Harvest Moon—October 2020

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.

Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert.
Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert.
Sequence of the Moon rise.
Sequence of the Moon rise.

The second image is a composite showing the path of the Moon as it rose above the two buttes.

Late afternoon sun on the Tloi Eechii Cliffs.
Late afternoon sun on the Tloi Eechii Cliffs.

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.

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)—VII

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.

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) above Grand Canyon.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) above Grand Canyon.

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, Ć’/4, 120 seconds, ISO 400.

Thunderstorm with lightning near Grand Canyon.
Thunderstorm with lightning near Grand Canyon.

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.

Sunset with crepuscular rays over Grand Canyon.
Sunset with crepuscular rays over Grand Canyon.

Second bonus: there was a nice sunset, too.

A Thin Crescent Moon Reflected in the Lake

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.

A wide-angle view showing the crescent Moon just above the horizon with Venus shining brightly above. The stars of Orion, Pleiades, and Hyades are also visible.
A wide-angle view showing the crescent Moon just above the horizon with Venus shining brightly above. The stars of Orion, Pleiades, and Hyades are also visible.

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.

A zoomed-in view of the crescent Moon with reflection on Lake Mary.
A zoomed-in view of the crescent Moon with reflection on Lake Mary.
As the Moon settles closer to the horizon a thin veil of high clouds adds some interesting texture to the scene.
As the Moon settles closer to the horizon a thin veil of high clouds adds some interesting texture to the scene.

Objects in the Night and Twilight Sky—February 2020

The past few weeks have offered numerous opportunities for photographing objects in the twilight and night sky.

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

Four planets and an asteroid.
Four planets and an asteroid.

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.

Zoomed in crops showing Vesta, Uranus, and Neptune.
Zoomed in crops showing Vesta, Uranus, and Neptune.

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.

Wide-angle view of Orion and Milky Way.
Wide-angle view of Orion and Milky Way.
Pleiades star cluster.
Pleiades star cluster.

The following night I was out again to test my recently purchased Nikon 180mm Ć’/2.8 ED AIS manual focus lens. A few previous tests have shown that star images are pretty good at an aperture of Ć’/2.8 but much better at Ć’/4. At Ć’/2.8 there is just a hint of star spikes; at Ć’/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.

Occultation of Mars.
Occultation of Mars.

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.

Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)
Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)

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 Ć’/2.8. As noted above this lens is pretty good at Ć’/2.8 but better at Ć’/4. Because the comet is so dim I wanted the maximum light gathering ability so settled for an aperture of Ć’/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.

Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo

Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monunent.
Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monunent.

Wukoko Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument is an amazing place. Here is what the National Park Service has to say about the pueblo:

An architect today might win an award for designing Wukoki Pueblo. The corners, angles, and lines of masonry are meticulous. From its base, the eye is drawn skyward to a height that inspires awe of this ancient craftsmanship.

The architecture blends so well with the environment that the building seems to grow out of the rock, disguising where nature’s work ends and handcrafted walls begin. Today these walls stand as a silent tribute to prehistoric people.

I have visited this site many times capturing the Milky Way above it, lightning around it, and sunsets. But I’ve never had a chance to capture the rising [nearly] full Moon until yesterday. The terrain is such that the best time of the year is December when the full Moon is farthest north in the sky. At other times of the year, nearby hills obstruct a view of the Moon until it has risen high in the sky. Even in December, the distant Tloi Eechii Cliffs rise above the horizon. But in this case, they add to the drama of the rising Moon. This was taken the day before the full Moon so that the late afternoon sun could still light up the landscape and the pueblo.