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View from the high ground

2020 June 4
by Russ

December 27, 2020

This recent imagery from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows sunset spreading across the United States from east to west leaving a trail of sparkling lights in its wake. We can also see a major winter storm barreling across the upper midwest into the northeastern U.S. and a new storm system entering the northwest U.S. from the Pacific Ocean.  Meanwhile, a large band of moisture-laden air streams into the U.S. from the Pacific and across the southern Rocky Mountains. Quite a busy but beautiful scene from the GOES-East satellite parked in its geostationary observing post 22,000 miles (36,000 km) overhead. GOES-East images are updated every five minutes. You can find the most current GOES-East imagery here.   Track GOES-East (aka GOES-16) here.

Getting ready for Jupiter’s 2020 apparition

2020 June 1
by Russ

This is Jupiter from an imaging session on May 5, 2017. I hope to capture more images like this over the coming months.  The video clip on the left is a short snippet of the raw video sequence that produced the color image on the right. Equipment used during this session was a 203 mm f/10 Celestron C8 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, 2X Barlow lens, and ZWO ASI120MC camera.

Amateur astronomers   began imaging Jupiter  in February shortly after the planet emerged from the solar glare into the predawn sky. For me, however, the  2020-2021 season starts next week.

In early June, Jupiter will climb high enough above nearby houses and trees to be visible from my backyard as it transits the celestial meridian in the wee hours of the morning.

Jupiter will rise earlier each day over the coming months. This will gradually move imaging opportunities into earlier evening hours.

Jupiter reaches opposition with Earth on July 14th and reaches its closest approach to Earth for this cycle on July 15th.

The table below shows the details for June.

Date Rise CDT Transit CDT Set  CDT Angular Size Distance
June 1 23:42 04:44 09:42 44.80″ 4.401 AU
June 15 22:43 03:44 08:42 46.24″ 4.263 AU
June 30 21:38 02:39 07:35 47.28″ 4.170 AU
Angular size is in arcseconds. Distance is in astronomical units (AU)
Source: CalSky


Although I am just getting ready to start observing, the 2020 Jupiter apparition is already in full swing for observers elsewhere around the world.  Many have been posting spectacular images on the web since February.

One of the best sites for seeing daily Jupiter images submitted by amateur astronomers is the Jupiter Section of Japanese Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, or ALPO-Japan.  Be sure to check for images posted there by Christopher Go and Damian Peach.  They are two of the top planetary imagers in the world.

Bright Sky Observing

2017 March 13
by Russ

A portion of the Moon from downtown Oklahoma City on March 3, 2017.

Observing from a brightly lit downtown location can be a challenge.  But, there are interesting sights to be seen.

The Oklahoma City Astronomy Club conducts a Sidewalk Astronomy event in Oklahoma City’s Paseo District on the first Friday of every month in conjunction with the Paseo’s monthly Gallery Walk event.  Our observing location is well situated to attract the attention of many restaurant and gallery goers who assemble in the area.

Unfortunately, while we have a prime location for attracting visitors, our view of the sky is limited because we are set up directly under bright street lights.  Because the sky is awash in light, faint fuzzy objects like nebulae and galaxies don’t present well.  Despite the bright lights, however, there are objects that can be seen through the glare and still wow a crowd of curious passers by.  One of these objects is the Moon.

On March 3rd we were set up at our usual sidewalk location.  The Moon was well placed high in the sky to the southwest.  It was about a day-and-a-half shy of  First Quarter, or about five-and-a-half days old.  We had a relatively small crowd of visitors this night with only about seventy people stopping by.  I kept my telescope trained on the Moon most of the evening, and while looking through the eyepiece, one excited visitor exclaimed it looks like “holes punched in clay!”

Eventually, I hooked up the camera (a ZWO ASI 120MC ) and displayed the moon’s image on a laptop computer.  The Moon’s shimmering appearance sparked some good discussion with visitors about looking out into space from the bottom of an ocean of air.

During a short break between visitors, assisted by my grandson, I was able to snag a short video sequence.  A tiny piece of the video clip is shown above on the left.  The wavy movement of the image is a good approximation of the live view we had on the computer screen.  It is a testament to the fact that we are looking out into space through miles of air with moving pockets and layers of slightly differing temperature and density.  These pockets and layers act like tiny lenses that constantly shift the focus of the image.

To the right of the video clip, is an image derived from the video.  It consists of the best 80 frames of 400 stacked and processed into a single image.  The crater with the conspicuous central mountain peak is Theophilus.  It is about 60 miles in diameter and 2 miles deep.  It’s central peak is a little short of two miles tall.  The dark smooth circular area to the right of Theophilus is Mare Nectaris, or the Sea of Nectar.  There is no water or nectar there.  At one time, however, the broad circular area was a sea of molten lava.  Over the aeons that sea of lava hardened into the dark volcanic rock we know as basalt.

In addition to Theophilus and Mare Nectaris, there are a number of other interesting features in this image.  In total, the image contains seven of the one-hundred must-observe features of the Astronomical League’s Lunar Observing Award program.  The image below is a cropped and slightly enlarged portion of the stacked image shown above.  A particularly noteworthy feature is Rupes Altai or the Altai Scarp. The Altai Scarp is a 275 mile-long escarpment with cliff faces that stand over a mile high along most of its length.

Seven of the 100 lunar features on the Astronomical League’s Lunar Observer Award program list are visible in this single image.  All were seen from a brightly lit location in downtown Oklahoma City on March 3, 2017.

All these features were visible  from a downtown location under bright streetlights.  So, when the  nighttime viewing is washed out by bright lights, and the Moon is up, take a look.  There’s a lot to see.





A Look at Jupiter from 2014

2015 January 12
by Russ
Jupiter through C8 Telescope2 Jupiter_1_26_2014 3_13_51
Raw Video Final Image

I was having another look at some video sequences I took of Jupiter a year ago and thought it might be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison of the raw video and a finished image.

The raw video image on the left is pretty close to what was displayed on my netbook as the video was received from the telescope via the ZWO ASI 120 MC camera.

The image on the right consists of a stack of the best 507 video frames from the sequence of approximately 1500 frames. The individual frames were stacked, aligned, and sharpened (with wavelet processing) in Registax. Color saturation and levels were adjusted using GIMP.

I rate the seeing on this night as fair to poor, or 2.5 on the 5 point Peach scale.  The Peach scale, devised by renowned planetary photographer Damian Peach, defines fair and poor seeing as follows:

3. Fair Seeing – Slight or moderate undulation or fuzziness. Reasonable contrast. Minor planetary details occasionally seen.

2. Poor – Very Poor seeing – Severe undulations or fuzziness. Poor contrast. Large scale detail poorly defined. Minor details invisible.

Based on Peach’s written descriptions and example videos, which you can see at his website, I peg the seeing for this imaging session somewhere between 2 (fair) and 3 (poor), or 2.5.

What do you think?

Date: 26 January 2014 03:13:51 UT
Location: Edmond, Oklahoma USA
Telescope: 203mm f/10 SCT (Celestron C8), 2x Barlow
Camera: ZWO ASI 120MC