, ISO 500
  •             Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens, set at 135 mm, manual focus
  •             Tripod

Moon and Venus

MoonAndVenus 20200424

Ever since planting my virus victory veggie garden earlier this month, I have become like a farmer, obsessed with the rain.  The forecasters keep saying the rain is coming, and then it doesn’t.  The upside of that is: clear skies for astrophotography!

On April 13, I tried to capture a picture of Comet C/2019 Y4  (Atlas), but no joy.  It was falling apart and too dim to find from my suburban driveway.

Last night, the Moon and Venus made a lovely combo at sunset.  Even with the 300 mm lens on the camera, Venus looks like a bright blob – not circular, but not with any shape.  In my husband’s 15×50 Image Stabilized binoculars, it looked the same as with the camera.  However, with my 8-inch telescope, it was a beautiful crescent (although much fatter than the moon).  It was an interesting demonstration of the benefit of a bigger aperture.

I thought the new Moon setting into the trees was also a lovely sight.

MoonInTree 20200424

Camera Geek info (Moon and Venus)

  • Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/2.8, 1/20 second exposure, ISO 500
  • Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8 EX lens, set at 32 mm, autofocus

Camera Geek Info (Moon and trees)

  • Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/5.6, 1/2 second exposure, ISO 500
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens, set at 300 mm, autofocus
  • Tripod

2019 Geminids

Geminids 20191213 - 2 of 7

The Geminids are a reliable meteor shower that I’ve been successful photographing before; and last night/this morning at the predicted peak, the sky was clear.  Only one thing stood in the way of seeing and capturing meteors: a just-past-full Moon sitting in Gemini, the radiant point of the shower.

I went out to try to photograph the meteors anyway, and I’m glad I did.  I saw 15 bright meteors in about three hours, and got six good pictures.

Here is a zoom into the top picture:

Geminids 20191213 - 1 of 7

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4, 2.0 second exposure, ISO 4000
  •             Sigma 10-20 mm f/4-5.6 lens, set at 10 mm, manual focus
  •             Intervalometer with bulb at 2 sec, intervals at 3 sec
  •             Tripod

I was seeing most of the meteors between Orion and Taurus, so I decided to switch to a faster, less wide-angle lens.  For the first time, when I saw a meteor, I also caught it with the camera.  I’ll be using this setting in the future.

Geminids 20191213 - 3 of 7Geminids 20191213 - 4 of 7Geminids 20191213 - 5 of 7Geminids 20191213 - 6 of 7Geminids 20191213 - 7 of 7

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/2.8, 2.0 second exposure, ISO 2000
  •             Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8EX lens, set at 24 mm, manual focus
  •             Intervalometer with bulb at 2 sec, intervals at 3 sec
  •             Tripod

One web site suggested going out tonight (December 14) between sunset and moonrise to try to see meteors – I think I’ll try it!

Orion Nebula

OrionNebula 20191011

The Orion Nebula has long been one of my favorite night sky objects – it’s easy to find in the Orion constellation (it’s the middle “star” in Orion’s sword) and interesting to look at.  Because it’s a fuzzy object, it’s on Messier’s list of not-comets as M42.  It’s a large region of hot gas and dust that is a stellar nursery – new stars are being created there!

While we were enjoying the dark skies in Dell City last month, I took this picture of it.  I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, and it’s inspired me to try to get images of more nebulas.  Stay tuned!

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/5.6, 30.0 second exposure, ISO 2000
  •             Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens, set at 300 mm, manual focus
  •             iOptron SkyTracker with ballhead
  •             Tripod

Dell City Astrophotography October 2019

BandBwithISS 20191010

Last month we took a break and returned to Dell City, Texas, where we stayed in a lovely B&B, enjoyed gorgeous sunsets and sunrises over the Guadalupe and Cornudas Mountains, and enjoyed seeing the stars, planets, and the Milky Way.

The picture above shows our B&B with the International Space Station starting an overhead pass (white line in center-right of picture).

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4, 30.0 second exposure, ISO 100
  •             Sigma 10-20 mm f/4-5.6 lens, set at 10 mm, manual focus
  •             iOptron SkyTracker with ballhead
  •             Tripod

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The picture above shows our B&B with the Milky Way, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4, 30.0 second exposure, ISO 640
  •             Sigma 10-20 mm f/4-5.6 lens, set at 10 mm, manual focus
  •             iOptron SkyTracker with ballhead
  •             Tripod

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Jupiter and Saturn surround the constellation Sagittarius, home to many beautiful deep sky objects, including a number of Messier objects, the brightest of which are labeled here.

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4, 15.0 second exposure, ISO 1000
  •             Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens, set at 70 mm, manual focus
  •             iOptron SkyTracker with ballhead
  •             Tripod

MilkyWay 20191011

One of the great treats of going somewhere with dark skies is getting to see the Milky Way.  We could see it over our B&B, and we also saw it when we drove out to a darker spot to try to spot a comet at sunrise.  The comet was too close to the sun to see, but the Milky Way before dawn was beautiful.

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4, 30.0 second exposure, ISO 4000
  •             Sigma 10-20 mm f/4-5.6 lens, set at 10 mm, manual focus
  •             iOptron SkyTracker with ballhead
  •             Tripod

MoonriseWithBunny 20191012

Local wildlife joined me for some of my astrophotography.  One night a skunk walked right past me.  Another night, a bunny watched the moonrise with me.  I didn’t get a picture of the skunk, but the picture above includes the bunny (its tail is the white spot below and just to the right of the moon).

Camera geek info:

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/11, 1/40 second exposure, ISO 800
  •             Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8 EX lens, set at 70 mm

Another of the great treats of visiting Dell City is getting to experience sunrises and sunsets that fill the sky.  Here are two of my favorite shots from this trip.

Camera geek info (mountains):

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/6.3, 1/30 second exposure, ISO 800
  •             Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8 EX lens, set at 45 mm

Camera geek info (church):

  •             Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/6.3, 1/100 second exposure, ISO 800
  •             Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8 EX lens, set at 24 mm