Bright Objects in the Night Sky: Venus, Mercury, and the Moon

A bit over a week ago (18 March 2018), we had a triple conjunction in the sky. Venus and Mercury had been in the evening sky for a few weeks—and now a crescent Moon was going to join them in the evening. Weather permitting, I was interested in capturing images of this event. I headed out towards the Mormon Lake Overlook which would give me a good view of the western sky as well as the possibility of reflections of these sky objects in the shallow waters of the lake.

While waiting for the sky to darken, I was treated to a few minutes of sunset colors on some interesting wave clouds. More on that below.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

The Moon and Venus are easily visible in this image taken at 7:20 P.M. MST while Mercury is a bit harder to see to the right and above Venus. A second image taken at 7:29 P.M. shows all three bodies quite clearly. And, as I had hoped, there were reflections in the water.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

This is how Venus and Mercury looked earlier in the month.

Venus and Mercury in the evening sky.
Venus and Mercury in the evening sky.

Now, back to the wave clouds.

Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.
Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.

Although they look like jet contrails, these were actually long and thin wave clouds. As the sun began to set, the colors were briefly quite amazing.

Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.

It was an fun evening: Interesting clouds and a triple conjunction.

It was also cold…

Grand Canyon Clouds, Fog, and a Moonrise

I have traveled up to the South Rim of Grand Canyon several times in the past few weeks to get interesting weather and cloud photographs.

Fog begins to spill over the rim of Grand Canyon.
Fog begins to spill over the rim of Grand Canyon.

Two weeks ago, we spent two nights at the South Rim waiting for a winter storm to arrive and drop some snow on the higher elevations of the canyon. The storm went too far south and Grand Canyon got nothing but some clouds and a bit of fog. Flagstaff, on the other hand, got about 8″ on snow—which we had to clear from our driveway when we returned.

A thin layer of fog on the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
A thin layer of fog on the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
A zoomed-in view of the fog on the canyon rim.
A zoomed-in view of the fog on the canyon rim.
As the sun rose higher it illuminated the canyon below Hopi Point.
As the sun rose higher it illuminated the canyon below Hopi Point.

The other goal on that trip was to catch the rising nearly-full moon as it climbed above Cape Royal on the North Rim. That worked out well as the clouds had dissipated by late afternoon. This image was shot as a 12-frame panorama (6 across, 2 rows) resulting in an image of ~200 megapixels. There is a lot of detail in the full-resolution image!

Moonrise above Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park.
Moonrise above Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park.

As the sun fell lower in the sky, shadows raced across the canyon bottom while some of the higher towers and buttes remained in the sun—resulting in some interesting lighting and abstract patterns.

Late afternoon sun in Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun in Grand Canyon.
Light and shadow create abstract forms on Cape Royal.
Light and shadow create abstract forms on Cape Royal.

Our final morning had some wave clouds forming downwind of the Kaibab Plateau and being lit by the rising sun.

Wave clouds illuminated by the rising sun.
Wave clouds illuminated by the rising sun.

A few days ago we had a widespread rain event—even though rainfall amounts were not particularly large. Most importantly, measurable rain fell in Winslow. This meant that there was a possibility of fog forming in the Little Colorado River (LCR) Valley and drifting into the eastern reaches of Grand Canyon. I arrived at Lipan Point on the South Rim before sunrise and could see some low-lying fog in the LCR well east of the canyon. As the sun rose and the land began to warm, the fog began to lift and move towards the canyon. Eventually, it reached the Palisades north and east of Desert View Overlook. And, then, it began to spill over the sides evaporating only a short distance below the rim.

A shallow fog layer lies to the east of Grand Canyon at sunrise.
A shallow fog layer lies to the east of Grand Canyon at sunrise.
Fog spills over the rim into Grand Canyon.
Fog spills over the rim into Grand Canyon.

The fog soon swept across Desert View Overlook. I headed over to Desert View to shoot photos of Desert View Watchtower in the fog—but the fog was so thick I had to get very close to even see it.

Fog swirls around Desert Watchtower.
Fog swirls around Desert Watchtower.
And—for just a moment—there was great color in the sky behind Desert Watchtower.
And—for just a moment—there was great color in the sky behind Desert Watchtower.

I went back to Grand Canyon again the next morning but there were clouds along with some drizzle and light rain. However, there was a 2–3 minute period in which some clouds had a bit of sunlight color. Yes—that’s a pretty long round-trip drive for 2–3 minutes of good photography. Nobody ever said it was easy…

Mormon Lake with Fog, Snow, Rime, and a Glory

A winter storm in late February brought hope again of getting some photographs of the San Francisco Peaks covered in snow. So I departed before sunrise one morning to head out towards Mormon Lake. Because of the warm winter up through mid-February, most of Lower Lake Mary and Upper Lake Mary remained mostly ice free. With very cold early morning temperatures it was no surprise that there was fog over the relatively warm open waters of the lakes. When I left my house, the temperature was about +3°F. When I reached Lower Lake Mary, the temperature had fallen to -10°F—and there was considerable fog.

