Solar Eclipse Road Trip, Here We Come!

Solar eclipse photography

Solar eclipse October 2014

I can’t wait to get on the road to shoot the Great American Eclipse!

The path of the moon’s shadow, where the total eclipse will be visible, goes right across the United States.  If you’re not directly in that path a partial eclipse will be visible if you have proper viewing glasses that block the most harmful wavelengths of light.  But people who have experienced totality say there’s nothing quite like it, and you should get to the path if you can.

So where should you go?  Bear in mind that totality lasts 2-3 minutes, so if you have multiple routes to take, weather can be a consideration.  The site GreatAmericanEclipse has suggested ten of the better spots across the country.  They also have state by state maps showing the path of the eclipse across the country, with lines to show the approximate duration of totality depending upon where in that path you are.

Sky and Telescope Magazine suggests a similar Top 10 Places to View the Solar Eclipse.  Another map by Xavier Jubier has superimposed the path of the earth’s shadow on an interactive Google map in case you want to find a place a little less promoted.

Crowds are expected to be record-breaking along the path of the solar eclipse coming up August 21.  Many areas are trying to implement temporary traffic control plans in the narrow path of the moon’s shadow.  I hear that even porta-potty rentals are in short supply as communities try to cope with the crowds.  Fortunately I’ll be bringing my own facilities with me!

You may thank that Jackson, Wyoming sounds like an attractive place to catch the eclipse, but the sun will be south, not west towards the Tetons when the eclipse peaks.  The Jackson Hole Astronomy Club did extensive research with local meteorologists on data from the 2005 – 2015 and determined that just about anywhere else within a 3 mile driving radius had better odds of clear weather.  I’ll be staying near there, but eclipse day is expected to be the busiest day ever for the area, so traffic jams and parking issues could seriously affect viewing plans, and I have plans to exit the area if the crowds look too daunting or the weather forecast turns bad.

If that all sounds like too much risk or hassle to be worth the trip, no problem, there’s a tool that can help you determine how much of an eclipse will be visible wherever you are on that day.

Thank you +Capital Ford for getting the +Ford Motor Company-remanufactured engine into my Ford F-350 truck ASAP so we can stake our claim to a great shooting location!  As of August 4 it’s not going to be back in time to leave this weekend, but they assure me that it’ll be done by Monday or Tuesday.  Fingers crossed!
I’ll make a separate post on viewing and photography, including some of the products I’ve bought for the trip.

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Sunset Moon Rise Coming December 24

Mono Lake moon rise November 16, 2013

A few times each year, the moon rises at just the right time to be visible during sunset, while there’s enough light on the landscape to capture that in the photo as well.  That will happen this month on December 24, Christmas Eve.  I’m not suggesting that you ditch the family to go chase the moon, just step outside at sunset, look to the east, and you’ll have one more reason for the night to be a particularly memorable one.

If you might also want to photograph the moon, I’ve collected some notes on this blog post that I started in 2006:

How to Plan Great Full Mooon Rise and Set Shots
http://activesole.blogspot.com/2006/11/plan-ahead-for-great-full-moon-rise-and.html

I’m not sure if we’ll head down to Mono Lake.  I’ve been going there for decades and my kids have been going there for all of their lives, so it holds a lot of sentimental value for us. It’s pretty close by, so if the weather is nice, we may head down there.  The light could be particularly nice around: 4:35 – 4:55 pm.  Ping me on social media if you’re down there, in case we’re standing a few feet down the shore from each other!

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Meteors with Venus, Jupiter & Mars in Zodiacal Light

Meteor with planets Venus, Jupiter and Mars

Meteor with Venus, Jupiter & Mars rising in zodiacal light during the Orionids, October 22, 2015

Who saw or photographed some Orionid meteors over the last night or two?  In the photo above, a meteor crosses over the path of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, rising in zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower around 5 am this morning, October 22, 2015.

Although the streak is clearly a meteor (note the characteristic green color), technically it’s not an Orionid, since the radiant point for the Orionid meteor shower is out of the upper right corner of the frame.  So this meteor is traveling at nearly a right angle to what its trajectory would be if it were one of the Orionids.

