January 31, 2012

A Funny Line and and Extra Dot

A first.

This was the first picture I ever tried to take of the night sky on January 20th, 2008. Although the full moon made some weird effects on in the photo, all the weird pink and green areas, I think I actually did capture something pretty cool. There is a bright line just to the right of center, about two thirds of the way up. If you look at it closely you will see that it looks very much like a satellite. I tried to figure out what satellite it was, but that proved somewhat difficult.

It was a 15 second exposure, so that is about the right distance for a satellite to move in that time. It is markedly brighter at the end of the trail though, so It could be part of an Iridium Flare, which I described in the post "Our Friend Orion". It could also be a meteorite, or just a weird distortion, or a cat hair or, well anything really. I think a satellite is the most likely though.

Another interesting thing about this shot is that if you look closely to this photo, and any others I have posted of this part of the sky, there will be an extra "star" in the sky. If you look just above the little streak, there are two bright dots, the bottom, orangey one is in fact a little planet we call Mars. The same little planet is currently rising here at about 8:30 pm. I have tried to go out and catch the God of War, but the clouds have really not been too co-operative.

January 30, 2012

A Star of Many Names


From the top of Mt Doug, there are spectacular views, daytime, nighttime, clear, or cloudy it is always a nice place to look out from. In this shot, looking a little to the south of southwest, we can see the bright "star" Venus shining away above the clouds. 

The other bright spot up and to the left on the other side of the photo is Diphda, or Beta Ceti, or Deneb Kaitos, or about 15 other names depending on the catalogue you look in. It just so happens to be an orange giant about 96 light years from here. If it was placed at the same distance away from us as our own sun, it would be about 145 times as bright as the sun. This may sound like a lot, but the brightest star we have found, if it was the same distance from us as the sun would be 8,700,000 times as bright. 

The photo is from the 17th of January. It is a 30 second exposure.

January 29, 2012

Our Friend Orion


The great Orion appearing over the Salish Sea. The streak across the picture is from an airplane. I went out to try and take a picture of an Iridium flare. There is a constellation of about 80 satellites called Iridium. They have  extremely reflective antennae, and when the sunshines at a certain angle on them the get really really bright for a few seconds. At Heavens Above in the links section on the right, there are predictions for when and where they will happen. I set up my camera to get this one, but I had my aim off by about 45 degrees. I saw it happen, but alas, I did not catch it. They are really cool so I am going to keep trying.

January 28, 2012

Lights in a Sea of Darkness

Sunset is a beautiful thing. Last night I spent a few hours perched on the side of Mt Tolmie watching the sun go down and the stars gradually appear. About half way through this video, at the top of the screen near the center, you can see Venus appear and gradually get brighter. If I had stayed out for another couple hours, Venus would have followed the sun below the horizon, then the moon, and then Jupiter. All were lined up neatly in the western sky. 

This video consists of nearly 200 photos taken every 30 seconds or so from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm. I wanted to stay longer, but my hands no longer had any feeling in them, and the battery on the camera was succumbing to the cold. 

January 27, 2012

Totem Poles and Golf Balls

This totem pole, one of the tallest in the world stands 127.5 feet tall. It seems to reach for the sky. It might even appear that it reaches for the stars.

If this is what it looks like, it does not even get anywhere close. It would take 995,873,684,210,526 of these totem poles lined up end to end to get to the nearest star.

In space distances are so huge that they are measured in light years. Light travels at 300,000 kilometers per second. It takes about 1 second to get to the moon, 8 minutes from the sun to the earth, and 5 hours 20 minutes to get from the sun to Pluto.

The nearest star, Alpha Proxima, is just under 4 light years from our sun. Our galaxy is around 80,000 light years across. The most distant object we can see with our eyes is 2,000,000 light years away, the Andromeda Galaxy. The most distant object we have detected is 13,200,000,000 light years away.

Space is a really big place.

In my mind, the largest relationship i can fathom is the earth and the moon. You can draw both the earth and the moon to scale on a piece of paper, and put them the right distance apart for that scale. I can fathom that. the relationship between our sun and the nearest star would be like taking a golf ball representing our sun, and then taking another golf ball, representing the nearest star. To put these at the right distance apart for their scale, the balls would need to be about 250km apart. And at that scale the earth is about the size of a grain of sand.

