Magical Tree


The Rising

Image Credit & Copyright: Stephen Ippolito.

Here’s a brilliant image from Stephen Ippolito from his recent trip to Utah this past May.  I know I’ve said it a hundred times by now but I just can’t get enough of the southwest U.S. desert.  There’s countless National Parks, wide open horizons and a night sky that grabs your attention.

This image was captured in the beautiful Arches National Park, Utah and it shows the “Dark Horse” region of the Milky Way galaxy rising up from behind the dry landscape and one of the legendary Utah Juniper trees.  The oldest Juniper in Utah is well over 1,200 years old and they are a lesson in survival by efficiency and not needing a lot to get by.

The “Dark Horse” region of the Milky Way galaxy refers to the core region or even more specifically; a region near the core of the Milky Way created of gas and dust that literally resembles a horse.  Pretty awesome!

All of Stephen’s images are world class and if you haven’t checked out his most recent Utah collection I would recommend that you do because they’re amazing images captured in an amazing land.

Stephen Ippolito Photography:





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Planets and Perspective



Images Credit & Copyright: Daniel LaShomb (Me).  Feel free to use these images as long as you give proper credit and don’t sell or edit them.  Imaging techniques that I used are below.

On the night of June 30, 2015 the planets, Jupiter and Venus met up in the twilight of sunset in the western skies.  On the night sky they were separated by approximately one-third of a degree or just under a half-degree which presented a wonderfully awe inspiring sight.  In reality, Venus was 47 million miles from Earth while Jupiter was a distant 558 million miles from our eyes.  As I attempt to illustrate in these images (The Moon is added, it was not actually in the images), the two planets were close enough together to fit inside the apparent diameter of the one-half degree Moon.  If the Moon had been on course to occult the pair, it could have covered both of them at the same time.  That’s pretty awesome!

Leading up to that night they had been together on the sky for weeks.  The Moon even paid a visit on the nights of Friday, June 19th and Saturday the 20th creating a wonderful Isosceles Triangle; each night, the Moon allowing one of the planets to take a turn at the top.  Venus took watch on the 19th and Jupiter took the 20th.  A little further back, on Wednesday, June 12 Venus took up position next to the 577 light year distant Messier 44 (M44) the Beehive Cluster; an open star cluster in the constellation of Cancer the Crab.

You may have noticed as you were watching them that Venus is a lot brighter than the much more massive Jupiter and asked yourself why.  Or furthermore, how can an inferior (inner) planet be next to a superior (outer) planet on the night sky? And hey; why does Venus look like a crescent Moon?

Let’s start with the brightness.  Simply put, Venus is brighter than Jupiter because it’s so much closer.  On the night sky, Venus and Jupiter both had an angular diameter (How big it is on the sky) of about 32” arcseconds but Venus is

1: Extremely reflective.  Its albedo (reflectivity) is a whopping 70%.  That means it reflects 70% of the sunlight that hits it.  Compare that to the Moon’s 10%; can you imagine how bright the Moon would be if it were 70% reflective?  The only solar system body with a higher albedo is Enceladus with an albedo of around 90%!

2: Sunlight is about 50x more intense to nearby Venus than the distant Jupiter.

So even though Jupiter is 88,846 miles in diameter and can hold 1,000 Earth’s by volume; those two factors make the Earth sized Venus much brighter than Jupiter on the night sky.

So why is Venus a crescent like the Moon? Simple answer is; for the same reason.  Being an inferior (inner) planet, Venus never gets to the outside of Earth in our orbits to the only time there could even be a full Venus is when it’s behind the Sun and we can’t even see it then.  When it shows up on the western horizon as the evening star or “Hesperus,” it’s coming out from superior conjunction (behind the Sun) and it’s small and nearly full.  That’s because it’s far away (Further from us than the Sun) and sunlight is illuminating a nearly full disk as we see it from Earth.  As it catches up to Earth, its apparent size grows and it transitions from gibbous to crescent and that crescent gets thinner and thinner until it passes us on the inside and reappears in the eastern sky as the morning star or “Phosphorus.”  The process is then reversed as it moves away from Earth to once again go behind the sun, the crescent grows gibbous so we see more of the disk and it shrinks in overall size as it moves away.

How are they possibly together on the sky? This one’s not too hard to understand and just to help drive the visual home I added a solar system diagram from Popular Science below so you can see for yourself.  In short, Venus is closer to us and Jupiter is way off to one side of us which puts the two in the line of sight from our vantage point.



How’d I create these images?  Well first off, it was cloudy all night so it was patience that allowed me to catch the event.  I took the telescope (Celestron C8” on a CGEM) and my Nikon D750 out and got set up and waited for a window.  I just needed about a minute to jet a quick focus and test shots and another five for some imaging but what I got was a window about 20 minutes long; awesome!

The wide field shot is pretty straight forward as I positioned the camera over a lake and shot 4 seconds at 18mm at ISO 400 (it’s bright where I am and it was still twilight) and an aperture of f2.8.

