Winter Storm in Grand Canyon

A few afternoons ago, I headed up to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. My hope was to catch the nearly-full rising Moon as it appeared from behind Cape Royal on the North Rim. I was successful last year and I wanted to try it again — and get it even better.

A winter storm slowly departs Grand Canyon.
A winter storm slowly departs Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun briefly illuminates portions of Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun briefly illuminates portions of Grand Canyon.

A winter storm was winding down and there were breaks in the clouds by mid afternoon. But the breaks didn’t happen in the right place or right time to capture the moon rising above Cape Royal.

So it was time to switch to the backup plan and I ended up photographing the clouds and fog that were moving across the canyon along with all the fresh snow on the South Rim.

A Variety of Winter Weather

Flagstaff’s February weather has been very active with rain and/or snow recorded on seven days out of the first fifteen. Several days of snow on the Kachina Peaks covered the trees with a thick coating of rime ice and lots of new snow on the slopes.

Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
"Flying Dutchman." It's steeper than it looks.
“Flying Dutchman.” It’s steeper than it looks.
"Allison Clay."
“Allison Clay.”
Weeds in the snow.
Weeds in the snow.

And then we had an “atmospheric river” that produced a significant amount of winter rain with about 1.5 inches falling in the Flagstaff area. The runoff in Oak Creek and its tributaries was impressive.

Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.

And the forecast for the next week or so is a continuation of stormy weather with lots of snow for the higher elevations. I believe the long-anticipated El Niño has finally arrived.

Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) Moves Across the Winter Sky

Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto has just made its closest approach to Earth this week. With one evening of clear skies forecasted before the next storm system moves into the area, I went out earlier this week (02/11/2019) to capture images of this fast-moving, blue-green comet. The Moon was up in the western sky with 38% of the disk illuminated. This caused considerable brightening of the sky and made it challenging to capture fine details of the comet.

Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto).
Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto).

From Universe Today:

Discovered by Japanese amateur Masayuki Iwamoto as a +12th magnitude fuzzball moving through the constellation Hydra the Water Serpent on the night of December 18th, 2018, Y1 Iwamoto is a fast mover. It’s great to see that amateur astronomers can and still do discover comets, as the robotic competition posed by automated surveys such as PanSTARRS makes such an independent discovery tough these days…

At its closest on February 13th, Comet Y1 Iwamoto will appear to move seven degrees a day. This translates into a fast apparent motion of about 2/3rds the apparent diameter of a Full Moon, every hour.

The comet was easy to find with a pair of binoculars but was not visible to the unaided eye. Its position on this evening was near enough to the bright star Regulus that I had no trouble aligning the camera.

The following image and animation show the motion of the comet during a period of just over one hour.

A one-hour composite of C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) showing the rapid motion of the comet.
A one-hour composite of C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) showing the rapid motion of the comet.

Time lapse movie showing the motion of C/2018 Y1 during a period of one hour.

Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto will make its next passage through the inner solar system in 3390 AD.

A Winter Rainbow in Flagstaff

Over the weekend we had an extended period of rain in the Flagstaff area. Normally we would see snow at this time of year.—it is, after all, the middle of winter. Rainfall amounts were sufficient (1.35 inches at Flagstaff airport) to cause large increases in the flow of Oak Creek where gauges recorded a rise from ~2.4 feet (30 cfs) to 9.6 feet (6900 cfs). Other streams were running high as well.

A winter rainbow in Flagstaff.
A winter rainbow in Flagstaff.
A winter rainbow in Flagstaff.
A winter rainbow in Flagstaff.

I though it might be interesting to look at Lake Mary and Mormon Lake to see if lake levels were increasing as a result of the runoff. Indeed, they were, but not quite as much as I had hoped. Still, water rushing down Newman Canyon, a normally dry wash, into Upper Lake Mary was impressive.

Newman Canyon, a normally dry wash, is filled with runoff pouring into Upper Lake Mary.
Newman Canyon, a normally dry wash, is filled with runoff pouring into Upper Lake Mary.

Back in December 2004, we had a much bigger rain event. Lake Mary was frozen and the water rushing down the hillsides flowed across the top of the ice. The immense weight of the water caused the ice to break with thunderous booms. That is what I was hoping to experience. Didn’t happen because there was no ice this time.

Stream gauge for Oak Creek showing the rapid rise in stream flow.
Stream gauge for Oak Creek showing the rapid rise in stream flow.

My next stop was Mormon Lake. As I drove towards it the sun was able to break through the thinning clouds to my south. I took a quick look in the rear-view mirror to check for rainbows.

And, there it was. A winter rainbow in Flagstaff. Not rare, but certainly not common.

 

Lunar Eclipse Through the Clouds

I have been looking forward to the recent Lunar eclipse (20 January 2019) since, well, the last one actually. During that eclipse, I shot images every three minutes while using an equatorial mount to track along with the stars. The results were good but there was some room for improvement. And that’s why I was looking forward to this event.

Lunar eclipse of 20 January 2019.
Lunar eclipse of 20 January 2019.

The weather had different plans for me. A stream of high-level tropical moisture was sitting right over Arizona all that day and most of the night. By late afternoon, the clouds were thick enough to partially obscure the sun. How was a darkened Moon going to shine through those clouds?

I could have just given up and stayed home but I was determined to at least try. I drove to Sedona to set up. Not because Sedona is a better place for viewing than Flagstaff but because Sedona is about 15 degrees warmer. And that matters.

I set up the tripod and then roughly aligned the iOptron Skytracker to where I made my best guess of the location of the star Polaris. Just as the umbral phase of the eclipse began, I was able to barely see Polaris through the thin clouds and completed the alignment of the tracker.

One of the things I learned last year was that three minutes was too large a time gap to make a smooth time-lapse video. My plan for this eclipse was to shoot at 1-minute intervals. But with the high clouds I realized that any time-lapse video was going to be challenging. So…3-minute intervals again. The clouds varied between fairly thick and mostly obscuring the moon to occasionally very thin allowing some lunar detail to be seen.

Satellite image showing extensive clouds during the Lunar eclipse.
Satellite image showing extensive clouds during the Lunar eclipse.

Here is a satellite image from GOES-16 showing the incredible stream of clouds moving across Arizona. I’m amazed that I got any photos at all!