As I said before; Space is a really big place.

Enough about that. I took this photo at Beacon Hill park. Just behind the trees on the left is Polaris. The 2 minute exposure lets you see the motion of the stars start to form a circle.

January 26, 2012

Thousands of Lights

The Moon and Venus over the Legislature

Some things don't need much in the way of explanation. The legislature you can find, the moon you can see, and Venus is the little dot just above the roof underneath and to the left of the moon. That is all there is to say about that.

January 25, 2012

The Majestic Moon from Mexico

The Majestic Moon from Mexico

I just love the moon. The fact that no matter where you are on earth, you can look up and see it is somewhat comforting. Only at very high latitudes are there times when the moon is not in the sky on any given day, and even there, the moon is up around half the days of every month.

Our moon is the only place that our species has been, other than the earth. 12 people have walked on the moon, all between July 1969 and December 1972. In total, 24 people have been around the far side of the moon, all with the Apollo program.

Some refer to the far side of the moon as the dark side. That is not in fact the case. It is merely the side that is always facing away from us. Some people think the reason why we only see the one side of the moon is because it does not rotate. That is not true. It does in fact rotate, it is just that the length of time it takes to complete one rotation is exactly the same amount of time it takes to complete one orbit: just over 27 days.

This was not always the case. At one point the moon spun much more rapidly, but due to the tidal forces of the earth, its rotation gradually slowed. Tides on earth make sense, the water is pulled by the gravity of the moon to form a bulge, or wave that circles the planet as it rotates. The same thing happened on the moon, except there is no water on the moon, so it was rock that was changing shape. 

This takes an enormous amount of energy to do, so after millions or billions of years, the tidal forces stabilized it the way it is now. The same thing is in fact happening to the earth. Eventually the earth will take the same amount of time to rotate as the moon takes to make an orbit. That would make the moon always appear in the same place in the sky, only visible to half the planet.

This has happened to the dwarf planet Pluto and one of its moons, Charon. It is a bit weird to think about. We shouldn't have to worry , as this will all take a few billion years. I took this photo in 2008 from Mexico.

January 24, 2012

The Hunter Stuck in a Tree

There are three now familiar constellations in this picture. Orion at the bottom left, one leg stuck behind a tree, is the most easily recognizable.

Taurus the Bull is the sideways V near the center of the picture. Not really a constellation but an open cluster of stars, the Pleiades are the blue patch up and to the right of Taurus.

Clusters of stars like the Pleiades are groups of young, very hot and bright stars. They are around a hundred million years old, middle aged for their type.

Clusters like these form in dark nebulas, otherwise known as molecular clouds or stellar nurseries. The dark nebulae are regions of dense molecular hydrogen in interstellar space. Dense is a relative term. There are about 10 atoms per cubic centimeter in these clouds, as compared to about 30,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms per cubic centimeter on earth.

Nevertheless, they have a huge volume, and they are dense enough to block out most of the stars behind them. We can see through them at longer wavelengths such as radio. Just by themselves these clouds are not particularly exciting. What happens when something compresses them is very exciting.

There are many ways these clouds can be compressed. A nearby star could go supernova, and the shock-waves could compress it, or it could run into another cloud, or several other variations of that theme.  When the cloud is compressed, it becomes denser. The densest bits of the cloud start to form into a solid mass of molecules. This intensifies the gravity of the new ball of gas, and starts sucking more and more stuff into it.

Every time an atom hits it, it releases energy in the form of heat, and also contributes further to the gravitational pull. Eventually, these balls of gas start spinning, and form a disk. At this point they are proto-stars. These proto-stars suck the inside of the cloud into themselves, and eventually breach a hole in the side of the cloud, letting us see in. Some of these areas are just enormous with thousands of stars being born, while others are much smaller.

After a certain point, planets start forming out of the disk surrounding the proto-star, and once the material that makes up the star has squished in to a certain point, the temperature at the center reaches millions of degrees due to the intense pressure, and eventually hydrogen fusion starts to take place, producing helium.

It is at this point that it is considered a star. For your typical star, like our own, this process takes around 30 million years. That seems like a long time, but in astronomical scales it is not very long at all when you consider that a star can last for billions of years.