For the tighter shots I’m not even going to list all my settings as it was all fly by the seat of my pants.  It took low ISO and a short exposure to find the crescent in Venus.  Otherwise as we detailed above, Venus is very bright and likes to be imaged as a ball of light.  For Jupiter I also had to shoot low ISO (But not as low as Venus) to keep the disk from being a bright white ball.  I’m disappointed that I didn’t really capture any bands though.  I’ll blame it on the atmosphere.

That low ISO to catch the disk of Jupiter is much too low to show the four Galilean moons so I had to bump the ISO back up and run a 10 second exposure to image them.  That of course overexposed the disk of Jupiter.

I then went to Photoshop and applied all three of the images.  I then kept the quality Venus, the quality Jupiter and the Galilean moons and erased everything else.  Just for fun, I added a couple renditions of the Moon to illustrate how close the two were on the sky.  Neither of these Moons that I compared them to were actually in the image nor was it in either of the two phases.  It’s just for illustration purposes.

Thanks All!




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Waiting for the Stars to Align


Image Credit & Copyright: Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut.

The Everyday Astronaut is at it again!

What do you do when you’re a photographer and you buy a spacesuit online?……You take pictures with you in the spacesuit all over the damn place while doing anything you can think of, of course!

Tim’s personal expedition began in November of 2013 when he purchased an old Russian high altitude space suit on the online auction site RRAuctions and the proverbial “idea candle” was lit! The ensuing collections are awash with creativity, comedy and inspiration and for us space nuts it’s really a treat and I promise you it will brighten your day and have you checking for updates.

This particular image is from his “No Photoshop” series and it’s a set of 40 minute startrails with a brief appearance to encapsulate Polaris. I love images like this and if you’ve seen any of his work before you will absolutely love his “Everyday Astronaut” series of images. Go check it out!

Tim Dodd Photography:

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See a “Calendar” Blue Moon This Month!


Image Credit & Copyright: An old Moon shot of mine that I’ve butchered trying to make blue.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Coming up this month; the night of Friday, July 31, 2015 is a “Calendar” Blue moon! But what exactly is that you ask? Let’s have a look as there are three kinds!

Type 1: Two (2) Full Moons that occur in a single calendar month are called “CALENDAR” Blue moons. They tend to occur on average every 2.7 years-ish and this is today’s “modern” definition of the event. The last one was almost three years ago (August 31, 2012) and the next few of this type will take place on:

July 31, 2015

January 31, 2018

March 31, 2018

October 31, 2020

Type 2: These oddballs are called “SEASONAL” Blue moons but I like to call em your Grandfathers Blue moons as they are the old school, original definition of the event. The standard was, that a Blue moon was any season that had 4 full moons….the 3rd of which was considered a Blue moon. Seasons by calendar are defined as the time periods between SOLSTICES and EQUINOXES or vice versa. The last one was on August 21, 2013 (3rd of 4 full moons of summer) and the next Blue moons of this sort will fall on:

May 21, 2016

May 18, 2019

August 22, 2021

Type 3: The final type of Blue moon is an actual BLUE MOON…..but you’re going to need some tools; preferably an active volcano, massive amounts of ash and an atmosphere to deploy it into. For years volcanic eruptions have been associated with blue colored moons; why? Most volcanic ash is about 1micron wide which just happens to be the length of a wavelength of red light. Thus, the red light is scattered and the blue shows through. Massive fires also have the ability to do this as well. Ever notice something looking bluish (Forest fires, grill smoke etc.) as you view it through smoke? There you go…..

NOTE: Ever notice when the Sun and Moon are low on the horizon they are yellow, orange or even red? Well the opposite effect is in play with an actual Blue moon. When planetary objects are low on the horizon, say, 30 degrees in elevation or lower, they are further away from you and that allows only a few select colors of light to reach your eyes. This also means that you are looking through about twice the atmosphere at that elevation vs. when they are overhead or near zenith. Atmosphere contains aerosols that are much smaller than 1 micron in diameter and those particles scatter blue light, letting the red show through. So don’t be surprised when your Blue Moon rises and it’s more red with a transition to orange, yellow and white more than any other color, especially blue!

Keep in mind that none of this is actually relevant to our day to day lives, actual astronomy or anything else. It’s just orbital mechanics wrestling with our man-made calendar system and on occasion it delivers to us an oddity that we can have some fun with. As far as popular culture is concerned; like the “Super Moons, Black Moons etc.” just embrace it and enjoy seeing something unusual even though we pretty much created it. Like anything else similar in nature to this; if it gets people to look up when they otherwise wouldn’t, I’m all for it.

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Space Junk; JULY 2015


Photo Credit & Copyright: My attempt at imaging the 2,159 mile wide low albedo rock 240,000 miles away that’s lit by the nearly million mile wide fusion reactor 93 million miles away in the other direction.

Below I have listed most of the major night sky events for this month, birthdays, events in history etc. I have also listed all resources used to generate these monthly calendars at the bottom of the post so dig in, learn and enjoy! Also; if you notice something that I didn’t add that you think should be here, or if something’s incorrect definitely let me know!

