Orion is one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations in the night sky. It was named after Orion, a hunter in Greek mythology. Its brightest stars are Rigel (Beta Orionis) and Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis), a blue-white and a red supergiant, respectively.
Hanging from Orion’s belt is his sword which contains the Orion Nebula, also known as M42. This is a spectacular object that can be clearly identified with the naked eye as something other than a star. It is one of the most easily photographed Deep Sky Objects and can be captured by most modern digital cameras.
The first image of Orion was taken last winter on an evening with a very thin layer of high clouds. This cloudiness was enough to cause a beautiful glow around the brighter stars in the constellation. Some nebulosity is visible in both the belt and sword of Orion. (Nikon D700, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 120 seconds, 80mm).
The second image was taken this spring (Nikon D700, ISO 1600, f/4, 10x120s, 200mm) and is zoomed/cropped on the Orion Nebula (M42).
I recently heard someone say that a reasonable goal of astrophotography is not so much to produce the best image, but to produce a better image than your previous best. In this case, I can claim some success.
And, for comparisons sake, here is a richly detailed image of the Orion Nebula captured by the Hubble Telescope and posted on the Astronomy Photo of the Day (APOD) site.
Several years ago, Lowell Observatory recognized that the 117-year old Clark Telescope was in need of restoration and began raising money for the necessary work. One of the ways in which they were able to raise the capital was to create a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. It was through this campaign that I made a contribution to the restoration.
Yesterday, May 16, 2015, Lowell Observatory held a Sneak Preview of the restored Clark Telescope for “special donors.” Honestly, I was surprised that my contribution made me a special donor but I gladly accepted the invitation.
The evening program began with a slide show of the dismantling, cleaning, and finally, the reassembly of the telescope. The primary objective lens, not unexpectedly, was quite dirty from over a century of use. This may partly explain why I was unimpressed when I looked through the Clark back in 1999 at the planet Mars. Here’s an excerpt from an email in May 1999:
Yesterday evening I went to the Lowell Observatory since they had an open
telescope viewing night. The local astronomy club was also there with their
telescopes. I got a very nice look at Mars and was able to vaguely see the
northern polar ice cap. Later, I viewed Mars again through their [Clark]
telescope but it wasn’t as nice as through the smaller amateur scope. Oh, well.
The highlight of the evening, of course, was viewing the restored telescope and dome. The telescope itself is not ready for astronomical viewing as the restoration crew continue to finalize their adjustments and alignment. Soon, soon…
Here are a few photographs of the telescope.
Education has replaced research as the primary use of the Clark Telescope with guests enjoying both daytime tours of the telescope and viewing celestial objects in the evening. I’m looking forward to getting another view through the newly restored Clark Telescope.
On 18 August 2014 there was a planetary conjunction in the morning sky when the planets Venus and Jupiter appeared next to each other with the distance separating them considerably less than the size of the full moon. Jupiter was rising a bit higher each morning while Venus was dropping closer to the horizon. For several days before and after the conjunction the two planets so close together made a spectacular image in the morning sky.
For three days I shot photos of Venus and Jupiter. I then took the images from each day and created a layered image. Next, I shifted each image up/down, left/right until the planet Jupiter lined up. The result was that the composite contains a single image of Jupiter along with three images of Venus. This makes it easy to see how the two planets were shifting relative to each other over the course of three days.
Did you see it? There was an annular eclipse of the sun across the southwest today (20 May 2012). An annular eclipse occurs when the moon’s apparent diameter is just a bit smaller than that of the sun leaving a brilliant ring of fire.
The weather was magnificent with cloudless skies, warm temperatures, and light winds. The first two are common around here in the spring; the latter — not so much.
Although the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park was not on the center line it was close enough. Radio announcements all weekend indicated that there would be telescopes and free viewing/safety glasses for the public at Grand Canyon NP as well as other parks in the area. It was sure to be crowded and by early afternoon the Park Service was closing roads to some of the most congested viewpoints.
I ended up at Navajo Viewpoint and it eventually filled with many visitors and eclipse viewers. Telescopes and cameras were all lined up near the edge (but not TOO near the edge) of the Grand Canyon. Then we waited — and were rewarded with a spectacular show.
This is a composite of images taken using a 50-mm lens between 1723 and 1929 MST at 3-minute intervals. The background image was taken a few minutes after sunset and shows some of the smoke near the horizon from the many wildfires burning in the southwest.
The middle image (600 mm focal length) captures the setting sun as it dips behind a tree-topped mesa on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The bottom image shows some of the cameras and telescopes lined up along the edge of the canyon.
A few nights ago I had an opportunity to take a tour of the telescopes operated by Lowell Observatory at the Anderson Mesa Station. I’ve driven and biked onto the mesa top many times over the years and often wished that I would have an opportunity to tour the telescope domes. Finally!
We were taken into the 72-inch Perkins Telescope for a brief visit. There were ongoing experiments and data collection so we were limited in what we could visit. Still, this was a nice, large telescope and worth seeing. This was followed by a longer visit to the smaller 42-inch John Hall Telescope where we were treated to observing the research staff collect photographic images of Comet 49P/Arend-Rigaux.
Afterwards, I set up my tripod and camera for yet another image of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. The closest approach of the two planets occurred a few days ago and they are now moving apart.
In a little over a week the new crescent moon will once again move near the two planets providing another interesting photo opportunity.