Earlier this year in March the planets Venus and Mercury were close to each other in the evening sky. The crescent Moon also joined the two planets one evening (18 March 2018) resulting in a photogenic scene in the western twilight sky.
Mercury faded from view shortly thereafter and shifted into the morning sky. However, Mercury recently reached superior conjunction (06 June 2018) passing from the morning back into the evening sky. So, once again, Venus and Mercury share the western twilight sky. Mercury will continue to climb higher in the sky through mid July when the two planets will be at their closest approach.
A very nice animation of the positions of Venus and Mercury, as well as Jupiter and Saturn, can be seen the Shadow and Substance web site(or go directly to the Vimeo site).
Exceptionally clear skies resulted in these images of Venus high in the western sky with Mercury much lower and a bit more difficult to see in the bright evening twilight. Mercury should become easier to see over the next few weeks.
The past two weeks have offered several opportunities for photographing the moon in the evening sky. Beginning on May 16, we had a crescent Moon with just 3.7% of the disk illuminated by the sun. During the months of May, June, and July, the thin crescent Moon lines up with the long axis of Upper Lake Mary. This results in nice reflections of the Moon on the waters of the lake—but only if there is little or no wind. The first two images were taken in the early evening with some reflections over portions of the lake. The image also shows the unlit part of the crescent Moon illuminated with Earthshine, also known as Da Vinci Glow. Yes, that Leonardo Da Vinci. Quite an amazing bit of scientific deduction on his part.
The following evening the Moon was located near the planet Venus. Capturing both of these objects and getting reflections in the water was a bit more difficult as they were higher in the sky.
Next up was the day-before-the-full-Moon in Sedona. Using The Photographers Ephemeris it’s not very difficult to determine at what time and in which location to find the Moon rising between the spires of Cathedral Rock. I’ve done this shot before but never get tired of traveling to Sedona to see it happen again. Not surprisingly, I often run into other photographers and friends with the same idea so it becomes a bit of a social gathering as well.
The first image shows the Moon having just risen into the left gap. The second image is a crop and closeup of the Moon. The third was taken several minutes later after adjusting my position a bit to capture the Moon in the middle gap. A couple can be seen in silhouette gazing at the rising Moon.
Finally, there was a transit of the International Space Station (ISS) and the resupply ship OA-9 Cygnus—both moving near the North Star. The transit is a 5-minute sequence of images while the star trails is a 30-minute sequence. The second image shows the bright ISS with the faint OA-9 Cygnus following behind. A day later, the OA-9 docked with the ISS.
Just like our previous trip, this was a spur of the moment decision. Except, this time, there were no campsites available at Capitol Reef National Park. In fact, all campsites were reserved for months in advance. This is quite different from our last visit here in 1988 (a long time ago, I know) when we just rolled in to the campground and grabbed a great site. Those days are long gone, I think.
We did some research online and found a nice Bed & Breakfast located just a few miles outside of the park; we made reservations for three nights at the Sunlit Oasis B&B in Notom, Utah. It’s very nice and we enjoyed our stay there.
We arrived at the B&B in late afternoon and sat down to dinner a few minutes later—then watched the fading light on the eastern hills. With a really nice wraparound deck, we found ourselves outside watching the darkness settle in until it got just a bit too chilly.
The next morning, we were off early for a day of hiking in the park. Our plan was to do a couple of short hikes in different sections of the park. What we did, instead, was one long hike.
We started in Grand Wash—a canyon with some narrows along the short hike. Early morning provided deep shadows in the narrow sections so I spent a fair bit of time shooting photographs. At the upper end of the wash is another trailhead and parking area. Instead of turning around, which was our plan, we continued up the Cassidy Arch Trail. Whereas the Grand Wash Trail has little in the way of elevation gain, Cassidy Arch trail wastes no time in climbing up out of the canyon onto the upper sandstone benches. Apparently, the arch is named after Butch Cassidy who may have had a hideout in these regions.
Along the way, a couple passed us carrying ropes and other technical gear. We learned that they were headed to the arch to start a series of seven rappels into the slot canyons below. Sounds exciting! I managed to get several interesting photos of the two as they descended into the canyon below. Afterwards, we could still hear them as they set up for subsequent rappels but we were unable to see them.