It may however be a Leo Minorid meteor, since its radiant point is to the left of Venus Jupiter and Mars this morning.  The Leo Minorid meteor shower peaks the morning of October 23, but it is a minor shower with an estimated 2 meteors per hour, but minor showers sometimes have an unexpectedly high rate, so tomorrow morning could offer a surprise from the Leo Minorids along with after-peak Orionids.

There are also random, sporadic meteors, particularly in the early morning, as your position on the earth rotates to the leading side of the earth as it travels through space rotating around the sun.

The Zodiacal light is sunlight shining off of dust in our solar system, the light tilted up from the lower left in the photo above.  You can experience the Zodiacal light, or false dawn, this time of year when a a pyramid-shaped glow can be seen in the east an hour before dawn’s first light (or 80 to 120 minutes before sunrise). This light is caused by sunlight reflecting off of dust particles in space in the same plane as earth and can resemble the lights from a city. It is tilted to follow the same ecliptic plane that the planets travel in.  Zodiacal light is best seen under dark skies, in places with minimal light pollution.  You can catch the Zodiacal light for another 2 or 3 mornings this month, but after that the moon will be too full and it will no longer set early enough to leave you with a dark enough sky to see this pre-dawn light.

You can see the Zodiacal light as the planets rise in this time-lapse video captured this morning before and twilight light started to brighten the sky:

Venus, Jupiter and Mars in Zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower this morning

#orionids #meteorshower #Canon #astrophotography

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Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight!

An Orionid meteor next to the constellation Orion

The annual Orionid meteor shower is created when Earth passes through trails of comet debris left in space long ago by Halley’s Comet as it orbits around the sun. The meteors, or “shooting stars”, develop when pieces of rock typically no larger than a pea, and mostly the size of a grain of sand, vaporize in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The constellation Orion rises to the east in the 11-11:30 pm timeframe.  The sky above you on the earth will encounter more meteors after midnight, as your position on the earth rotates around to its leading side as it moves through space rotating the sun.  For 2015, in mid Northern latitudes the first quarter moon (50% full) will set around 12:30 am early in the morning of October 21, so the sky will be darkest for seeing or capturing meteors in photographs from 12:30 am until morning twilight starts around 5:45 am.

This is a composite shot of the best meteors that I caught during the Orionid meteor shower in 2014, over the course of several hours in Central Nevada:

2014 Orionid meteor shower in Central Nevada.

 

Orion is roughly in the center, but you’ll notice that not all of the meteors radiate out from Orion as you might expect.  There are actually additional meteor showers active at this time, including the Northern Taurids and Southern Taurids, rising about 3 hours earlier than the Orionids, so they’re higher in the sky when Orion rises.

I used a star-tracking mount to follow Orion and produce that 2014 composite image, so when I created a time-lapse from the same footage, it turned out like this:

 

For a perspective fixed on the ground with the sky moving, here’s a time-lapse video from chasing the Orionid meteor shower in 2012 in the Mono Basin in the Eastern Sierra:

Where will you pursue this year’s Orionids?

#Orionids #meteorshower #astronomy #astrophotography #nightphotography

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Total Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015

lunar eclipse

Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015.

The partly cloudy forecast and webcam images didn’t look all that promising in the Eastern Sierra yesterday afternoon, so I ditched my plans to pursue one of several compositions that I had worked out, and I stayed home to see if the moon would make any appearance at all. Here’s the story and some of my results from the event.

Total Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015: wide angle time-lapse and 640mm effective live action footage from the total lunar eclipse last night.  The partly cloudy forecast and webcam images didn’t look all that promising in the Eastern Sierra yesterday afternoon, so I ditched my plans to pursue one of several compositions that I had worked out, and I stayed home to see if the moon would make any appearance at all.

I watched for about an hour after it was supposed to rise at 6:44, but there was no sign of it, so I left my camera shooting a sequence of images for a time-lapse video, and I went back inside.  A few minutes later, the fully eclipsed moon was visible through a break in the clouds, from 7:56 – 8:06.  I came back out a while later, but the moon was behind the clouds, so I didn’t know that it had made a brief appearance until I reviewed the images later!

