The late February full Moon presented an opportunity to photograph the Moon rising between the dramatic Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple in Grand Canyon.
Moonrise was about a half-hour before sunset. This meant that the distant walls of the canyon would still be illuminated by late afternoon Sun. On the other hand, the eastern horizon was still pretty bright as the Moon rose from behind Wotans Throne. So bright, in fact, that it was difficult to see the Moon. As a result, I got better results about 15 minutes later as the Sun moved lower and the Moon moved higher in the sky.
The second shot was taken just a minute or two before sunset and only the uppermost portions of the canyon rim remain illuminated by the sun. In addition, Earth’s shadow can be seen just above the horizon.
Bonus shot: While waiting for the Moon to rise I took photographs of hikers ascending the South Kaibab Trail just below and above Ooh-Aah Point.
The nearly-full Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert and Wupatki National Monument. Two buttes on the eastern horizon (~80 km distant) are Montezuma’s Chair and Roundtop, remnants of ancient volcanoes.
The second image is a composite showing the path of the Moon as it rose above the two buttes.
The third image is a view of the Tloi Eechii cliffs while we were waiting for the Moon to rise.
The photographs were taken from the Doney Mountain Picnic area and overlooking Wupatki National Monument and the Painted Desert.
The waxing Moon is getting brighter in the evening sky and this makes it more difficult to see Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). In fact, I was unable to see it with the unaided eye but both binoculars and long-exposure photographs easily brought out the comet.
On the other hand, the presence of the first-quarter Moon illuminates the inner canyon while the comet is faintly visible above.
The image is a composite. The first image is on a fixed tripod to get a sharp result of the moonlit canyon. The second image is on a tracker to get sharp points for the stars and comet. The two images are then combined. Camera settings are 24mm, ƒ/4, 120 seconds, ISO 400.
As a bonus, a late evening thunderstorm developed just west of Page and moved to the northeast while producing a lot of lightning. Although no cloud-to-ground strokes were noted, the lightning easily illuminated the cloud from the inside.
Although it’s fun to photograph the Full Moon, I actually prefer photographing a thin crescent Moon, usually just a day or two after the New Moon. The thin crescent is brightly lit while the remainder is softly lit by light reflected by Earth, hence known as Earthshine. It’s also known as DaVinci Glow. As well, the Moon does not overwhelm the night sky so that stars can also be in the photograph.
During late Spring and into early Summer the crescent Moon sets in the west-northwest and this makes it a good target for shooting at Upper Lake Mary. The long and narrow lake is aligned WNW–ESE so that the Moon casts a brilliant reflection that can run the length of the lake.
I’ve shot this several times over the last few years but never tire of it. All it requires is enough of a gap in the clouds for the Moon to shine and for light winds so that the lake surface is relatively smooth.
The past few weeks have offered numerous opportunities for photographing objects in the twilight and night sky.
Above is a photograph showing the planets Venus (visible near the top of the image) and Mercury (located just below the center of the image). The glow of evening twilight on the horizon is reflected in the shallow waters of Mormon Lake.
Taken later on the same evening is a photograph showing four planets and an asteroid in a single frame. This was taken with a 24mm focal length lens to capture these solar system objects (SSO). I did this as a fun test to see if a wide-angle lens was able to capture these dim and distant SSOs. From top to bottom are the asteroid Vesta, Uranus, Venus, Neptune, and Mercury.
Zoomed-in crops (below) show the dimmer objects that are in the image above.
Before leaving that night I did a final wide-angle shot of the southeastern sky which included the constellation Orion as well as a portion of the winter Milky Way.
The following night I was out again to test my recently purchased Nikon 180mm ƒ/2.8 ED AIS manual focus lens. A few previous tests have shown that star images are pretty good at an aperture of ƒ/2.8 but much better at ƒ/4. At ƒ/2.8 there is just a hint of star spikes; at ƒ/4 they are quite prominent. This is a stacked sequence of images of the Pleiades star cluster. Image stacking was done with Starry Sky Stacker; histogram stretching was done with rnc-color-stretch.
On 18 February there was a Lunar occultation of the planet Mars. I had planned to get up early and drive to a dark location but an alarm failure meant I barely had time to get up and set up the gear on the rear deck of the house to start the sequence. Luckily, Flagstaff is a Dark Sky City and it was dark enough to get the shots. This is a sequence from just a few minutes before the Moon moved in front of Mars followed by a longer sequence after it reappeared.
Finally, Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) is in the northern sky making it an easy target—except that it is still very dim with a magnitude of about +12 at the time of this image. The still image is a stack of 49 images each 120 seconds duration at ISO 1600, 180mm, and ƒ/2.8. As noted above this lens is pretty good at ƒ/2.8 but better at ƒ/4. Because the comet is so dim I wanted the maximum light gathering ability so settled for an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Also in the image is M97 (“Owl Nebula”) and M108 (“Surfboard Galaxy”). The star Merak is part of the “Big Dipper.”
Also, there is an animation—made from the same images—showing the movement of the comet over a period of just under 2 hours.