All posts by Tom

Shoot the Moon

billingallsNASA’s senior photographer Bill Ingalls shares some tips for capturing the upcoming Supermoon with a camera. If I have clear skies tonight or tomorrow morning I will try them out.

This image of Bill isn’t a “selfie” it was taken by Michael Ventura.

Here’s NASA wtih Bill’s tips:

Weather permitting, on Sunday, Nov. 13 and Monday, Nov. 14, you’ll be treated to a showstopper supermoon that will be the closest moon to Earth in almost 70 years. We won’t see a supermoon like this until 2034, so this is a great opportunity to preserve and share the event with a great photo.

Enter Bill Ingalls, NASA’s senior photographer and a fixture at NASA Headquarters, with a salt-and-pepper ponytail and a ready smile. Bill has traveled all over the world for more than 25 years photographing missions for NASA, but he can also be found right in his own backyard – the DC area – anytime there’s a supermoon, meteor shower or other eye candy in the heavens.

Bill’s #1 tip for capturing that great lunar photo: “Don’t make the mistake of photographing the moon by itself with no reference to anything,” he said. “I’ve certainly done it myself, but everyone will get that shot. Instead, think of how to make the image creative—that means tying it into some land-based object. It can be a local landmark or anything to give your photo a sense of place.”

Ingalls goes to great lengths to scout out the perfect vantage point to juxtapose the moon with various Washington monuments. “It means doing a lot of homework. I use Google Maps and other apps – even a compass — to plan where to get just the right angle at the right time.” He often scouts locations a day or more in advance, getting permission to access rooftops or traveling to remote areas to avoid light pollution.

A slight miscalculation can result in a mad scramble; he recalls seeing hundreds of photographers who set tripods hundreds of yards away for a supermoon shot from Washington’s Iwo Jima monument. “I thought my calculations were wrong, but – sure enough – the moon popped up right where I expected, and then came the stampede,” he chuckled.

You don’t have to live near an iconic landmark or talk your way onto a rooftop to get the perfect shot. Instead, work with what you have. Ingalls trekked to Shenandoah National Park in 2009 to photograph Comet Lulin and faced a challenge. “I had just basic equipment and saw all these people with great telescopes making a picture I could never get. So what could I do differently?” Ingalls aimed his long lens between the trees, using the red light of his headlamp to paint the forest with a long exposure. The result was magical, with National Geographic naming his comet image one of the top 10 space photos of the year.

Ingalls says the Nov. 14 supermoon can be a great family activity, whether you head outside after sunset or early in the morning. “I think this would be a lot of fun to do with kids, if nothing else, to just have them witness it and talk about what’s taking place.” He recommends personalizing the experience by using people in the shot. “There are lots of great photos of people appearing to be holding the moon in their hand and that kind of thing. You can get really creative with it,” he said.

While the moon will be at perigee – the closest point to Earth – at 6:22 a.m. EST on Monday the 14th, viewing will still be super after sunset on both Nov. 13 and 14, with only subtle difference in the moon’s size and brightness. So this will provide lots of opportunity to experiment with different locations, exposure times and foregrounds. And if it’s cloudy on Sunday night, you can always try again on Monday.

Is it hopeless to attempt a supermoon image with a smartphone camera? Ingalls says, “It’s all relative. For me, it would be maddening and frustrating–yet it may be a good challenge, actually. You’re not going to get a giant moon in your shot, but you can do something more panoramic, including some foreground that’s interesting. Think about being in an urban area where it’s a little bit brighter.”

To get the right light balance of the moon on newer iPhones and other smartphones, “Tap the screen and hold your finger on the object (in this case, the moon) to lock the focus. Then slide your finger up or down to darken or lighten the exposure.”

For digital SLR photography, Ingalls uses the daylight white balance setting for capturing moonlight, since sunlight is being reflected. For those with longer lenses he advises, “Keep in mind that the moon is a moving object. It’s a balancing act between trying to get the right exposure and realizing that the shutter speed typically needs to be a lot faster.”

While Ingalls will be on assignment in Baikonur, Kazakhstan during next week’s celestial event, the supermoon is still beckoning. “I certainly hope I can get something,” he said.

Second of Three Supermoons

Supermoons end the year 2016.

16 October – 14 November – 14 December are the dates and the November supermoon is notable because it is the closest the moon will be to Earth until 25 November 2034.

