Posts Tagged ‘pretty’

Venus, Jupiter and the Moon, Cosmic Ballet in February and March 2012.

February 21, 2012

For those who have been paying attention to the sky over the past few months, you will have seen Venus crawl out of the evening twilight, and Jupiter sink towards it.  These two VERY naked eye planets (both outshine even the brightest stars) are now only about 15 degrees apart (about the spread of your fingers held out at arms length), with that value set to shrink to about 3 degrees over the next 3 weeks.  Get the popcorn is ‘cos its gonna be a fantastic show!

The ballet is highlighted in the sequence below.

Venus Jupiter conjunction of 2012 (click to enlarge)

A) t= 0.  Jupiter and Venus hang in the evening sky.  Venus, by far the brighter of the two lies below Jupiter, and the pair are separated by about 15 degrees.  For reference, the Moon and Sun are about half a degree in diameter, and your outstretched fingers at arms length are about 15 degrees in angular size.

B) t= 5days.  The moons orbit takes it out of the solar glare and by the 26th it resides between Venus and Jupiter.  This will be a spectacular sight for those who get to see it, with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th brightest objects so close together in the sky.  The angular distance between the two planets has now closed to about 10 degrees.  Most of this apparent motion of Jupiter is due to the Earth moving around the Sun, while with Venus, about half of the apparent motion comes from this planet orbiting the Sun.

C) t~21 days. The Venus, Jupiter conjunction of 2012.  The two most spectacularly bright planets appear at their closest  (~3 degrees).

D) t~33days.  The Moon has now made a complete orbit since it last visited these planets.  When it last did, Jupiter was the higher, and Venus the lower.  The second time the moon visits these planets the order is reversed!  Venus the beguiling bright is now the higher of the two objects!  The objects are again separated by about 10 degrees.

For those who want to see what this looks like in animation form, take a look!  Download the  free solar system visualization software Celestia (http://www.shatters.net/celestia/)

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A Night looking at Uranus!

August 24, 2011

Uranus is frequently overlooked and for many reasons.  Firstly, lets just say its name hasn’t phonetically aged well.  Secondly it’s small and faint, barely visible to the naked eye, and even the most powerful telescopes show little more than a tiny featureless grey-green disk.

Most powerful telescopes will show the five main moons of Uranus, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon.  The innermost of these Miranda, has, if memory serves the highest cliffs in the solar system (due to being previously (presumably) smashed by an impact) and has an orbital period of about 1.5 days.  That means you should be able to easily see its movement over the period of a night.

Now I had tried this previously, and had been surprised that the planets movement was comparable to the movement of its moons, but that night had been scuppered by a flat battery.

Movement of Uranus vs background stars

The stars in the background are fixed. The two picture of Uranus are taken a few hours apart, and while the moons (relatively close to the planet) don't move much, the planet conspicuously moves against the background stars!) (click to enlarge)

So it was that I set out with my scope on the evening of 22nd Aug 2011 to see what could be captured.  I decided to head up to an observatory site that had previously seemed good up near the top of the somewhat active volcano, Lassen Peak.  The site is high, almost 2 miles up, but the seeing was less than perfect (a very constant ~ 5mile an hour wind, which was probably a blessing in that it bought warmer air from somewhere, but was also a curse due to the wind chill- I was surrounded by snow fields!).

Nonetheless, at prime focus of the 11in CPC1100 with ~1000 iso and 4 second exposure on a canon 60D seemed to bring out easily at least 4 of the moons of Uranus.

After that, I just had to maintain the kit for 8 or so hour.  A pain in the ass, as there were several pieces of kit that all need to work or the night would be ‘lost’.  So you basically have to periodically check all the batteries on the various time lapse and tracking kit are working functionally.  The bottom line is you can actually get quite a lot of sleep, but its horribly disjointed. The practical upshot of which was the next day I was wiped out to the point where I had actually planned to head up into Oregon to do something, but for the first time ever on a road trip I did something I’d never countenanced before.  I stayed a night in a motel!!  First time in 5 years!  A motel 6 I should add!  All I wanted was somewhere where I could get a shower, a bed for the night, and damn, just sit back for a moment, put my feet up, and have a glass of wine……ahhhhhh.

I was REALLY happy when I processed this, not really for what I had hoped to achieve, which was to get the motion of the moons, as while it was visible, it wasn’t that great.  But what was great was the motion of the whole Uranus system against the background stars.  I knew this MIGHT be visible, but I really didn’t expect it to looks as cool as it did!  Now it should be said that most of the motion you see here is probably not due to the motion of Uranus, but due to the motion of the Earth.  Nonetheless, its still really cool!

The finished results!

Monday 25th July (WHOLE SKY time lapse!)

July 26, 2011

Monday 25th July, up after dawn and rolled into LA.  Traffic is a nightmare!  Picked up the fixed camcorder by 9ish and headed over to a mcdonalds for wifi.    Caught up with blog n emails.  Notably I’ve now got a buddy in Hawaii who’s ready to give the global timelapse thing a go.  He sounds like he really knows what he’s doing and certainly has much better kit than me.  However I still needed a location to head to.  I checked out the clear sky forecasts and they were excellent in the Sierra Nevada valley.  Packup up and headed out, charging batteries on the way.  This is always the absolute nightmare of astro-on-the-road is when you are spending so much time out of doors in the hard sunlight, your body really syncs up with the sun in a powerful way.  Almost to the point where, sun goes down and you go to sleep, and yeah it’s REALLY hard to fight against that to stay up all night doing stuff.  On the way out of LA I stopped by and saw Lisa, who had lent me a couch during TAM.  Then the drive out to the North.   Again the traffic was a nightmare.  Got to Ridgecrest in late afternoon passing enroute something that looked like an observatory, but I now believe to be military radar of some sort.  It looks a good site.  Lots of roads leading off into the desert near the top of a mountain, purportedly for dirt bikers, but whatever, looked like my polite surburban 2wd low clearance could handle it.  Picked up the largest coffee I could find, and headed out into the desert.  In the end I hardly had to go that far off the road and was there for a fantastically dark sunset.  However there was wind, 10-20 mph wind.  Firstly thats the kiss of death if you are trying to point a telescope at a point source, and secondly there was a small amount of dust with it.  Now that was great for the lasers, meant you could see them easily, however its a killer for shutter mechanisms, drives gears etc.  I decided I would stand off on setting up the scope till the wind died down.  The wind didn’t die down, not even a little.  However the sky was superb with the milky way forming a glowing arch from horizon to horizon.  Started messing around with the cameras.  Even if I can’t do any astro, I’ve got some stuff to field test.  Most notably the 4mm ‘180 degree lens’.  Gave good piccies of the Milkyway and after a while I decided to laser my name into a mountain, just for yuks.  After that, I spent a wonderfully pleasant night, with the cool desert wind blowing steadily through my car, all the time with my head poked out of the window, watching the stars slowly spin above my head.  Jupiter rose fast and high, and the late cresent moon somewhat after it.  The next morning I was quite happy with the results!