A shallow layer of fog covers Mormon Lake.
A shallow layer of fog covers Mormon Lake.

It was the same over Upper Lake Mary. I debated whether to change my plans and shoot photographs of the fog over this lake but after viewing the scene I chose to continue to the Mormon Lake Overlook. As I approached the overlook, I could see a layer of fog. Luckily, the overlook was just high enough to be above the fog.

It was a beautiful scene with a shallow layer of fog covering the lake bed and snow on the distant San Francisco Peaks.

San Francisco Peaks as seen from the Mormon Lake Overlook.
San Francisco Peaks as seen from the Mormon Lake Overlook.

After getting a few quick photos I set about to capture a panorama. I shot 12 images: 2 rows of 6 shots. The resulting image is huge and clocks in around 190 megapixels. I can make a print of this that’s 8 feet wide. But I probably won’t because I don’t have a wall large enough for something that big.

It was obvious that sometime during the night the fog layer was much deeper as all the grasses, bushes, and trees were covered with rime ice.

Rime ice coats the grasses and bushes.
Rime ice coats the grasses and bushes.
Rime ice coats the grasses and bushes.
Rime ice coats the grasses and bushes.

The rime created needles that pointed in the direction of the light wind that had been present during formation. As the sun rose above the horizon, the rime caught the light and sparkled brilliantly.

A glory and a small segment of a fog bow are visible on the fog layer.
A glory and a small segment of a fog bow are visible on the fog layer.

So we had fog over the lake bed, snow on the mountain, and rime ice on the grasses. What else? Well, a glory became visible as the sun rose high enough to illuminate the fog layer below me. And a short segment of a fog bow was also visible in the fog layer.

Not a bad day for photography.

And, finally, we have some weather

It has been a very dry autumn and early winter around these parts—but that finally changed as a winter storm moved across the area yesterday and today. On Tuesday afternoon clouds began to increase across the area and there was a cap cloud draped across the San Francisco Peaks.

Clouds cover the San Francisco Peaks as a winter storm approaches Arizona.
Clouds cover the San Francisco Peaks as a winter storm approaches Arizona.

Most, but not all, of Arizona received precipitation including Flagstaff. We have been without any significant precipitation since September 27 when 0.07″ of rain fell. Since then, we’ve had 0.01″ on November 17 and a Trace on December 21. That’s it. It’s been the driest period on record and the second latest first snowfall of the season. And it’s been warm.

Water vapor satellite image of the winter storm approaching Arizona.
Water vapor satellite image of the winter storm approaching Arizona.

Rain began to fall around 7:30 P.M. Tuesday evening then switched to snow around 10:15 P.M. as the cold front moved across the area. Prior to frontal passage we had several rounds of thunderstorms. At least one of these thunderstorms exhibited extreme right-mover characteristics as well as some weak rotation suggesting it may have been a supercell.  With this winter storm Flagstaff received ~5″ of snow and 1.19″ of total water.

Location of lightning strikes as the cold front advanced across Arizona.
Location of lightning strikes as the cold front advanced across Arizona.

Although it was still mostly cloudy this morning, there was a gap in the clouds along the eastern horizon allowing sunshine to briefly illuminate the peaks shortly after sunrise.

San Francisco Peaks wrapped in early morning clouds.
San Francisco Peaks wrapped in early morning clouds.
Mormon Mountain and Mormon Lake at sunrise.
Mormon Mountain and Mormon Lake at sunrise.

The San Francisco Peaks are almost completely wrapped in clouds with only the summits visible. A few minutes later, the sun had risen high enough that it was above the clear gap and everything turned gray again.

This will be a short-lived episode as the forecast indicates a quick return to warm and dry conditions across the southwest.

Aspen colors 2017: Inner Basin and Arizona Trail

Some years it’s easy to get great photographs of the changing colors of aspen leaves in northern Arizona. The weather is good, the timing is right, you’re in the perfect place. It all comes together.

That wasn’t this year.

We set out several times on the mountain bikes to see and enjoy the color. First we were too early; then we were too late. We were out of town on a long-planned trip and the peak color season occurred while we were gone. It happens.

Not that I’m complaining. I’ve been able to get good photographs many times in the past and there will be opportunities again in coming years.

So here is a collection of pre-season photos, post-season photos, and a few from several years ago comparing colors in the Inner Basin on similar dates but different years.

Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors along the Arizona Trail near Bismarck Lake (09/29/2017)
Early season colors along the Arizona Trail near Bismarck Lake (09/29/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail in 2014 (10/14/2014).
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail in 2014 (10/14/2014).

Based on previous years, I thought we might still find some great color in the Inner Basin this late in the season. We certainly did in 2014—but not 2017.

And here are a couple from 2015—another good year for aspen photography.

Inner Basin Trail (10/07/2015).
Inner Basin Trail (10/07/2015).
Lockett Meadow and Inner Basin (10/08/2015).
Lockett Meadow and Inner Basin (10/08/2015).

An early snowfall on the higher summits juxtaposed with the aspen almost at their peak made an interesting composition. Getting this view required more hiking and climbing that anticipated—but ultimately worth it.