The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Quick Comet Lovejoy Pics

Finally back from a long trip…clouds in Seattle and Florida kept me from getting good opportunities to see and photograph Comet Lovejoy (I saw it from Florida, but the light pollution kept me from getting great pics). Back in Tucson and got some tonight. Here they are…all with a Canon 60D on an iOptron Skytracker. Various exposure times and focal lengths.

IMG_7214 IMG_7225 IMG_7228 IMG_7229 IMG_7231

I also was visited by some javelinas tonight. Had my thermal camera with me.

Taken with SM-N900T, Android 4.4.2

I also


January 19, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Colorful Sunset Animation

I like photographing green flashes at sunset. Tonight’s sunset was particularly rich for a couple of reasons. The Sun set behind  a particularly nice set of mountains resulting in a long series of green flashes with occasional hints of blue and purple. I set my camera to burst mode and took 65 frames. Since my camera takes about 5 frames per second, this corresponds to a little under 11 seconds of video. I animated them all so you can watch it roughly in real time. Sorry for the slight camera shake…the battery in my remote shutter release died so I had to push the shutter release by hand!

December 30, 2014 Posted by | Atmospheric Physics, Green Flash, Sunset | Leave a comment

More On Comet Lovejoy

I went out again last night (Saturday, December 27th) and did some more with Comet Lovejoy. I was out a little later so the Moon was very low and even set while I was observing. The comet was again an easy naked eye object and very nice through 8×42 binoculars. I set up my trusty Canon 60D and iOptron Skytracker to take some more photos.

I took a bunch of 30 second exposures…hope to go back and stack them. Anyway, I just want to post this one since a plane flew right by the comet during one of them and I thought that was kind of fun.


Here is a longer 120 second exposure that brings out the tail. The small globular cluster M79 is to the upper right of the comet.

IMG_6899Finally, I put the 35mm lens on my camera and did a 30 second exposure so you can see where the comet is in the bigger picture.

IMG_6925I went out tonight just outside my townhome (not to Saguaro National Park). The Moon is brighter and I have more light pollution here. I was not able to pic out the comet naked eye from here but it was easy in binoculars. Comets are notoriously fickle but it is forecast to brighten in the couple of weeks and I hope it gets to naked eye visibility from here. It is also climbing higher in the sky which should help, especially for those farther north (it tops out around 30 degrees above the horizon in Tucson right now, take one degree off that for every degree farther north you are!)

For better and for worse, I travel a lot the next couple of weeks and am trying to figure out how much equipment I can take with me to keep track of this comet on my trip!



December 29, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Lovejoy | 2 Comments

Here Comes Another Comet Lovejoy

Terry Lovejoy has done it again…another comet he discovered is becoming a nice object. This one is Comet Lovejoy 2014 Q2. He discovered it back in August and it has been a southern sky object but as it approaches Earth, it is moving into the northern sky. I finally got it tonight after fighting weather and my own busy schedule.

I went out to one of my usual spots at the end of Speedway in Tucson. This is the Douglas Spring Trailhead at Saguaro National Park East. It is about a 10 minute drive from where I live so it is reasonable dark to the southeast. Comet Lovejoy was faintly visible to the naked eye and easy in 10×42 binoculars. I took some pics but accidentally had my camera set in JPEG mode rather than raw (STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!) I will try again tomorrow night after the late improv show…Moon should be low enough then that it won’t be a big deal and the comet should still be far enough east that it won’t get lost in Tucson’s lights. Anyway, here is my pic from tonight.

IMG_6834This comet will be around for a few weeks…see it now or wait until after the full Moon in January when the skies will be darker. You might see it naked eye!


December 27, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Lovejoy | | Leave a comment

Seeing in the Infrared: The Seek Thermal Camera

I have neglected this blog for a while, but vow to do better! And I have a really fun entry today.

Infrared cameras have been around a long time but have always been very expensive. Even a low cost Flir camera starts at about $1000. I have had the opportunity to borrow infrared cameras for work and have always enjoyed playing with them and wanted one for myself.

