Harvest Moon—October 2020

The nearly-full Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert and Wupatki National Monument. Two buttes on the eastern horizon (~80 km distant) are Montezuma’s Chair and Roundtop, remnants of ancient volcanoes.

Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert.
Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert.
Sequence of the Moon rise.
Sequence of the Moon rise.

The second image is a composite showing the path of the Moon as it rose above the two buttes.

Late afternoon sun on the Tloi Eechii Cliffs.
Late afternoon sun on the Tloi Eechii Cliffs.

The third image is a view of the Tloi Eechii cliffs while we were waiting for the Moon to rise.

The photographs were taken from the Doney Mountain Picnic area and overlooking Wupatki National Monument and the Painted Desert.

Perseid Meteors—2020

The Perseids meteor shower is an always popular sky event. Perhaps one reason is that it occurs during the warm summer months and can be a pleasant family event.

Perseid meteors—2020.
Perseid meteors—2020.

We found ourselves at a parking lot in Wupatki National Monument—an International Dark Sky Park. Two other groups of two were also there but the parking area is big and maintaining distance was easy.

Photographing a meteor shower is always about trade offs. If you shoot with an ultra-wide lens the meteors are small and you will likely miss some of the dimmer ones. But the wide angle view ensures that you cover a large portion of the sky.

Another option is to shoot with a lens that is in the “normal” range or even a telephoto. The disadvantage is the field of view is greatly reduced while an important advantage is that the lens will capture the dimmer meteors.

The Lens Aperture Area versus Angular Coverage Trade
Because meteors appear in random location across the entire night sky, one might think that an all sky camera would pick up the most meteors. But this is not the case. Wide angle lenses mean short focal lengths and short focal lengths have smaller physical lens apertures, so collect less light. Thus, there is a trade between lens technology to collect a lot of light and angular coverage…

Another factor in meteor capture is where to point. If one points closer to the radiant then the angular velocity of a meteor decreases and the longer focal lengths are not impacted as much.

For several years I shot with wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lens (28mm, 24mm, and 16mm). More recently, I been shooting with 50mm and 85mm lens. Last year, with the 85mm lens I captured one (1) meteor. But the detail was great!

This year I shot with a 50mm lens. This is an old, legacy lens: Nikon 50mm Ć’/1.8 AI manual focus.

We set up the camera on a star tracker, dialed in the settings, and then let it go taking continuous shots at Ć’/2.8, 30 seconds, and ISO 1600. The camera was pointed with the radiant in the lower left corner. Also visible in the composite is Andromeda Galaxy (M31) in the upper right. Meanwhile, we pulled out the camp chairs and leaned back to stare at the sky for a few hours.

We saw a few dozen meteors in about 2-1/2 hours and the camera with its smaller FOV captured considerably fewer. As the Moon rose above the horizon we packed it all away and drove home. Reliable reports indicate that meteor activity picked up considerably in the pre-dawn hours. We were happily asleep at that time.

Perseid meteors (full crop)—2020.
Perseid meteors (full crop)—2020.

The first image is a stack of the handful of shots containing meteors and downsized for this posting. The second image (full-size image), on the other hand, is a full-size crop of two meteors showing how much detail can be found when using a fast lens with a narrow field of view.

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.