As the moon was more than halfway through the partial, umbral phase coming out of total eclipse, it emerged from the clouds and starting lighting up the clouds and landscape with increasingly bright light.

As the face of the moon returned to fully lit in the penumbral phase of the eclipse, there was a nice halo of color around the moon, so I set up a second camera to capture that.  I used my Canon EOS 70D with the EF 70-200mm f/4 IS L Series lens and a 2X teleconverter, for an effective focal length of 640mm.  The clouds were moving pretty quickly, so I also captures dome live video of the clouds moving across the face of the moon.  I had the camera on a sky-tracking mount, so the moon remains essentially still in the frame.

I didn’t shoot where I expected or capture what I anticipated, but by being there to catch changes in the weather, I captured some interesting results.

#lunareclipse #bloodmoon #september #2015 #astronomy #astrophotography #nightphotography

 

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See the “Super moon” Total Eclipse September 27 – 28, 2015!

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015

September 27, 2015, 6 pm –  See the “supermoon” total eclipse tonight!  For watchers in the Rocky Mountain states, partial eclipse begins at 7:11 pm local time, so look outside now!

For those of us on the West Coast of North America, the moon is below the horizon; moon rise occurs closer to sunset.  Here in the Eastern Sierra, local moon rise is around 6:44 pm and sunset is around 6:47 pm, depending upon how far north or south you are. The moon will clear the horizon to the east right around sunset, well into its partial eclipse phase, and be fully eclipsed from 7:11 – 8:23 pm. Then as the moon exits total eclipse, it will be in a partial eclipse for over an hour more.

For more specific eclipse phase timing in your region, see the article at www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2015-september-28

Good luck with your lunar eclipse viewing and photography, let me know how you did!


Photography notes from the April 5, 2015 lunar eclipse:

Lunar eclipses are a fun challenge, in part because they push the limits of your equipment.  The image above was captured at 4:51 am during the April 4 lunar eclipse this year, about 6-7 minutes before totality, so there was a sliver of bright sunlight on the moon.

The Canon EF 70-200 f/4 IS lens that I used was well focused, but shooting any lens at it’s maximum aperture tends to result in slightly less sharp images.  Adding more glass elements such as the 2X teleconverter further challenges sharpness.  Adding a teleconverter also reduces the f-stop, in this case 2X to f/8.  I wanted to stay at or below below 1 second exposure time to reduce motion blur, and at ISO 1600 I could use 0.6 second.  The high ISO also creates a little bit of noise, which can also challenge fine detail.

I had changed my shooting location when the weather forecast made the original ones I had identified look less attractive with below freezing temperatures, high winds, and possible clouds to obscure the eclipse.  I decided to just catch what i could from home.  I was shooting a time-lapse sequence, and shooting at 400mm I had room to lengthen the exposure time as the moon darkened, but  and the moon set just before totality.

I had my Canon 70D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount to capture a time-lapse of the eclipse progress without the moon moving out of the field of view.  at 300mm the effective focal length was 480mm, but shooting wide open at f/5.6 that lens was a little softer than the EF 70-200mm and 2X teleconverter combo, even with the moon’s relative motion taken out of the equation.

I was basically using the 5D Mark III to measure and track exposure as the eclipse progressed and the moon illumination constantly changed.

The 70D / 70-300mm combo is a lot lighter than the 5Dmkiii / 70-200mm / 2X combo.  Heavier camera bodies and longer, heavier lenses can sometimes cause various problems with sky tracking mounts, but it may be worthwhile to test the 5Dmkiii /70-200mm / 2X setup on the sky tracker and backing off of the maximum aperture and a stop or two on the ISO to get more sharpness and less noise, lengthening the exposure time.

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Venus Transit Across the Face of the Sun, June 5, 2012

Mercury Transit in Front of Sun Coming May 9 (photo: Venus Transit)
The planet Venus passes silhouetted across the face of the sun, as the sun sets behind trees in the Sierra Nevada.  For the next planetary transit across the sun, there will be a Mercury transit on May 9, 2016.

These photos were captured during the Venus transit event on June 5, 2012.  I ran around all afternoon placing the sun behind earth-bound objects, since the planet Venus wouldn’t pass in front of the sun again for another 105 years!  I figured that a ton of people would have nice telescopic views of Venus and the sun, but it’s not all that often that we can catch Venus as a planet along with earth-bound objects and the sun, all in one photo.