Back to this photo. I took it on the 12th of January, at around 9.30pm from Mt Tolmie. The exposure was 333 seconds or 5 and a half minutes.

January 23, 2012

Seattle and Satellite

There is something about star trails that I really like. They are hard to do though in Victoria because of the light pollution. This particular photo was taken from Clover Point, looking straight towards Seattle. The shutter was open for just under 12 minutes at f/3.5 and ISO 800.

I was trying to capture a satellite pass. I think I actually got two. The first is easy to see. It rises out of the light of Seattle and goes to about halfway up the left side of the picture.

The second is much more faint. You can only see it if you zoom way in. It is above the brighter one, and at the Seattle end it curves down into the bright patch.

I tried several times that night to get satellites, as I knew there were a bunch of them coming out of the south at around 6:00 when I was there. I saw a few of them with my eyes, but they were too faint to show up in the picture.

There are several ways you can find out where and when satellites you can see will go overhead. The website http://www.heavens-above.com/ is a great way to find out where and when all the neat satellites are going overhead. You just need to enter in your location at the top of the page, and then follow all the links to find out about all sorts of things.

A more visual way to do it is with the program Stellarium. It is a really awesome planetarium program that shows you the sky from wherever you are on earth, or on any other planet for that matter. It is a free download available here http://www.stellarium.org/ It is not only good for satellites, it is good for anything in the night sky. You can customize all sorts of options, go back and forth through the centuries and even control the light pollution at your selected location.

In the photo you can see the star trails curving. At the top they appear to curve one way, while at the bottom they curve the opposite way, and in the center, they go straight. This is because of where I pointed the camera. at the celestial equator, the stars seem to track a straight line through the sky. The celestial equator runs right through this picture from the left to the right, starting at about the top of the clouds. The stars above seem to rotate counterclockwise around Polaris, whereas the stars below move clockwise. It creates a neat effect.

January 22, 2012

Sunset from 30,000 Feet

Sunset from 30,000 feet

There is nothing quite like a spectacular sunset. Seeing one from cruise in an airplane seems to make it just a little bit more amazing. I took this photo in November 2008 somewhere over northern Mexico. The bands of color are just spectacular.

The reason the sky is all those fancy colors is actually the same reason that the sky is blue most of the time. It is caused by a property of light called scattering. Radio waves come in lots of different frequencies, each with a different station broadcasting it. The different frequencies mean a different number of waves passing by each second, and since it is traveling at the speed of light, that means that as the frequency changes, the length of the wave changes too.

The exact same thing happens with light too. In fact, radio waves are light, just at a frequency that our eyes cannot detect. Visible light is just a little section of the electromagnetic spectrum. Within that little bit of the spectrum, the wavelengths vary, red being long waves, and violet being short waves.

As light comes into the atmosphere it starts hitting air and dust. Since each color's wavelength is different, some of the colors are able to go around the particles because the waves are bigger than the particle, but others hit the particles and sort of bounce around the sky from molecule to molecule. Blue light bounces around a ton, and comes towards our eyes from every direction, so we see lots of blue. Red, on the other end of the spectrum doesnt hit a lot of things, and just passes right by most stuff, so there it is only coming directly from the sun.

When the sun sets, it is sort of going around the corner of the earth, so the light has to come a lot further through the atmosphere, and so more of the red light gets reflected, so we see lots of red around the sum. In this picture you can see all the colors in order, red, then orange, yellow, green is sort of smushed into yellow, then blue.

Pretty hard to beat a sunset from an airplane I think.

January 21, 2012

Four Little Stars

In the year 1610, Galileo Galilei was the first to document the moons of Jupiter. He saw 4 small stars beside the mighty planet. The next night he noticed they had moved. Even over the course of one night he could see them moving. Eventually, he realized that they were moons orbiting the planet as our moon orbits the earth. He was able, after much observation to predict where they would be at a given time with a great deal of precision.

At the time, this was truly groundbreaking stuff. Not only did he prove that there were things out there that could not be seen with the naked eye, he also dealt a huge blow to the geocentric, earth is at the center of everything model of the universe that had been around for thousands of years.