Earlier this year, Seek Thermal announced a new camera that attaches to your cell phone (both Android and IOS) for $200. It looked promising and I decided to take a chance and order one from Amazon.

The first thing I will say it it took a while. They were overwhelmed with orders and it was backordered for several weeks. Part of the reason I ordered from Amazon is they won’t charge you credit card until the product ships (some people complained they ordered from Seek directly and their credit cards were immediately charged even though the camera was backordered).

My camera finally arrived on Monday. I downloaded the app for my cell phone (free), plugged in the camera and it took right off giving me infrared images. As you can imagine, the first thing you do is take a selfie.

img_thermal-1107409294You can clearly see warmer and cooler parts of my face. It’s hard to take a selfie since the camera points away from you! The resolution of the camera is pretty low…only about 32,000 pixels (compare to many megapixels for modern cameras). However, that is normal for infrared cameras to have a much lower resolution and some of the entry level Flilr cameras have resolutions of under 5,000 pixels (such as the Flir E4 which starts at $995) so I would say they are doing pretty good for the price point.

When I got home, of course the cats were instantly the subject of pics. They both have cold noses.


A picture of my television and entertainment center. I believe you can tell where the LCDs are located behind the screen from the heat signature. The big heat source beneath the television is my stereo receiver and the DVR is on the shelf below that.


I went outside. The camera works in the dark of course since it detects infrared instead of visible light. You can tell the difference between the lower level of my townhouse which is exposed brick versus the second story that has siding.


Last night I went to Jersey Mike’s subs here in Tucson since I didn’t have time to go home for dinner. Couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the grill. I believe that is meat for cheesesteaks on the grill. Looks like the one on the left will be done first!

img_thermal-745333136I have been playing with it. I have managed to see footprints in the infrared and can tell if someone has been sitting in a chair recently. You can also use the camera to measure temperatures of objects. I have used this feature but not done any testing to see how accurate the readings are.

Two minor issues with the camera. I find that if you bump the camera while it is plugged in, it is easy to jostle it enough for the software to lose contact with it. It always finds the camera again quickly so that is not a major issue. The second issue is a software nag. When you plug the camera in, a pop up window appears and asks if you want to allow the phone to access the camera. There is a little box you can check that says always allow this connection. I check that box but it always shows up again and asks the same question every time I connect the camera. Hopefully this will be fixed in a future software release.

The camera will record video as well. However, the refresh rate is only 9Hz so the video will not be very smooth. Again, I have found this true even with the $1000 (or more) IR cameras so you have to pony up a pretty penny to get around this!

Overall, my first impressions are positive andI hope to play with it for a long time! I will take it with me when observing/photographing outside so I have something to entertain myself with while my camera clicks away.

The other issues I should mention is with the iPhone version. According to Seek’s facebook page, Apple has not approved it for use with the iPhone so shipments of the iPhone model are on hold currently and people waiting for that version are not happy. It looks like they are almost caught up with the backlog of orders for the Android version.

You definitely can’t beat the price…this is the first time a decent IR camera has been available at this cost and I look forward to seeing what people can do with it!

November 19, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Venus and Neptune

I love taking pretty astro photos as much as the next person. However, I also enjoy taking shots that may not be as visually appealing but that show an interesting phenomena.

One such opportunity arose as the planets Venus and Neptune had a close conjunction on April 12th. At closest approach, they were only 40 arc minutes (2/3 of a degree) apart. They would have been a little farther apart by the time they rose in Tucson that morning, but still pretty close. Unfortunately, the morning of the 12th was cloud so I had to wait for the clouds to break. This morning (the 13th) was nice and clear when my alarm went off. According to Stellarium, they would be about 1 degree, 32 arc minutes apart when I went out this morning.

Again, I fired up the trusty Canon 60D with the 75-300mm zoom lens at 300mm. I didn’t bother with the Skytracker as I figured I should be able to get the pair with a fairly short exposure. I took quite a few shots, but my favorite ended up being a 2 second exposure at ISO5000 (which showed the mountains faintly in the foreground). I put an arrow to help you find Neptune.



