Moon, Mercury, and Pleiades in the Evening Sky

A few days ago the Moon, Mercury, and the Pleiades were all located close to each other in the evening sky. Although it had been completely cloud free all day, some high clouds moved in right after sunset. I think they add a bit of interest to the otherwise clear sky.

Moon, Mercury, and Pleiades at 2002 MST 02 May 2022.
Moon, Mercury, and Pleiades at 2002 MST 02 May 2022.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the evening sky plus the field of view from a 70mm lens.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the evening sky plus the field of view from a 70mm lens.

The image is a composite of a 2-second image of the sky and an 8-second image of the water. It was a breezy evening and the water was roughed up a bit by the wind but the longer exposure helped to smooth out the surface and provide a bit of a reflection of the Moon.

The second image is a screen shot from the Stellarium application showing the positions of these three objects in the evening sky. In addition, Stellarium can project a box showing the field of view of lenses with various focal lengths. In this case, this is the FOV for a 70mm lens. I often use this feature to determine which lens or focal length will give the best framing.

Lunar Eclipse of 18–19 November 2021

The Lunar eclipse of 18–19 November was considered a “partial eclipse” but with 97% coverage it was pretty close to a total eclipse. But not quite. That last 3% of the illuminated limb of the Moon was enough to make photography a challenge because its brightness significantly overwhelmed the dim red of the remainder of the lunar disk as well as the nearby stars.

Lunar eclipse with the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.
Lunar eclipse with the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.
Lunar eclipse.
Lunar eclipse.

What made this eclipse noteworthy is the proximity of the Moon to both the Pleiades (M45) and Hyades star clusters.

I used an Nikon 80–200mm telephoto zoom lens for this astrophotography session. Set to 200mm it was possible to capture (barely) both the Moon and Pleiades. Set to 80mm it was easy to capture all three objects. This legacy lens from Nikon is still a very useful astrophotography lens for me—not least because it has a hard stop at infinity making nighttime focusing simple.

Complicating the setup—and there’s always a complication—was the presence of high, thin clouds streaming across the sky. These clouds muted the brilliance of the stars but also created an illuminated area surrounding the Moon. To capture both the bright uneclipsed sliver of the Moon as well as the nebulosity in the Pleiades required shooting a variety of exposures that could be blended later. Even this was not as easy as I had hoped and I tried different methods (e.g., layers with masks; high dynamic range blending; dodging and burning, etc.) until I was finally satisfied with a good but less than stellar (get it? stellar?) image.

Here are two images. The zoomed in and highly cropped image was shot at ISO 800, ƒ/8, and 4 seconds at a focal length of 200mm. The wider field of view was shot at 80mm, ISO 800, ƒ/8, and at shutter speeds of ½, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, and 30 seconds. HDR blending was done using Lightroom 6 and then further tweaked using various tools to brighten the stars while keeping the Moon dark.

A New Comet in the Sky

A recently discovered comet is now shining brightly in the morning sky. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was first spotted March 27, 2020, by NASA’s NEOWISE space-borne telescope. The comet passed inside Mercury’s orbit on 03 July 2020 and quickly brightened as it as heated by the intensity of the Sun.

Comet NEOWISE rises above Grand Canyon. Also visible are Venus, Hyades, and Pleiades.
Comet NEOWISE rises above Grand Canyon. Also visible are Venus, Hyades, and Pleiades.

The comet has been rising around the start of Astronomical Twilight when the eastern horizon is just beginning to brighten. Within about 45 minutes to an hour—or shortly after the start of Nautical Twilight—the morning sky has become bright enough to make observation difficult.

The image above was taken as the comet rose above Grand Canyon. Also visible in the image are the planet Venus, the bright star Aldebaran, and the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters.

Comet NEOWISE rises above the eastern horizon on 06 July 2020.
Comet NEOWISE rises above the eastern horizon on 06 July 2020.
Comet NEOWISE on 06 July 2020.
Comet NEOWISE on 06 July 2020.
Comet NEOWISE on 07 July 2020.
Comet NEOWISE on 07 July 2020.

By the third week middle of July the comet will shift from the morning sky into the evening twilight sky. Again, there will be a short window of time in which it is easily observed but viewing the evening is far easier than the morning.

 

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.

Venus and Pleiades Conjunction—April 2020

During the first few days of April 2020 the planet Venus moved towards and then through the Pleiades star cluster. Venus and Pleiades have a conjunction every year but every eight years the conjunction is at its closest. This year, Venus moved right through the star cluster.

Conjunction of Venus and Pleiades
Conjunction of Venus and Pleiades

I shot images of Venus and Pleiades on three nights: 01 April, 03 April, and 05 April. Venus and Pleiades were closest on the night of 03 April. I then did a composite image of the three nights showing the progression of Venus past the star cluster. These were all shot at 8 seconds, f/4, 180mm, and ISO 800.

Additionally, I overlaid another image taken 13 February 2020. This is a stacked composite with 11 images shot at 120 seconds, f/4, 180mm, and ISO 1600. The images were stacked using Starry Sky Stacker. The stack was then post-processed using rnc_color_stretch. This composite image was used because it shows the nebulosity and color within the Pleiades better than the shorter exposures captured that show the motion of Venus.

Composite image of Venus and Pleiades.
Composite image of Venus and Pleiades.

The image above shows the composite from the three nights without the additional layer showing the nebulosity.