Pictures from the Parks

National Parks, that is. Here are several photographs taken this winter in the National Parks and Monuments that are in northern Arizona.

Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.
Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.
Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.
Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.

These two images were taken shortly after sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument. A recent snowstorm had brought snow to lower elevations and I was hoping there would be some snow at this location. No snow but the sunrise was still pretty nice.

New snow covers Sunset Crater.
New snow covers Sunset Crater.

Later that morning in Sunset Crater National Monument, where there was new snow, a small amount of snow on the namesake crater helping to reveal its subtle textures.

Low clouds and fog near the Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon
Low clouds and fog near the Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon
Clouds lift out of Grand Canyon.
Clouds lift out of Grand Canyon.

The next two images are from Grand Canyon National Park at sunrise. A recent minor storm had left some low clouds and fog in the lowest reaches of the canyon. As the sun rose higher and the canyon walls warmed the fog was lifted up and out of the canyon producing some eye-level clouds for a brief moment.

Moonrise over North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Moonrise over North Rim of Grand Canyon.

Finally, we have a panorama of the rising nearly-full Moon in late afternoon. Wonderful!

Venus and Neptune in the Evening Sky

In late January, the easily visible planet Venus was located in the same part of the evening sky as the dimmer and distant planet Neptune. I’ve never tried to photograph Neptune but this pairing of the planets was a good reason to do so.

Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-28).
Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-28).

The first attempt was taken on the evening of 27 January (shown below) and I was limited to very short exposures as I was using a standard tripod. The second attempt  was the following night from a better location and, more importantly,  I was using my equatorial mount star tracker so that I could follow the stars (or planets) for longer exposures.

The image at the top is the second attempt. High, thin cirrus clouds were beginning to move in from the west and I was hoping that the clouds might make some of the stars more colorful. What I got was an amazing corona surrounding the very bright planet Venus while stars and the dimmer Neptune appeared relatively unchanged.

Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-27).
Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-27).

The image above is from the first night of shooting and shows diffraction spikes around Venus. Examing these two images you can easily see how far Venus has moved in one night by comparing the position of Phi Aquarii (φ-Aqr).

Andromeda Galaxy – M31

I’m still testing out the new-to-me Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-S manual focus lens. Weather has been the limiting factor but I did get a chance to shoot for a few nights.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31).
Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

Satellite imagery suggested that I might get about an hour of clear skies a few nights ago so I found myself at Sunset Crater National Monument—a Dark Sky National Park. The clouds moved in a bit faster than expected so I only got a few exposures before thin clouds moved across my target in the sky —Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The thin clouds resulted in slightly enhanced color in the vicinity of the brighter stars. Art vs. accuracy. Hmmm… In this case, I like the art version.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31).
Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

The previous night I had also attempted this shot but the lens would not maintain sharp focus. It turns out that when pointed up at an extreme angle the focus ring slips. I remembered reading about this and a quick search online brought me to this article on the Cloudy Nights website.

It turns out there is a cheap solution (free) and an elegant ($$$) solution. I tried the cheap version and it works but I’m intrigued by the other solution as well.

Above is another version of M31 taken about 10 days earlier when the object was lower in the sky and the lens did not have slippage issues. This is a single 2-minute exposure that has been histogram stretched using rnc-color-stretch.

Finally, I tried shooting the Orion Nebula (M42) recently but the shot was “photo-bombed” by the SpaceX Starlink cluster.

Spacex Starlink cluster.
Spacex Starlink cluster.

This is going to be happening more as SpaceX and other companies launch tens of thousands of these small satellites into Low Earth Orbit over the next few years.

Moon Rise Above San Francisco Peaks

Over the past couple of years I have tried to get good photographs of the Moon rising over the San Francisco Peaks. A good time of year for this is January when the nearly full Moon rises in the northeast. Then find a place along old Route 66 in Brannigan Park and get your shot. It works best if there is fresh snow on the peaks but sometimes you just have to take what you get.

Moon rise above the San Fransicso Peaks.
Moon rise above the San Fransicso Peaks.

And here are some images from 2015 which was the first time I tried shooting from this location.

Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).
Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).
Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).
Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).

Sometimes the first photograph you take of a place is the best. I’ll keep trying.

Photographing the North America Nebula

The North America Nebula has been on my To-Photograph list for a while. I had made one quick attempt previously to see whether I could actually resolve it with my Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens. That was successful so I was ready to try again when the situation permitted.

I finally found the time, the right weather, and the right conditions. I shot a sequence of seven, 120-second exposures.

There are many star-stacking software packages available and I’ve often used DeepSkyStacker (DSS). More recently I’ve been testing StarrySkyStacker (a macOS-only app). The results have been pretty good.

The stacking complete, it was time to work on the histogram. Again, there are many histogram stretching packages. I’ve been evaluating rnc-color-stretch, available from Clarkvision.com. rnc-color-stretch is a set of scripts that calls the davinci application (not to be confused with the DaVinci Resolve video editing software).

North America Nebula (NGC 7000)
North America Nebula (NGC 7000)

The result is shown above. My next attempt at shooting this Deep-Sky Object (DSO) will be with my recently acquired Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 AIS manual focus lens.