Here’s a list of all major 2015 Celestial Events here:

Interested in Planetary Motions for 2015? Here ya go!:

How about Meteor Showers for 2015?

WERE YOU BORN ON A FULL MOON?! This great page from Moon Giant shows you what phase the Moon was in when you were born; check it out. (This may not work on your phone):

All dates and times were calculated using Military Time & Universal Time (UTC) and I also throw in eastern U.S. time (EST or EDT depending on whether its Daylight Savings or not) but beware, early morning events for UTC will actually likely be late night events on the previous date for the US. For example if something is scheduled to occur at 02:00 UTC on the 14th, that’s 21:00 EST on the 13th.

Another important thing to remember is that a calendar day is actually daylight sandwiched between two darks so when an event says, March 29 for example, you’ve got to check the time because March 29 could very well be in the morning before sunrise and not that coming night.

Finally, calculating events on the Moon is that it’s not as simple as “Ok it’s 40% illuminated so we should see this.” I wish it was that easy but because of libration, locations on the disk of the moon move slightly as we see them. One month an event could occur at 52% illumination and the next month it could occur at 54% illumination etc.

JULY (All Month) – Jupiter is still looking great in July. Look for the Great Red Spot and the 4 Galilean moons as they will be eclipsing and occulting each other through summer in a process known as “mutual events.” Saturn is just past opposition so have a look it’s as good as it will get all year! Milky Way season is also under way as the core of our star city will be visible in the south through early Fall. The Delta Aquarids meteor shower takes place this month.

JULY 01 (Wed) – Entering the month the Moon is 14 days old in its 29.53 day Synodic Cycle and 99% illuminated in its waxing gibbous phase.

JULY 01 (Wed) – The Moon is at its Greatest Southern Declination of -18.26 degrees.

July 1, 2004: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft becomes the 1st to orbit Saturn.

JULY 02 (Thu) – The Full Moon will occur at 02:22 UTC (22:22 EDT on the 1st). Though the quarters of the Moon occur at exact times, as far as viewing goes you can call it the entire night and be close enough. (Name information provided by The Farmer’s Almanac). Full Buck Moon; July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, for the reason that thunderstorms are most frequent during this time. Another name for this month’s Moon was the Full Hay Moon.

Full Moon Note: Many people actually find observing the Full Moon through a telescope or binoculars almost painful due to its brightness. One way that we curb this issue (at least in telescopes) is with neutral density filters. ND filters range anywhere from 20% light block to 80% light block and they’re pretty cheap. I don’t usually use them but I have a 50% on hand in the event someone needs it. Just be careful because for some companies, an ND25 means 25% of the light is blocked while some mean 25% of light passes through so make sure before you buy.

July 2, 1937: Amelia Earhart disappears.

Continue reading

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Jurassic Light


Image Credit & Copyright: Sean Parker.

Here’s an incredible image captured by a GoPro mounted on a cow just before Indominus Rex devours ole Bessy. Somehow the footage survived. OK, you got me. This image was taken by Sean Parker of Sean Parker Photography just before HE was surrounded and eaten alive by these incredible creatures. Still not buying it; alright that’s a great example of being a good skeptic right there, congrats.

It is true however that Sean captured this great shot but the apparent impending doom aspect that I was painting is false. What a sight it must have been, to be around more than 65 million years ago. If we were able to wander the Earth dodging pitfalls such as these two-legged meat grinders while above our heads a magnificent view of the universe; still unabated by man-made light pollution which robs the majority of developed locations today. Just a stunning perspective and capture.

I have to admit, this one really has me missing SanDiego and the southwest in general. This incredibly creative shot was taken in Borrego Valley CA. This location houses over 130 metal sculptures of dinosaurs, monsters etc. over three square miles. They are the works of Ricardo Breceda, I for one thank Sean for this photo and conjuring up some personal memories of good times out in that old desert while wowing me at the same time. Then again, as I’ve watched Sean’s work through the last few years; I wouldn’t expect anything less!

Sean Parker Photography:

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Quiet Space Legend Breaks Most Time in Space Record


Image Credit & Copyright: NASA of Gennady Padalka during spacewalk removing the Strela-2 cargo boom from the Pirs docking compartment on the ISS’s Zarya module in 2012.

With much attention being given to the International Space Station’s (ISS) 1 Year Crew; NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (Expedition’s 43-46) it’s important to remember that the third member of the current ISS crew and the cosmonaut that flew up to the ISS onboard Soyuz TMA-16M with the two 1 year guys; Gennady Padalka.

Today; Sunday, June 28, 2015 Gennady broke the all-time “Time in Space” record of 803 days by Sergei Krikalev with 804 days total time spent in space. He will have shattered that record when he lands at the end of this mission with 878 days total time spent off Earth.

He has served on both the Mir and International Space Stations and was ISS commander for Expedition 20; the first 6 person ISS crew as well as Expedition 32. He has flown to space five times and conducted 9 spacewalks (2 Mir & 7 ISS) at the time of this writing.

Congrats to Gennady on breaking the total time in space record.

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