The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

The Crescent Moon, Mars and Mercury

Mercury is starting to climb up in the western sky for a pretty good appearance and tonight the crescent Moon joined Mars in the vicinity. I managed to get a few shots. I expected Mercury to be difficult to see low in the sky, but it was much easier to find than the higher Mars. In these shots, Mars is to the the right and just below the Moon. Mercury is below Mars and just a little to the right. There are a couple of planes drifting through this part of the sky so don’t be fooled by them!



April 20, 2015 Posted by | Astrophotography, Mars, Mercury, Moon, Pretty Pictures | Leave a comment

A Night On Kitt Peak

Last night I was fortunate enough to accompany a U of Arizona student on a trip up Kitt Peak. He was trying to observe an exoplanet transit with the 0.9 meter telescope (he got data…has to analyze it to see if he saw the planet). We also took some pretty pictures (again, pending analysis) with the telescope.

Fortunately, there were times I could sneak outside with my camera and take some pics. The Moon was waxing gibbous so it’s light would dominate until it set. Fortunately, there are still interesting things you can photograph. Mars was at opposition last night so I took a couple of pictures of Mars and Spica as they rose over the domes.


As twilight ended, I setup  for a shot I have wanted to do for a long time. I walked down to the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. This famous telescope looks like the number 7 on its side. It is polar aligned which means that the tunnel points straight toward the north star (less than half the tunnel is above ground…it’s really a cool scope!) I set up my camera at the base of the telescope where the tunnel went underground and set my intervalometer to take a whole bunch of 30 second exposures which I then stacked to produce the star trails shown below. The one star at the tip of the telescope that stays still is the North Star.

McMath-Pierce Star TrailsI then went back to the 0.9 meter scope and setup  for a star trails shot pointing toward the 4 meter telescope. Some clouds started rolling in and I stopped after a while thinking my photo wouldn’t come out. I processed it anyway and the moving clouds created an interesting image. Maybe I should have kept taking more images to make the trails longer!

Star Trails over 4 meter clouds

Did some visual observing for a while and then after the Moon set, went for some images of the Milky Way rising.

IMG_1970 IMG_1974 IMG_1964

Great night, but got very little sleep…say, that sounds like a good idea.





April 10, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Pretty Pictures | | 4 Comments

Sunset, the Moon, Mars and Saturn

The weather is clearing in Tucson so photography is happening on a more regular basis. First up, a sunset through low clouds.

Note the colors. Click for bigger versions and look for a cloudtop green flash.

Next up, the Moon and Mars were right next to each other and passing through some thing clouds for an interesting picture.

Finally, a zoomed out view where you can also glimpse Saturn to the right of the tree.

September 20, 2012 Posted by | Astrophotography, Green Flash, Mars, Pretty Pictures, Saturn, Sunset | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunset and Planets From San Diego

I am in San Diego this weekend and finally got a chance to do a little photography. Sunset was up first from the harbor of course. While taking some pre-sunset shots, I got this nice one  of the setting Sun with a bird flying across the field of view.


I kept shooting as usual. Much to my surprise, I got got a hint of a green flash at one point. I saw this visually as well as on the camera just as the left part of the Sun disappeared behind a tree lined hill.

I waited for it to get dark and walked out on a pier to get a pic of a couple of planets and Spica. A few people were sitting on the end of the pier making for a nice foreground. Spica is the lowest of the three bright ones, Mars is above it and Saturn is the top.

Finally, a nice wide shot of the whole harbor with the same three objects. You can see bright lights from the Navy base across the bay.

Nice night in San Diego.


August 13, 2012 Posted by | Astrophotography, Pretty Pictures, Solar System, Sunset | , , | Leave a comment

Sunset and The Night Sky

Just a couple of quick sunset pics from tonight.

Now a couple of night shots from Saguaro National Park East.

Nothing special, just enjoying taking some shots. Here’s your project: how many planets can you find?

April 17, 2012 Posted by | Astrophotography, Green Flash, Pretty Pictures, Solar Eclipse, Sunset | , , | Leave a comment

Daytime Venus

Today is a great time to see Venus during the day. The Moon is passing just a hair less than three degrees north of the Moon (around 22UT which is about 3pm MST or about now). Find the slender crescent Moon and Venus is about three finger widths (held at arms length) beneath it. Very easy to see today.

And pretty easy to photograph. Took this shot a few minutes before 3pm in Tucson.