The ability to predict very precisely where the moons would be at a specific time was of great aid to the mapmakers and explorers of the day. They had already been able to determine the latitude they were at, but up until then, longitude was a problem, as they had no way of telling where they were. The moons of Jupiter provided them with a clock, and with that clock, a lot of fancy math and some carful observations, the could pinpoint their location on the earth with great accuracy.

Theses days, we know that in addition to Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, the moons in this picture, there are at least another 60 or so smaller moons floating around Jupiter. These four are by far the biggest however.

Io is the innermost moon. It is the most volcanically active place in the solar system. There are hundreds of volcanoes, any number constantly in eruption. Europa is next out, the surface being ice. It seems like there is an ocean of liquid water underneath the cover of the ice. It is one of the places scientists are most hopeful of finding life. Ganymede is also ice, with the possibility of a little water layer, and Callisto is much like our moon, a solid chunk of frozen rock. All of them are around the same size as our moon.

This picture, taken through a telescope show three of the moons with Jupiter in the center. I had to overexpose the planet to make the moons show up.

Jupiter and its moons are probably my favorite thing to look at in the night sky.

January 20, 2012

Sea Monster

Believe it or not, this beast can be found in a playground not far from where I live. It is huge and made of concrete and very strange. Also strange about this picture is that I cannot figure out what stars are which. I know that I took it to the southeast at about 7:30 pm on the 14th of January, but apart from that, I am not sure. 

I have tried to work it out, but to no avail. If anyone can figure it out it would be nice. I keep thinking I have found it, but then there is something that doesn't make sense. Clouds covering half of the sky doesn't help either.

Until the weather improves, and I can get some new photos, I am going to throw in some old ones from several years ago in with the more recent shots. I hope the clouds clear off sometime soon...

January 19, 2012

The End of a Handle

Polaris, the north star. Although the exposure was not long enough to see any long streaks, you can see that all of the stars seem to be going around in a bit of a circle. The star in the very center of that circle is Polaris. Currently, it is located about one degree from the celestial north pole, near enough that we don't notice it is not perfect. It is also the end of the handle of the little dipper. You can find Polaris by drawing a line straight up from the two stars at the end of the Big Dippers dipper. It is the next bright star.

I am going to have a go at explaining how the celestial sphere works, and how it lets us pinpoint objects in the sky. Basically it works just like a globe, except that instead of it being something you look at from the outside, we look at it from the middle. To find the celestial poles we simply take the north pole of the earth, and drag a line straight up from it. We do the same with the south pole. The equator we simply keep making a larger and larger circle. Picture a globe with a rod through its poles so it rotates. If you were to take a much larger sphere and put the globe into it, then attach the rod to the larger sphere, that would be the celestial sphere. We are on the inside looking out.

The most common way of describing an objects location on earth is using latitude and longitude. The two are somewhat different in what they are based upon. Latitude is based upon the equator. 0 degrees latitude is exactly half way between the poles of the earth, and 90 degrees is the poles themselves. Longitude is largely an arbitrary measurement. It is now standardized that the prime meridian runs through Greenwich in London, but in the past when navigation was being developed, each country had its own 0 point.

The equatorial coordinate system of the celestial sphere works the same way, although they use different names. Declination is like latitude. Exactly half way between the celestial poles, directly above earths equator lies the celestial equator. From the equator you can go + or - 90 degrees declination. Like on earth, the poles are at + and -90 degrees declination.

Right Ascension is the astronomical name for Longitude. Like longitude on earth, it is measured from a somewhat arbitrary point. Unlike on earth however, the units are not degrees but hours, minutes and seconds. Also unlike longitude, it is measured in only one direction, starting at 0 and going east all the way around to 24. The use of hours is not all that different from the use of degrees, each hour the earth rotates 15 degrees, so that over the course of a full day 360 degrees of rotation and 24 hours have passed. The 0 point for right ascension is the position of the sun in the sky at the exact point of the vernal equinox. This is the point at which it crosses the celestial equator.

This system lets astronomers pinpoint any object in the night sky at any given time, and lets them find it again with no effort at all.

Back to the photo. I took this a few nights ago from the top of Mt Douglas. It is a very nice walk up there. The city is just stunning from up there at night. The exposure is a bit of a strange one. It is actually six individual 30 second exposures all on top of each other. My camera lets me take them and it smushes them all together. If you look really closely at the stars, particularly the ones near the top and bottom, you can actually see the individual exposures, and little blank spots between them where the shutter was not open. I kind of like the effect. The pinky color is from the city lights of Victoria.

