Moonrise over Lomaki Pueblo

It was the day before the full Moon and I wanted to photograph the Moon as it rose above the Painted Desert. Unfortunately, a thin band of high clouds moved across the area late in the afternoon and were just enough to obscure the Moon when it was still low on the horizon. Time for a backup plan.

Moonrise above Lomaki Pueblo.
Moonrise above Lomaki Pueblo.
Moon rise over the interior of Lomaki Pueblo.
Moon rise over the interior of Lomaki Pueblo.

We drove a short distance to the Lomaki and Box Canyon pueblos in Wupatki National Monument and set about capturing the Moon as it rose above the ruins. It would have worked better if I could have gotten farther away from the ruins since this would make the Moon appear larger relative to the structures. I was able to get one shot using a focal length of 100mm which partially achieved what I wanted. The interior image was shot using 24mm wide-angle focal length. Good for the ruins but it makes for a tiny image of the Moon.

Shadows projected on Lomaki Pueblo.
Shadows projected on Lomaki Pueblo.

Finally, just before the Sun set we took some photos of our shadows projected on the ruins. Art? Hardly. Fun? Yes.

Sunrise and Snow at Wupatki National Monument

After several days of heavy snow in the higher elevations we got a break in the weather. I was specifically interested in photographing snow in Wupatki National Monument. The park had reported a few inches of snow so I had hopes that some of it was still around.

I arrived at Wukoki Pueblo a few minutes before sunrise. There had been snow all the way down — even at the Visitors Center — but dropping that last bit of elevation to the pueblo was enough to have erased the snow cover to just a few patches. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping to see but was still interesting.

Here are a few images taken just after sunrise.

Sunlight strikes the top of Wukoki Pueblo a few minutes after sunrise.
Sunlight strikes the top of Wukoki Pueblo a few minutes after sunrise.
A few minutes later and the whole pueblo is illuminated by early morning light.
A few minutes later and the whole pueblo is illuminated by early morning light.
Patches of snow are a striking contrast to the red rock of Wukoki Pueblo.
Patches of snow are a striking contrast to the red rock of Wukoki Pueblo..

I returned home via Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and captured this image of the cinder cone covered in new snow.

Sunset Crater after several days of snow and wind.
Sunset Crater after several days of snow and wind.

And now we have another snow storm approaching the area and January will end up with above normal snowfall amounts.

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.