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!

Bright Objects in the Morning Sky—December 2018

The other morning promised an interesting alignment of the planets Venus and Mercury, the waning crescent Moon (3.4% illuminated), and the bright star Spica (Alpha Vir, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo) in the morning sky. All that was required was clear skies.

Morning twilight with Mercury, Venus, Spica, and the Moon (0629 MST 05 December 2018).
Morning twilight with Mercury, Venus, Spica, and the Moon (0629 MST 05 December 2018).

Various weather models showed essentially the same forecast. There would be a band of high clouds to our northwest and another band to our southeast. Overhead it would be clear.

And the forecasts turned out correct. Below is a satellite image taken at ~1330 UTC (0630 MST) showing a nice clear gap in the clouds.

IR satellite image at 1332 UTC (0632 MST) showing the gap in the clouds across northern Arizona.
IR satellite image at 1332 UTC (0632 MST) showing the gap in the clouds across northern Arizona.
Model forecast for cloud cover. White/gray is cloud; black is clear.
Model forecast for cloud cover. White/gray is cloud; black is clear.

I drove to the overlook on Mars Hill, home of Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff. It has very good views towards the east and is a location I have used many times over the years for astrophotography.

Moonrise and Cathedral Rock—June 2018

Another month and another moon rise behind Cathedral Rock. This was an easy setup with the location in Crescent Moon Picnic Area in Sedona. The day before the full moon resulted in this image taken from the meadows near the entrance to Crescent Moon. There were about a half-dozen “moon chasers” there to photograph the moon rise—and there were many others who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to enjoy the event.

Moonrise behind Cathedral Rock.
Moonrise behind Cathedral Rock.

The previous night (i.e., two nights before the full moon) presented another chance to capture the rising moon with  Oak Creek in the foreground. This one was harder because a better position was more to the right (i.e., south) but there was nowhere to go because of trees and heavy brush. Still, I’m happy with the result.

Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek.
Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek.

Both nights I was testing a recently purchased lens (Nikon AF-P 70-300mm). So far, the results have been pretty good.

Bright Objects in the Night Sky: Venus, Mercury, and the Moon

A bit over a week ago (18 March 2018), we had a triple conjunction in the sky. Venus and Mercury had been in the evening sky for a few weeks—and now a crescent Moon was going to join them in the evening. Weather permitting, I was interested in capturing images of this event. I headed out towards the Mormon Lake Overlook which would give me a good view of the western sky as well as the possibility of reflections of these sky objects in the shallow waters of the lake.

While waiting for the sky to darken, I was treated to a few minutes of sunset colors on some interesting wave clouds. More on that below.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

The Moon and Venus are easily visible in this image taken at 7:20 P.M. MST while Mercury is a bit harder to see to the right and above Venus. A second image taken at 7:29 P.M. shows all three bodies quite clearly. And, as I had hoped, there were reflections in the water.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

This is how Venus and Mercury looked earlier in the month.

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

Now, back to the wave clouds.

Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.
Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.

Although they look like jet contrails, these were actually long and thin wave clouds. As the sun began to set, the colors were briefly quite amazing.

Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.

It was an fun evening: Interesting clouds and a triple conjunction.

It was also cold…

Venus and the Crescent Moon in Evening Twilight

A few days ago the Moon and Venus were very close together in the evening twilight sky. At sunset on Friday, the two objects were about 3° apart—about six moon diameters—with the Moon located up and to the left of Venus.

Crescent Moon and Venus in evening twilight.
Crescent Moon and Venus in evening twilight.

To view this I wanted a location with a very low western horizon. I chose to visit Navajo Point on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. From this location, the rim to my southwest was actually slightly lower than my position giving me an unobstructed view.

There was a nice sunset to start off the evening. The clouds were lit up and there was still enough light to fill in the lower canyon.

Sunset at Navajo Point, Grand Canyon.
Sunset at Navajo Point, Grand Canyon.
Twilight at Grand Canyon.
Twilight at Grand Canyon.

The moon was only one day past New Moon and was about 1.4% illuminated although there was a bit of Earthshine helping to illuminate the entire disk.

Setting moon over the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Setting moon over the South Rim of Grand Canyon.

As the Moon approached the horizon, atmospheric effects resulted in the lower limb of the Moon being distorted. The final image is a composite taken over several minutes prior to moonset. In this composite it is easy to see the distortion of the lower limb.