Category Archives: Observing

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

November Sky at Night

November is the cloudiest month of the year on average around these parts, but when the sky is clear, it is very nice.  Cold but nice and the Leonids are coming, Thanks to the most incredible fireball I’ve been lucky enough to see the Leonids are one of my favorite meteor showers!  Sadly the moon will be just past full so what we be able to see is questionable, I’m not very hopeful.

Anyway November is a great month to get outside.

 

Video

Fireball Sighting

fireballapod

No I did not see the fireball in the image which actually comes from NASA and the Astronomy Picture of the Day in 2009.

I picked this image because it is quite similar to the one I did see this morning (05:48 EDT). I was traveling north in a very foggy New England, and all of a sudden the fireball appeared in front of me. My sighting was about the same as this one although it did not have as much debris coming off it, not none, but not as much.

I of course reported the sighting to the International Meteor Organization (IMO) and I wanted to mention how easy they make reporting – very well done.

So my day started off great!

Supermoons to End Year

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 November and December a couple days before the full moons.

Video

In The October Sky

This edition of What’s Up for October 2016 from JPL shows a little of what we can see in the night skies of October – when the sky is clear this month gives great viewing crisp and clear viewing conditions around these parts.

Video

See Mercury

elongation

Today Mercury is at its greatest WESTERN elongation. Put in simple terms it is the point where Mercury appears to be at its furtherest point in it’s orbit as seen from Earth. The planet In western elongation appears to the West of the Sun and will be at its highest in the sky as seen by us, so that means we can see Mercury in the mornings just before sunrise, leading the Sun. If the planet is in EASTERN elongation it will be in its highest point in the evening sky just after sunset.

The same can be said for Venus and the other planets, however for the Superior planets, i.e.: not Mercury or Venus things are a little different. Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation.

Mercury is one planet we don’t get to see often or as often as the other planets so I always try to have a look. Mercury this time around is 18 degrees above the horizon today and will start receding rather quickly day by day. I cannot see that low to my east, so the other day I took a little ride where I could.

If you try and see Mercury and I do encourage it, be careful. The Sun is not far off and you don’t want to look at the Sun especially with binoculars or a telescope, you can seriously damage your sight.

Nice Trio

niceviews

Maybe you’ve noticed this just after sunset towards the south for the northern hemisphere and almost over head in the southern hemisphere.

If not have a look. Too cloudy? No problem the trio will be around for a few days.

Perseids Shower

I wanted to make sure I posted a reminder about the Perseid meteor shower set to peak on the night of 11 to 12 August.  The could be a great shower!  Well yes, the Perseids are always good, I’m talking GREAT in terms of meteor rate which could approach 200 per hour!  Once seen, a shower like this will not be soon forgotten and it would be super to get the kids out.  It would make a great project for an organized outing, like for example a Boy Scout or Science Club camp out – brought up because organizing such an event is on my bucket list of things to do.  Anyway –

perseids2009

In 2009 there was a similar display and it was nothing short of spectacular.  A good portion of my viewing that night was spent in the back seat of a hatchback car riding home from a class.  It was an amazing show and I created two other avid meteor shower observers just by telling to “look up”.  The image shown here was from that very 2009 shower (Credits: NASA/JPL)

This year the moon could put a damper on things at least a little bit.  While the moon will be something like 62 percent illuminated it will be towards the south and on the way to setting by the time it is dark enough.

EARLY morning Friday is my plan.  Showers radiating from a very favorable direction (about north)  and the moon setting or set, I will be in my new patio recliner (dragged to the back lawn).  ERT or Expected Recliner Time should be about 03:30 local – sorry I couldn’t resist I am really pretty excited to try the new observing set up out. I’d like to think I might get a nice image like the one above and the potential is there, I’m not sure. The good thing is with “most things astronomy” the fun is in the trying.

Here are a few viewing tips from the NASA Meteoriod Environmental Office’s Rhiannon Blaauw: