Wildflowers Along the Arizona Trail

Two recent trips to different sections of the Arizona Trail (AZT) resulted in these wildflower photographs. First, we have a beautiful pincushion cactus seen along the section of the AZT south of Pine Grove Campground on Lake Mary Road. We were on our mountain bikes and as we passed then in the morning the flowers were closed. On our return a few hours later, the flowers were wide open and beckoned for us to stop and admire them for a few minutes.

Pincushion cactus seen along the Arizona Trail.
Pincushion cactus seen along the Arizona Trail.
Pincushion cactus with a bee.
Pincushion cactus with a bee.

Next, we have wild iris on the section of the AZT near Snowbowl Road. Many of the iris that day were already starting to wilt and most had only pale colors. This one had such vibrant colors that it was worth stopping in the middle of our trail run to grab a few photos.

Wild iris along the Arizona Trail.
Wild iris along the Arizona Trail.

We’re still in the midst of our dry period with the North American Monsoon season still at least a month away. Once that starts, wildflowers should blossom everywhere.

Conjunction of Venus and Mars

As mentioned in the previous post, the planets Venus and Mercury passed very close to each other in the evening twilight sky a few nights ago. In fact, this conjuction is the closest conjunction of these two planets until 2033. I chose to photograph the two planets the night before closest approach as I was interested in getting a bit of separation of the two in both the sky and their reflections in the water.

Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2025 MST 27 May 2021).
Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2025 MST 27 May 2021).
Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2037 MST 27 May 2021).
Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2037 MST 27 May 2021).

The first image was taken at 2025 MST 27 May 2021 with an 85mm focal length. The second image was taken a short time later at 2035 MST with a focal length of 120mm.

In the first image, there is a very nice and long reflection of Venus in the water; the reflection of Mercury is also present but is faint and diffuse. In the second image, the planets were just a few minutes away from dropping below the ridge to the northwest. In this image, the reflections of both planets are easily seen.

The weather cooperated nicely with light winds allowing reflections on the smooth water of Upper Lake Mary.

 

Total Lunar Eclipse and Overcast Skies

I have had the total lunar eclipse of 26 May 2021 on my calendar for almost a year. So when the date was getting close and the weather forecasts were calling for mostly cloudy skies I was disappointed.

Lunar Eclipse of 26 May 2021 and the Moon is starting to reappear from Earth's shadow.
Lunar Eclipse of 26 May 2021 and the Moon is starting to reappear from Earth’s shadow.
The partially eclipsed Moon is about to set behind Cathedral Rock.
The partially eclipsed Moon is about to set behind Cathedral Rock.

Late in the previous afternoon the high clouds began to move across the southwest. As the day progressed, the clouds became thicker. But it was not a solid mass of clouds; there were some areas of thinner clouds and even a few areas without clouds. So the plan was to be ready to shoot photographs  if breaks in the clouds arrived in time.

I had a brief glimpse of the Moon just as the partial eclipse began and then the clouds totally obscured the Moon. We patiently waited for breaks or gaps and hoped to see the Moon during totality. Never happened.

IR satellite image at time of totality. Yep, totally overcast.
IR satellite image at time of totality. Yep, totally overcast.

The sky was brightening in the east as twilight arrived. Suddenly, I was able to see the Moon as it dropped close to the horizon where there was a gap in the clouds. For just a few minutes I could see the thin crescent of the lit portion and much of the larger portion that was still in shadow. A few minutes later it dropped below the horizon.

I was pretty happy to snatch this minor victory from what had seemed to be a defeat due to weather!

Next up: the conjunction of the planets Venus and Mercury in the evening sky on 28 May 2021. The forecast looks good.

Stellar Scintillation or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

A few nights ago I shot photographs of the Moon, Venus, and Mercury triplet in the evening sky. After Venus and the Moon set and twilight had ended, I tried something a little different.

Stellar scintillation ("twinkling") of Sirius.
Stellar scintillation (“twinkling”) of Sirius.
Stellar scintillation ("twinkling") of Sirius.
Stellar scintillation (“twinkling”) of Sirius.
Stellar scintillation ("twinkling") of Sirius.
Stellar scintillation (“twinkling”) of Sirius.

I pointed the camera at Sirius, a very bright star, in the southwestern sky. As the light from the star passed through the atmosphere there was obvious “twinkling” of the star. It was this twinkling that I wanted to capture.

To take the photograph, I set an exposure time of 4 seconds and then loosened the ball head on the tripod so the camera was free to move. As I shot the image, I moved the camera up/down, side-to-side, and in circles. The result is a looping trace of the star rather than a pinpoint image.

This image shows the effect of stellar scintillization or twinkling. Twinkling of stars is caused by the passing of light through different layers of a turbulent atmosphere. Most scintillation effects are caused by anomalous atmospheric refraction caused by small-scale fluctuations in air density usually related to temperature gradients. The effects include both variations in luminance (brightness) and in color.

It can be seen from the images that the changes are occurring over very short time periods (on the order of a second or two) resulting in rapid variations in brightness and, especially, color.

This was an amusing way to end an already enjoyable evening of sky watching.

The Moon and Two Planets in the Evening Sky

Yesterday (12 May 2021) provided an opportunity to view the thin crescent Moon very close to the planet Venus. Also visible in the evening twilight sky was Mercury higher above the pair.

For a few months each year, it is possible to be located so that the setting of the 1-day old crescent Moon aligns along the length of Upper Lake Mary. This allows for a long fetch of water in which to get reflections of the Moon and planets. Of course, this only works if it is not windy and spring is our windy season. So it was very nice to have both clear skies and very light winds for this event.

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

In the above image the crescent Moon is just slightly above and to the left of Venus. Near the top center of the image is Mercury. Venus is still rising higher in the sky each day while Mercury is dropping lower. Later this month they will pass by each other with ~0.4° of separation. That should be another interesting event to photograph.

The Moon and Venus during evening twilight.
The Moon and Venus during evening twilight.

Two days earlier there will be a total Lunar eclipse taking place in the pre-dawn hours.