Pictures from the Parks

National Parks, that is. Here are several photographs taken this winter in the National Parks and Monuments that are in northern Arizona.

Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.
Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.
Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.
Sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.

These two images were taken shortly after sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument. A recent snowstorm had brought snow to lower elevations and I was hoping there would be some snow at this location. No snow but the sunrise was still pretty nice.

New snow covers Sunset Crater.
New snow covers Sunset Crater.

Later that morning in Sunset Crater National Monument, where there was new snow, a small amount of snow on the namesake crater helping to reveal its subtle textures.

Low clouds and fog near the Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon
Low clouds and fog near the Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon
Clouds lift out of Grand Canyon.
Clouds lift out of Grand Canyon.

The next two images are from Grand Canyon National Park at sunrise. A recent minor storm had left some low clouds and fog in the lowest reaches of the canyon. As the sun rose higher and the canyon walls warmed the fog was lifted up and out of the canyon producing some eye-level clouds for a brief moment.

Moonrise over North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Moonrise over North Rim of Grand Canyon.

Finally, we have a panorama of the rising nearly-full Moon in late afternoon. Wonderful!

Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo

Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monunent.
Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monunent.

Wukoko Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument is an amazing place. Here is what the National Park Service has to say about the pueblo:

An architect today might win an award for designing Wukoki Pueblo. The corners, angles, and lines of masonry are meticulous. From its base, the eye is drawn skyward to a height that inspires awe of this ancient craftsmanship.

The architecture blends so well with the environment that the building seems to grow out of the rock, disguising where nature’s work ends and handcrafted walls begin. Today these walls stand as a silent tribute to prehistoric people.

I have visited this site many times capturing the Milky Way above it, lightning around it, and sunsets. But I’ve never had a chance to capture the rising [nearly] full Moon until yesterday. The terrain is such that the best time of the year is December when the full Moon is farthest north in the sky. At other times of the year, nearby hills obstruct a view of the Moon until it has risen high in the sky. Even in December, the distant Tloi Eechii Cliffs rise above the horizon. But in this case, they add to the drama of the rising Moon. This was taken the day before the full Moon so that the late afternoon sun could still light up the landscape and the pueblo.

Meteors and Comets

The past few nights have been interesting. On the evening of December 13–14 was the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. This year the expected peak was around 100–120 meteors per hour and various meteor counts appear to confirm that number.

At the same time, Comet 46P/Wirtanen has been getting a lot of attention. On December 16 it made its closest approach to Earth—only 11.5 million km away. That’s about 30 lunar distances for reference.

From SpaceWeather.com: “Although the comet is very close to Earth, it is not very bright. 46P/Wirtanen is a relatively small comet and, thus, barely visible to the unaided eye despite its proximity. It is nevertheless an easy target for digital cameras. Even a short exposure reveals the comet’s spherical form and emerald green hue.”

During the late evening of December 13, I traveled to Wupatki National Monument because of its dark skies. I shot a sequence of photos—each of 30 seconds duration—of the night sky hoping to catch a few meteors. One bright meteor blazed across the sky and I was able to catch part of it before it moved out of the frame of the camera. At the same time, the crescent Moon was setting in the west and gently illuminating Wukoki Pueblo. At the very top center of the photograph is Comet 46P/Wirtanen.

Geminid meteor, Comet 46P/Wirtanen and Wukoki Pueblo.
Geminid meteor, Comet 46P/Wirtanen and Wukoki Pueblo.

After about 1/2 hour of shooting meteors, I shot longer exposures of the comet. On this night, the comet formed a triangle with the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters. The image shown here is from ten 60-second images stacked using Deep Sky Stacker (DSS) and post-processed using  rnc-color-stretch.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen with the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen with the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.

A few nights later, the comet had moved so that it was between the Pleiades and Hyades clusters. Again, I shot a sequence of 60-second exposures totaling about one hour in duration—this time from the Mormon Lake overlook. The motion of the comet is quite apparent in this sequence of images. The first image shows the motion of the comet against the stars; the second is a time-lapse movie of the same sequence.

The motion of Comet 46P/Wirtanen is seen as a short streak in this one-hour composite image.
The motion of Comet 46P/Wirtanen is seen as a short streak in this one-hour composite image.

Time lapse movie showing the motion of Comet 46P/Wirtanen during a period of one hour.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is now moving farther from Earth and will slowly dim in brightness but it will remain visible through binoculors, telescopes, and with digital cameras for many weeks or more. There is still plenty of time to see the comet if you haven’t already.