I will repost this in December a couple days before the full moon – too bad about the meteor shower though.

Video

Rosetta Archive

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The last of the NAVCAM images are now archived. The images in the latest  archive release are from the Rosetta’s last month of activity during the fantastic mission around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

This and other images can be found with the ESA Archive Image Browser

ESA’s description of the image above, one of the last five from Rosetta’s NAVCAM taken on 30 September 2016:

Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 29 September 2016 at 23:25 GMT, when Rosetta was 19.4 km from the centre of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale at the surface is about 1.7 m/pixel and the image measures about 1.7 km across.

Image (and description): ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The Gem

Little gem

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope had imaged NGC 6818 before, but it took another look at this planetary nebula, with a new mix of colour filters, to display it in all its beauty. By showing off its stunning turquoise and rose quartz tones in this image, NGC 6818 lives up to its popular name: Little Gem Nebula.

This cloud of gas formed some 3500 years ago when a star like the Sun reached the end of its life and ejected its outer layers into space. As the layers of stellar material spread out from the nucleus – the white stellar remnant at the centre of the image – they ended up acquiring unusual shapes.

NGC 6818 features pinkish knotty filaments and two distinct turquoise layers: a bright, oval inner region and, draped over it like sheer fabric, a spherical outer region.

The central star has a faint stellar companion 150 astronomical units away, or five times the distance between the Sun and Neptune. You can just about make this out: if you zoom in to the centre, you’ll notice the white dot in the middle is not perfectly round, but rather two dots very close together.

With a diameter of just over half a light-year, the planetary nebula itself is about 250 times larger than the binary system. But the nebula material is still close enough to its parent star for the ultraviolet radiation the star releases to ionise the dusty gas and make it glow.

Scientists believe the star also releases a high-speed flow of particles – a stellar wind – that is responsible for the oval shape of the inner region of the nebula. The fast wind sweeps away the slowly moving dusty gas, piercing its inner bubble at the oval ends, seen at the lower left and top right corners of the image.

NGC 6818 is located in the constellation of Sagittarius and is about 6000 light-years from Earth. It was first imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in 1997, and again in 1998 and 2000 using different colour filters to highlight
different gases in the nebula.

Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: J. Schmidt (geckzilla.com)

Rings in Detail

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A great look at the rings of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft. Saturn is a treasure, I don’t think I have ever looked at it through even a small telescope and not thought “WOW”.

Check out Saturn.

From NASA and Cassini:
This view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft showcases some of the amazingly detailed structure of Saturn’s rings.

The rings are made up of many smaller ringlets that blur together when seen from a distance. But when imaged up close, the rings’ structures display quite a bit of variation. Ring scientists are debating the nature of these features — whether they have always appeared this way or if their appearance has evolved over time.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 4 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Sept. 24, 2016.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 283,000 miles (456,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 32 degrees. Image scale is 17 miles (27 kilometers) per pixel.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Egg Rock

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This golf-ball-sized object, informally named “Egg Rock,” is an iron-nickel meteorite. Iron-nickel meteorites are a common class of space rocks found on Earth, and previous examples have been found on Mars, but Egg Rock is the first on Mars to be examined with a laser-firing spectrometer.

The laser pulses on Oct. 30, 2016, induced bursts of glowing gas at the target, and ChemCam’s spectrometer read the wavelengths of light from those bursts to gain information about the target’s composition. The laser pulses also burned through the dark outer surface, exposing bright interior material.

If you click the image above you will get a  colorized view from the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a grid of shiny dots where ChemCam had fired laser pulses used for determining the chemical elements in the target’s composition.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

JWST Milestone

I remember my days of working in a clean-room, nothing this huge though of course. So the James Webb Space Telescope in one step closer to launch. At the moment we are looking at a 2018 launch from French Guiana at The Spaceport – Arianespace

There is a very nice JWST website with webcams and a nice 3D tour of the telescope.

Video Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Michael McClare

Nearly Naked Black Hole

Nearly Naked Black Hole from NRAO Outreach on Vimeo.

From NRAO:
Astronomers using the super-sharp radio vision of the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) have found the shredded remains of a galaxy that passed through a larger galaxy, leaving only the smaller galaxy’s nearly-naked supermassive black hole to emerge and speed away at more than 2,000 miles per second.

2,000 miles per second is about 3218 km per second; that’s about 12 to 13 seconds to travel around the Earth.