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, ƒ/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, ƒ/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.

Objects in the Night and Twilight Sky—February 2020

The past few weeks have offered numerous opportunities for photographing objects in the twilight and night sky.

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

Above is a photograph showing the planets Venus (visible near the top of the image) and Mercury (located just below the center of the image). The glow of evening twilight on the horizon is reflected in the shallow waters of Mormon Lake.

Four planets and an asteroid.
Four planets and an asteroid.

Taken later on the same evening is a photograph showing four planets and an asteroid in a single frame. This was taken with a 24mm focal length lens to capture these solar system objects (SSO). I did this as a fun test to see if a wide-angle lens was able to capture these dim and distant SSOs. From top to bottom are the asteroid Vesta, Uranus, Venus, Neptune, and Mercury.

Zoomed-in crops (below) show the dimmer objects that are in the image above.

Zoomed in crops showing Vesta, Uranus, and Neptune.
Zoomed in crops showing Vesta, Uranus, and Neptune.

Before leaving that night I did a final wide-angle shot of the southeastern sky which included the constellation Orion as well as a portion of the winter Milky Way.

Wide-angle view of Orion and Milky Way.
Wide-angle view of Orion and Milky Way.
Pleiades star cluster.
Pleiades star cluster.

The following night I was out again to test my recently purchased Nikon 180mm ƒ/2.8 ED AIS manual focus lens. A few previous tests have shown that star images are pretty good at an aperture of ƒ/2.8 but much better at ƒ/4. At ƒ/2.8 there is just a hint of star spikes; at ƒ/4 they are quite prominent. This is a stacked sequence of images of the Pleiades star cluster. Image stacking was done with Starry Sky Stacker; histogram stretching was done with rnc-color-stretch.

Occultation of Mars.
Occultation of Mars.

On 18 February there was a Lunar occultation of the planet Mars. I had planned to get up early and drive to a dark location but an alarm failure meant I barely had time to get up and set up the gear on the rear deck of the house to start the sequence. Luckily, Flagstaff is a Dark Sky City and it was dark enough to get the shots. This is a sequence from just a few minutes before the Moon moved in front of Mars followed by a longer sequence after it reappeared.

Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)
Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)

Finally, Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) is in the northern sky making it an easy target—except that it is still very dim with a magnitude of about +12 at the time of this image. The still image is a stack of 49 images each 120 seconds duration at ISO 1600, 180mm, and ƒ/2.8. As noted above this lens is pretty good at ƒ/2.8 but better at ƒ/4. Because the comet is so dim I wanted the maximum light gathering ability so settled for an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Also in the image is M97 (“Owl Nebula”) and M108 (“Surfboard Galaxy”). The star Merak is part of the “Big Dipper.”

Also, there is an animation—made from the same images—showing the movement of the comet over a period of just under 2 hours.

Venus and Neptune in the Evening Sky

In late January, the easily visible planet Venus was located in the same part of the evening sky as the dimmer and distant planet Neptune. I’ve never tried to photograph Neptune but this pairing of the planets was a good reason to do so.

Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-28).
Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-28).

The first attempt was taken on the evening of 27 January (shown below) and I was limited to very short exposures as I was using a standard tripod. The second attempt  was the following night from a better location and, more importantly,  I was using my equatorial mount star tracker so that I could follow the stars (or planets) for longer exposures.

The image at the top is the second attempt. High, thin cirrus clouds were beginning to move in from the west and I was hoping that the clouds might make some of the stars more colorful. What I got was an amazing corona surrounding the very bright planet Venus while stars and the dimmer Neptune appeared relatively unchanged.

Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-27).
Venus and Neptune in the evening sky (2020-01-27).

The image above is from the first night of shooting and shows diffraction spikes around Venus. Examing these two images you can easily see how far Venus has moved in one night by comparing the position of Phi Aquarii (φ-Aqr).

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

The planet Venus has been quickly rising higher in the sky each evening so that it approached Jupiter in a planetary conjunction.

Venus and Jupiter in November 2019.
Venus and Jupiter in November 2019.

Here are the planets Jupiter and Venus on the evenings of 22 November, 23 November, and 24 November—the evening of closest approach. In this 3-image composite Jupiter is held fixed and the daily motion of Venus is shown relative to the planet Jupiter.

The next image shows the two planets and their reflections in the waters of Lower Lake Mary.

Venus and Jupiter and their reflections in November 2019.
Venus and Jupiter and their reflections in November 2019.

Here is another example of Venus and Jupiter except this was in the morning twilight and the crescent Moon was also present. And then there was this triple planetary conjunction of Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter in 2013.