January 18, 2012

A Red Ball in a Tree, a Bike, and some Snow?

One of the suns many faces. I shot this some years ago just before sundown. There was a spectacular sunset, very very red. I have never seen a sunset so red. Just before the sun disappeared, I got this shot. The shutter speed was 1/4000th of a second, the fastest my then camera could do. I used f/38 to further darken the image. 

I did not edit the picture in any way except to crop it. 

I have always like this picture, even if it is a little abstract.

I dont have much else to say about this picture, so I will tell you about today. It snowed a lot overnight. When I woke up it was to my amazement that there appeared to be a blizzard outside, which to be fair, there was. I have not seen it snow like that in quite a while. Looking online, I found that every single school in the Victoria region was closed...except UVic. Digging further, it turns out that UVic has only closed for weather 2 times in the past 50 years.

Being me, I decided to ride my bike to school. It was quite a lot of fun. The snow is that very powdery snow that is still very good for compacting into snowballs, or into a sheet of very slippy snow on the road. I found that going in a straight line is not too difficult. It is just turning that tends to be an issue. I made it to the campus without incident. I think that if I can ride a bike in it, there is no excuse for missing class. Anyways, good times were had by all.

January 17, 2012

A Snowy Walk

It was snowing heavily most of the day today. Just before sundown though, the clouds all cleared off. I was doing some homework and was not really into it, so I packed up my gear and jumped in the car. My destination was Mount Douglas, a small mountain/large hill surrounded by a park. Never having walked up it before, I set off. Turns out it is a lot steeper and a lot taller than I thought.

After stopping a few times for photos, I finally reached the top. The view of Victoria is stunning. The whole city is laid out before you, and even across the water, Port Angeles is easily seen. I spent quite a while taking some photos, then headed back down. It seemed even steeper on the way down. And slippier. About two thirds of the way down, unable to slow down because of the ice, I tried to turn towards the side of the wide path, but it was not to be. I executed a picture perfect cartoon slipping on ice and landing on my bum.

The moral of the story is, if you are going to go up Mt Doug at night after it has snowed then cleared off, and frozen, either stick to the side of the path, or wear crampons.

Goddess of Love

Venus, the Goddess of Love

Sometimes called the evening star, Venus is one of the brightest things in the sky. In fact, only the sun and the moon are appear brighter. Since the orbit of Venus is smaller than the earth, it always appears near the sun. As it approaches the points in its orbit where it appears furthest away from the sun, it is the first "star" that appears in the night sky, or the last to disappear before sunrise, depending on witch side of the sun it is on.

Currently Venus is the up in the evening for an hour or two after the sun sets. It will soon reach its greatest elongation, and start moving closer and closer to the sun. In June Venus will pass directly between the earth and the sun, an event next occurring in 2117. 

For the photo I used a half second exposure at f/4.0 and ISO 400. The view is to the WSW over the Strait of Juan de Fuca at about 6:45pm on the 15th of January this year.

January 16, 2012

A Hunter a Bull, and some Sisters

Looking to the south east just after sundown last night, the 15th of January, this is what you would have seen if, like me you took a 30 second exposure. There are quite a few recognizable constellations in this picture. The most easily recognizable is Orion, just above the clouds in the center of the frame. 

The most distinctive feature of Orion is his belt. Three bright stars named Mintaka, Alnilan, and Alnitak make up his belt. There are another three stars , much closer together, and in a different direction that make up his dagger. Also of note in this constellation are Rigel, the bright star down and to the right of his belt, Betelgeuse the bright orange star up and to the left of the belt on the same line as Rigel, and Belatrix, the bright star above and to the right of Betelgeuse. One of the coolest objects in the night sky I have ever looked at is located in Orion's dagger. The Orion Nebula, visible with even a smaller telescope is a huge cloud of bright blue interstellar dust that is just amazing to look at.

Above Orion, about two thirds of the way up there is a V shaped constellation tipped on its side. This is the central part of Taurus. The brightest star in the V shape, at the bottom left is Aldebaran. Like Betelgeuse it is a massive red giant, many many times larger than our sun. It forms the eye of Taurus the Bull.