February 25, 2012 Posted by | Astrophotography, Moon, Observing, Pretty Pictures, Solar System | | Leave a comment

Planet Party in the West After Sunset

There is a lovely gathering of planets in the west after sunset. Most people are focusing on the obvious targets of Jupiter, Venus and the Moon this weekend. However, keen eyed observers will notice Mercury has joined the party as well. I got a couple of shots tonight. From top to bottom, we have Jupiter, Venus, the Moon and Mercury. To the right of Mercury is a bright plane. There is a major air corridor out there so planes are not uncommon in that part of the sky.

In the second shot, I got a bright plane right above Mercury. This was intentional to give people a guide to help find Mercury in this pic.

Although it looks like they are close together, in reality, they are far apart. The Moon is a mere 240,000 miles away. In reality, Mercury is about 108 million miles away right now, Venus is about 87 million miles away and Jupiter is a whopping 502 million miles away. Space is big!

You can see great views the next two nights. Saturday night the Moon will pass by Venus and on Sunday night it will be close to Jupiter. Mercury will get higher in the sky each night and easier to see until about March 4th when it will turn around and head back toward the Sun. Venus is getting higher in the sky and Jupiter is getting lower in the sky each night. They will pass very close to each other on March 10th. It’s a great time to keep watching the western sky after sunset!

February 25, 2012 Posted by | Astrophotography, Moon, Observing, Pretty Pictures, Solar System | | 2 Comments

Some Year End/New Year Photos

Just a few photos for you. First, from New Year’s Eve, the glow of sunset, Venus near the horizon, the Moon and Jupiter (above and left of the Moon) taken with my fisheye lens.

Next a green flash from the setting Sun with the telescopes of Kitt Peak visible on the mountain just to the left.

A post Sunset shot of Kitt Peak.

Finally, Venus setting over saguaros near the bottom of the Catalina Highway.

Here’s to a great 2012!

January 2, 2012 Posted by | Atmospheric Physics, Green Flash, Pretty Pictures | Leave a comment

Venus and the Moon

Just had to post a few pics of Venus and the Moon tonight. These were taken around Tucson from a couple of different locations over the course of an hour or so as I was running errands, grocery shopping, etc. Enjoy.

December 27, 2011 Posted by | Astrophotography, Moon, Pretty Pictures | 2 Comments

Morning Planets and the Crescent Moon

Last fall we had a nice gathering of four planets in the early evening sky.  Now we have four planets gathering in the morning sky (but not the same four).  The crescent Moon joined them this morning.  I am on vacation in Florida and went out to the south side of the Sunshine Skyway to snap a some pictures.  Here is the best of the bunch.  It’s a big file…I uploaded it at full res (you will see why).

Venus is the brightest one beneath the moon.  Jupiter is just above the horizon and fairly bright.  To find Mercury, you will probably need to click the photo and view it full size. You can find Mercury between Venus and Jupiter.  It’s not hard to find with the full size photo.  Mars is really tricky.  Use the full size photo and look just above Jupiter for a little smudge.  That is Mars just barely poking through the morning twilight (I did not see it naked eye, just with the camera).

These planets will be hanging out together for most of May.  Mercury and Jupiter will get a little farther away from the Sun each morning until May 7th when Mercury will turn around and start heading back toward the Sun while Jupiter continues to get higher in the sky each morning.  Mars will also continue its slow climb away from the Sun.  Venus is moving toward the Sun.  With these movements, its clear that there will be several close encounters between planets in our morning sky in the coming weeks.

Uranus is to the upper right of Venus technically making this a five planet gathering, but that would take at least a good pair of binoculars to tease out.

Part of the problem is that the ecliptic (the plane along which the planets lie) makes a very shallow angle with the horizon this time of year in the morning sky. Therefore the planets are low in the sky even when they are relatively far away from the Sun.  This low elevation makes them more difficult to observe.  If you travel down to the southern hemisphere, the ecliptic makes a much steeper angle with respect to the horizon so all the planets appear higher in the sky and are easier to see. Steven Graham of Christchurch, New Zealand, took a pic of the four planets yesterday morning and posted it in the gallery. Trace a line connecting the planets and notice the difference in angles between Florida and New Zealand, the obvious result of living on a (roughly) spherical planet.

As Leondard Nimoy famous said in the Simpsons, “Ah, the cosmic ballet continues”.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | Astrophotography, Pretty Pictures, Solar System | 1 Comment