I used a Canon 5D Mark III DSLR with a Canon EF 70-300 mm f/4 IS L lens and a Canon 2X Teleconverter III to create an effective focal length of 400mm.  Special solar filter material is necessary to reduce radiation and protect your camera’s sensor.  There was still enough sunlight passing through the filter to enable an exposure of 1/2000 second at f/32 (ISO 200)!

This article on timeanddate.com can tell you when the May 9 Mercury transit will occur.  Cross reference those UTC and local times with the sunrise and sunset times in your location to know the approximate times when the transit may be visible above the horizon.  The article also provides links to information on proper eye protection.  Don’t fry your retinas looking at the sun!

“After centuries of trying, only photographic technology could measure the ‘Transit of Venus’ and tell us our position in the solar system.”+Royal Observatory Greenwich

Here are more of my astrophotography images in an album on Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffreysullivan/albums/72157631958820364

#astronomy   #astrophotography   #astronomyimages

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Landscape Photography Show Episode #20 – Moon Photography

Here’s the recorded tutorial on YouTube:  http://youtu.be/Wgb_r9JlKRM

The app PhotoPills is available here:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/photopills/id596026805?mt=8&uo=4&at=10ldnC

Crescent Moon Behind Auburn Courthouse

No more guesswork: PhotoPills tells you when the moon will be where you want it.

I can’t wait for the next full moon!

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Tutorial on Moon Photography Planning – Live Tonight!

Tonight I’ll be broadcasting a live tutorial on how to determine exactly where to stand to place the moon on top of a natural or man-made landmark.  Here’s a link to the event if you’d like to join us: http://goo.gl/DSXu8Z

In this example, I predicted where to catch the full moon during a lunar eclipse so its path would pass the tip of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.  Using eclipse predictions, lunar elevation angle and compass direction, I used the height of the tower to predict how far away I’d need to stand and in what compass direction.  I mapped that point on Google Earth, showed up a little early to start shooting hundreds of photos to created the time-lapse sequence, and it turned out that I pretty much nailed it!  The center of the moon passed right across the tip of the tower.

New tools make this sort of planning easier than ever! We’ll be demonstrating the PhotoPills app.  If you’d like to purchase the app to follow along on your smartphone as we show the features, follow this link to buy it: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/photopills/id596026805?mt=8&uo=4&at=10ldnC

Here’s a time-lapse video I created of the moon as it approached and passed the Transamerica Building:

This video was featured on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog on Discover Magazine:
Lunar eclipse time lapse : Bad Astronomy
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/12/12/lunar-eclipse-time-lapse/

Here are some more sun and moon photos for you to enjoy:

Moon Rise Between Half Dome and El CapitanEclipse Moon Set Under Belt of VenusMoon Rise Behind Half DomeVane AttemptSunrise Sunspot ViewJoin Me In Yosemite This NovemberMono Lake Sunset Moon Rise SaturdaySunset Full Moon Rise over Mono LakeLunar Eclipse, Landing on the Transamerica PyramidMono Lake Sunset DreamFull Moon over Bay BridgeMono Lake Moonrise (Re-edit)

Crescent Moon Setting Behind Auburn CourthouseSolar Rainbow in Yosemite ValleyTree and MoonSouthern California SunsetBorrego Badlands MoonriseYosemite Moonrise

Monitor Pass Sunset Sun RaysMoonrise by Half DomeDawn Full Moon Set in AuburnMorro Rock MoonsetSunset at Pfeiffer RockHappy Thanksgiving!

Moon and Sun, a set on Flickr.

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How to Spot Comet PANSTARRS in March

Find Comet PANSTARRs in the twilight sky

Based on global reports from Saturday, March 9, it seems that no one is reporting success yet seeing the comet from the Northern Hemisphere.

One of the easiest evenings to find it may be Tuesday night March 12, when it’s essentially just to the left of the setting thin crescent moon, and very close to due west.  On our arrival date for the Death Valley workshop this week March 13, the crescent moon will be easier to spot and the comet will be below the moon and slightly to the right.

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