Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades

Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades


Comet Lovejoy – Change in Position in One Day



Sunday and Monday evening it was clear, so it was time to find Comet Lovejoy again. This time it was near the beautiful Pleiades. Of course, that is worth a picture.

I thought it would also be fun to see how much the comet had moved over one day – the change is quite visible. I was hoping to go for a three-day comparison, but now it’s cloudy again.

Camera geek info:

  •            Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4.0, 3.2 second exposure, ISO 6400
  •            Canon EF 70 – 200 mm f/4L lens, set at 94 mm for Pleiades and comet and 200 mm for comet, manual focus at infinity
  •            Tripod
  •            Cable release

In choosing which picture is the best, I find that I am using the following criteria: good focus (automatic toss for out of focus picture unless happen upon cool “artistic” effect), no visible star trails (stars should look like a point, not a line), visibility of comet, color of objects, color of sky, and noise of sky. While I have pictures with darker, less noisy sky, they don’t show the comet as well.

I am also finding that the image quality is far better when I zoom to my desired field of view instead of cropping in post-processing to get there.

Astrophotography – Planets

Conjunction of Moon and Saturn

Saturn (“One of the These Things is Not Like the Others”)

Jupiter and four Galilean Moons

You know you enjoy a hobby when you get up early and go out into the dark cold for it. This morning there was a conjunction of the Moon and Saturn, so I got up and went out. And while I was at it, I took some pictures of Jupiter and its moons, too. I checked – yes all four moons were on the same side of Jupiter this morning. I think it would be fun to make a time lapse of their motion. Might have to try it.

I learned a new astrophotography trick last night. I knew I needed to manually focus for star pictures, but it’s hard to do with dim sources and a camera designed for autofocus. But my camera has a nifty real-time view on the LCD screen with a 10x view … so I could zoom in on the moon or a planet and use the real-time view to help me manually focus. Neat! And *much* sharper pictures.

The real-time view also showed me that, in spite of the solid tripod, the 200 mm is actually quite shaky if I want to crop further in. So I get out my cable release so I could watch the image settle down on the 10x screen and then trigger the camera without actually touching it.

I also already knew that although I could easily see both the Moon and Saturn, Saturn would disappear or the Moon would wash out without some filtering. Graduated neutral density filters to the rescue! I used two (wish I had more and stronger ones) to dim down the Moon so you can see both bodies in the same photo.

Camera geek info:

  •            Canon EOS 60D in manual mode set at f/4.0, 1/60 second exposure for Moon and Saturn, 1/13 second exposure for Jupiter, ISO 2000
  •             Canon EF 70 – 200 mm f/4L lens, set at 200 mm, manual focus at infinity
  •             Singh-Ray Galen Rowell Filter ND-1G-SS + ND-2G-SS for Moon
  •             Tripod
  •             Cable release

Comet Lovejoy

Can you spot the comet?  (Hint: it’s green!)CometLovejoy20150107-1

Zooming in … how about now?


It’s been a long time since there’s been a comet that I could successfully see and photograph! Comet Lovejoy is a star hop from Rigel (Orion’s foot) into Eridanus, where it can easily be seen (at least in the suburbs in the northern hemisphere) with binoculars, a telephoto lens, or a telescope.  It looked gray through the binoculars, but in the pictures it is a beautiful green.

I am glad that our winter clouds cleared away and I got a clear night last night to spot it. I was hoping for a second clear night in a row so I could show that the comet is moving relative to the stars. Alas, the weather did not cooperate, and it looks like it’s going to be cloudy for a while. But I’ll keep looking up!

Orion EFT1 Mission


I got up early yesterday and again today to watch the launch of NASA’s newest spacecraft, Orion. This flight, Experimental Flight Test 1 (EFT1), is, as its name suggests, a flight test to check out critical Orion systems before we send it further away with people on board.

I cheered when it successfully launched this morning and did not get any writing done because I was too intrigued with the Orion TV feed.

Here were the thoughts I had while watching:

– I’m conditioned to watch Space Shuttle launches and know the event timing, and it was odd for me to watch a launch with different timing and steps. Shouldn’t the side rockets fall off after two minutes? Apparently, no.

– I saw some insulation popcorning off the Delta IV in the rocket cam video feed, but I didn’t have to worry about anything hitting Orion since it’s on top of the stack. That’s a big benefit to the top of the stack design.

– I was furious with the idiots who kept tweeting Orion had blown up.  Can I tunnel through the internet and terminate their connections?  Please?

– I cheered when we started getting good telemetry off Orion via its own communication system and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRSs).

– I loved the views of Earth from the Orion cameras.

– I was happy when I saw the Orion animation showing Orion was passing the Texas Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to use my screen capture program to catch it. And it was raining here at the time, so there was no point in going out to wave.

– Once Orion was up in its elliptical orbit, the view of the Earth was a tri-color Earth much like my tri-color Moon from my lunar eclipse photos: white limb, blue middle, and black in shadow. I need to figure out if that’s just an effect of the camera’s dynamic range because if not I want to capture the tri-color effect in the story I’m currently writing.


– Orion did, as expected, experience a communication blackout when the reentry plasma got too thick.

– The video of the landing and splashdown – from the Ikhana drone and Orion itself – were awesome. I loved the infrared point of the approaching Orion and getting to see all the parachutes deploy.

– It was great that NASA TV and ustream broadcast the entire mission, and I enjoyed sharing the event with the twitter community. I don’t tweet often, but this event seemed made for it.

I spent the whole morning watching the flight. What an awesome day!

Congratulations to the NASA and Lockheed Martin Orion teams on a flawless flight! I am such a NASA fangirl! Luckily for me, I work for a NASA contractor and occasionally get to do work for Orion. But today I just got to be a fan.  🙂

[1] Ground track picture from NASA Flickr.

[2] Tri-color Earth picture screen shot from ustream NASA TV feed.