The star immediately above Neptune is HIP111398 and the two brighter stars to the right are sigma Aquarius (top) and 58 Aquarius (bottom) for those trying to get oriented in the sky.

Although they appear close together in the sky, they are far apart. Venus is a mere 78 million miles away and Neptune is 2.85 billion miles away! Light takes about 7 minutes to reach us from Venus but about 4 hours and 12 minutes to arrive from Neptune! Neptune’s diameter is about twice that of Venus, but is appears dim since it is so far away and receives much less sunlight than Venus.

If you have similar equipment to mine, you can go out and try to get your own photograph of a nearby planet and a distant planet in the same shot for the next few days.

April 13, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Neptune, Venus | , | 1 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

The Zodiacal Light and Some Other Things

Last night I was at a star party in very rural Arizona where it is very dark. I didn’t have a lot of time for photography, but I had to get the Zodiacal Light after sunset.

Zodiacal LightThat nice vertical pillar of white is the Zodiacal Light. The Zodiacal Light is caused by sunlight reflecting off of dust in the plane of our solar system. Since this dust is in the plane of our solar system, it shows up along the ecliptic (or Zodiac). The ecliptic is almost vertical with respect to the horizon at sunset for people in the northern hemisphere at this time of year so the light really stands out.

But there are some other interesting things in this image. The Pleaides stand out near the top and above the pole on the right you can see the faint smudge that is the Andromeda Galaxy. In the middle of the image about 2/3 of the way up is a small streak. I checked for satellites in the area and there now no bright passes (or Iridium flares) so this is probably a meteor. At the bottom you can see a curved line. That is clearly a jet (I sat it naked eye as well) probably training at the Yuma Proving Grounds.

I was just going to post this on flickr (which I did) and wasn’t planning on a blog entry until I did a little closer inspection and started realizing all the other stuff that I captured.

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Zodiacal Light | | Leave a comment

Two Morning Comets

The comets from last fall have been fading, but they are not gone. Last week, two of them had a fairly close encounter in the morning sky. On February 6th, Comets Lovejoy and Linear (X1) were just two degrees apart. Unfortunately, cloudy mornings ruled in Tucson for a while before and after that.

I finally got my break Sunday morning. Looking outside at 4:30am, it was clear so I grabbed my camera and headed to my dark site. The comets were fainter, but easily visible in my pics.

IMG_0169-2Comet Lovejoy is the upper blue blob and LINEAR is the blue fuzzy patch near the bottom center of the screen. At the very left of the frame is the open cluster NGC6633. I used my Canon 60D with 75-300mm zoom lens at 300mm, f/5.6, 120sec exposure at ISO5000 on an iOptron Skytracker. In other words, my usual setup.

These comets are still visible but moving farther apart. Universe today has a nice article on how to find them if you want to check them out.

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Lovejoy, Comets | , | Leave a comment

The Crescent Moon and Uranus

I like taking unusual pictures sometimes. They aren’t always the most spectacular shots, but they show off unusual conjunctions that may happen fairly often but are rarely photographed.

Tonight’s shot that falls into that category is the Moon and Uranus. I didn’t think I was going to get a chance at this on as it was raining in the early part of the evening. By chance I happened to be outside around 9pm and it had cleared so I grabbed the camera and went for it. The following shot was taken with my Canon60D, EF 75-300mm lens at 220mm and f/5.6, 0.5 second exposure at ISO3200. I fired up Stellarium to verify which of the fainter objects was Uranus and put a little line pointing to it (and it took forever since my computer with Lightroom and Photoshop had a hard drive crash and I am currently waiting for replacement parts I had to use alternate photo processing programs…don’t worry…a good backup exists!)


In October, we will have a totally eclipsed Moon very close to the planet Uranus. I look forward to capturing this pair at that time, clouds willing!


February 4, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Moon, Uranus | | Leave a comment