We returned via Grand Wash in mid-afternoon. By this time, the sun was high overhead and there was little in the way of shade or photogenic scenery. After returning to the car, we drove farther into the park and along Capitol Reef Scenic Road towards Capitol Gorge. The last time we visited this park, this road was gravel. It is now paved. Progress!
Our plans for the next day were a bit more ambitious. We found a couple of interesting slot canyons that had their starting points just a short distance from our B&B, then traveled westward and into the park. The middle and upper stretches of these canyons had many narrows and slots. One might even have water in this dry year. We chose Burro Wash which has less water. On this trip, it had none.
The first part of the hike was through dry grasslands and sandy washes but soon enough we entered the confines of the canyon. Several locations had chockstones blocking the route and we had to find ways to climb up and over. Most were pretty easy; some were trickier. The narrows got really narrow. Several times we just barely had enough width for a boot at the bottom and we had to turn our shoulders slightly sideways. On top of that, the slot was actually tilted a few degrees so you could not stand up straight. What fun!
Eventually, we reached a chockstone that was more challenging that the rest. We took a lunch break at this spot. A few minutes later, a younger hiker ambled by and found a way up and over the chockstone. He returned about 15 minutes later and said we JUST HAD TO SEE THE NEXT SECTION! With his help, we ascended the large chockstone and found ourselves in a very narrow, deep, and dark slot. After a short distance it ended in an open area with a large pouroff — and no way to continue. After a short time spent enjoying this spot, we returned to our lunch spot and packs.
Clouds had begun to build. There was no threat of rain reaching the ground — and certainly no threat of a flash flood — but being in a slot canyon with rain nearby is never my idea of a smart thing. Fortunately, the clouds cut down on the intensity of the sun and the hike back out through the grasslands and sandy washes was much more comfortable than it would have been otherwise.
We arrived back at the car and began to put our gear away. I took off my shoes to empty out the sand and was astounded at how much sand was in them. How was it even possible for this much sand and my feet to coexist in the shoes?
We left early the next morning and drove westward through the park and then on Utah 12. It’s been several decades since I’ve been on this road and it was fun to see again. There are some great views from many locations along the highway.
We stopped in the small town of Escalante for lunch and then continued home.
NASA successfully launched its Mars InSight Lander earlier today. The goal of InSight is to study the crust, mantle, and core of Mars. Unlike previous Mars expeditions, this is not a rover but will stay in one place. The lander will use instruments to delve deep beneath the surface and seek information on the processes that formed the terrestrial planets.
Because the launch was scheduled for the pre-dawn hours, it was possible to see it even in northern Arizona. At least, I hoped so. So I was out and ready for the 4:05 A.M. launch from Vandenburg Air Force Base launch site. The selection of this launch site was unusual as most missions to the planets use the Kennedy Space Center launch facilities in Florida. This was the first interplanetary launch from Vandenburg.
I scanned the western and southwestern horizon after the launch but was never able to see anything. Hmmm…not a good sign. But a quick review of the camera images showed that I had captured the launch. From this distance, however, it wasn’t very bright.
Each exposure was 15 seconds in duration and were combined into a single image. The path of the rocket can be dimly seen against the sky.
There had been some speculation that the deposition of ice crystals into the high reaches of the atmosphere might produce noctilucent clouds. Didn’t happen. The rocket exhaust had time to completely disperse before the morning sunlight hit the upper atmosphere about an hour later.
Spring snow. It seems to happen fairly often around here. We just had a May storm that dropped snow on the new crab apple blossoms. I’ve written similar blogs before in 2014 and 2015 and there have been other events in recent years.
The NWS recently posted a tweet that shows 54 years out of 118 (46%) have had snow in May. So—not rare at all. Quite pretty, in fact.
Here are a few images of the snow sitting on crab apple and forsythia blossoms plus the not-quite-blooming iris.
Most of the snow was gone by afternoon. The next morning we did a trail run up Schultz Creek Trail. It’s a shady location and there were still patches of snow. After many weeks of running on dry, dusty trails the damp trail that morning was fun.