Almost at the very top of the frame is the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. They are a cluster of bright stars long incorporated in the mythology of many civilizations. They appear to form a tiny little dipper. The name the Seven Sisters is somewhat misleading because even zooming into the photo, and with a telescope, there are only 6 bright stars.

Have a nice night!

Ahh, Victoria...

Last night was so beautiful. I spent the evening down at Clover Point. Not a cloud anywhere near, fairly dark, and lots of stars. I got a satellite or two in one picture. I set my alarm for 6:00 this morning to get up and get a really nice picture of the ISS, the moon , Mars and Saturn. It would have been a good one. Alas, it clouded over over the course of the night and then snowed a little bit...I will try again tomorrow.

January 15, 2012

Stargazing in the past few days

It has been a good couple of days for photographing the stars. There have been a few evenings where I have managed to sneak in a few photos. If the weather stays the same as it is right now, I looks like I might just be able to grab some photos tonight as well.

Last night was spectacular around 6:00. Venus was high in the sky, Jupiter was shining away, Orion standing proud. There were some clouds off in the distance, but for a while they didnt bother me. The trouble is that to get any sort of definition to the stars, the exposure needs to be several minutes long, and by the time I had taken three photos, the clouds had rolled in, and it started to snow.

I am hopeful that tonight brings some clear weather as the forecast is not looking so great for the next week or so. Lots of rain....

A Saanich Moonrise


This is a timelapse of the moonrise on the 11th of January this year. I set my camera to take a 30 second exposure every minute for about an hour and a half. 

At the very beginning the moon appears very orange, as it was that night. It was just a few days after full moon so it was very bright. If you watch to the left of the moon you cans see a few stars rising in tandem with the moon. You can see how star trails are formed with the motion of the planet causing the stars to slide across the sky.

January 14, 2012

Little Streaks in the Sky

I took this picture over the Christmas holidays in Courtenay, up-island. Unfortunately, there was a power line going right across where I took the picture. I think the red color comes from a car that went by on the road. It was a little bit misty, and the lights just turned it all red. The exposure was almost 24 minutes long.

Just out of the picture to the top left is the north celestial pole, where all the stars appear to rotate around. Polaris, is near enough to the celestial pole that we see it as the north star, although it is a little bit off. Over the course of centuries and millennia, the north star moves as the earth precesses in its orbit. In just a thousand years, there will be no bright star near enough to the north celestial pole to call it the north star.

January 13, 2012

The Northwestern Sky

The Northwestern Sky

Looking to the north west from Mt Tolmie in Victoria, this is what you would have seen at 7.30 in the evening last night. One of the more prominent stars in the frame is Deneb. If you go up from the bright star just abobe the tallest tree, and follow it almost strait towards the top of the picture, the next bright star is Deneb.

Deneb is in the constellation Cygnus, and is in fact the constellations brightest star. It is also one of the corners of the Summer Triangle, made up of Deneb, Vega, and Altair, all bright stars hight in the summer sky.

To make the photo I used my lens set at 18mm, f/5.0, ISO 400, and an exposure length of 58 seconds.

January 12, 2012

A Waxing Moon

The Moon.

This image shows a waxing crescent moon on the 30th of November 2011. The image was taken through an 8.5 inch telescope at the University of Victoria in Victoria BC. The image is "upside down" as the lenses in a telescope reverse the image. If you were to have looked at the moon with your eyes that night, you would have seen the right  side illuminated.

The moon is such a beautiful thing to look at, so easily seen from anywhere on earth. It is however somewhat of an annoyance if you are trying to look at faint objects. The full moon is so bright that it just washes out many faint objects in the sky.

An Introduction

Hello all. I am not a professional photographer, nor am I a professional astronomer. Nevertheless, I have a passion for both. My intention for this blog is to post a photo every day, a photo of something astronomical. Unless otherwise stated all the photos will be taken by me. I will also try to give an explanation of what the photos is of, and how I made it.

At my disposal are several telescopes. I myself have a 4.5 inch telescope from the 1950s, but at the university I have access to both an 8 inch sky-tracking telescope and the beautiful new 32 inch telescope.

Thanks, and enjoy!