We are entering Milky Way season—generally considered to be March through September in the northern hemisphere. In mid-March the Milky Way does not rise until well after midnight and the Galactic Center of the Milky Way is only about 25° degrees above the horizon by astronomical twilight.
Accompanying the Milky Way was the waxing crescent Moon which was 77% illuminated on the morning of 13 March 2022. The Moon would set around 0413 MST and twilight did not start until 0516 MST.
What this means is that I could photograph the landscape with the Moon illuminating it and then an hour or so later capture the Milky Way after the Moon had set and the sky was very dark.
I arrived with bright moonlight illuminating Cathedral Rock. I positioned the camera so that I could get some star reflections in the small—very small—pool of water. I also shot images without the water—just expanses of undulating red rock with alternating patterns of light and shadow.
Having finished that part of the show I had to wait until the Moon was at least a few degrees below the horizon allowing the sky to become very dark.
The Galactic Center of the Milky was about 16° above the horizon at moonset—which was just barely above the high point of Cathedral Rock. That wasn’t really the shot I wanted so I waited until it got higher.
Just before and after astronomical twilight the Galactic Center had risen to about 25° above the horizon. I shot a few images before twilight began to wash out the stars in the eastern sky. As a bonus, I was also able to capture the planets Venus and Mars just above the horizon.
The foreground images were shot at ISO 800, ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8, and 120 seconds exposure with LENR (long exposure noise reduction) turned on. The star images were shot at ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, and 300 seconds exposure with LENR. Star images were taken with the camera mounted on an iOptron SkyTracker mount.
It’s been a challenging season for storm photography. First was a late start to the North American Monsoon. And, then, just as it was finally ramping up it shut down quickly. Current model forecasts suggest at least another week until it ramps up again.
A bit of moisture managed to produce some thunderstorms right around sunset. And there was enough lightning to make it worthwhile to be there and get some photographs.
The comet continues to climb higher in the northwestern sky after sunset and the tail now stretches across 20–25° of sky. Clouds the past few days have thwarted my efforts to get images but I got a lucky break in the clouds last night (21 July 2020). I had to do a bit of last-minute changes for a location and found myself at the Cultural Park in Sedona, Arizona. I was not alone. There were several groups of people enjoying the cometary show.
The image was taken with a Nikon 85mm lens, ƒ/2.8, and ISO 400. Four images of 120 seconds were stacked using Deep Sky Stacker. Post processing was done in Lightroom.
Notable in the image are the thin ion trail and the brighter and wider dust trail. Visible in the dust trail are striae, also known as synchronic bands. There are also some minor undulations in the ion tail.
The North American Monsoon is now in full swing across the southwest and Arizona. This brings thundershowers almost every day to northern Arizona along with a chance to photograph lightning.
I have been photographing lightning for a long time with my earliest images using an old manual focus/exposure camera with film. Those were challenging because you had to guess at the exposure (although there were many fine articles online even then on camera settings). There was no way to do a quick check of the exposure to see if it was good. On the other hand, we usually shot in the evening or nighttime hours using long exposures of several seconds or more so you were usually pretty certain whether you had the shutter open at the right moment.
With digital, everything has changed. You can instantly check your image and see whether or not you captured the lightning. There are several lightning triggers on the market that will fire the shutter for you.
Here are some recent images taken in several different locations over the past few weeks.
These were mainly in-cloud flashes so the best option was to leave the shutter open for 10-15 seconds. The longer exposure also allows some stars to appear in the image.
This is similar to an image taken last year in the same location and about the same date. As with that image, this is also a composite of two images. The first was taken of Cathedral Rock as the moon was setting in the west. An exposure of 120 seconds at ISO 400 and an aperture of f/4 was used. The second image was taken a short time later after the moon had set allowing the fainter stars in the night sky to appear. This image was 5 minutes at ISO 400 and an aperture of f/4. To prevent streaking of the stars an iOptron Sky Tracker was used. The two images were then blended together.