Wednesday, September 14, 2016

If you are going to watch the 2017 Solar Eclipse ~ PLAN NOW!

Again.... start planning now for next August.
Practice with your camera and lenses now. Learn in advance how to photograph during all phases of the eclipse as it will change frequently.
Assuming that you will need to travel to see the total eclipse, make a list of the clothes and misc "stuff"  like food, drink and toiletries that you will want during your stay.
Set up transportation to the site you want to watch from.
Contact any clubs that may be close to that site as they probably know of good sites to watch the eclipse from.
Some sage advice: During totality, DO NOT let your camera flash! Be double-sure that you have flash mode turned to off. It's even a good idea to put electrical tape over the flash on point-and-shoots to be positive.
A flash may wipe out someone's dark adapted vision near you for many minutes.

Here is some helpful eclipse facts from Michael Bakich of Astronomy Magazine. 

When I first wrote this blog, the event was more than three years away. Not anymore! Each day now seems to bring a new announcement of a talk, a workshop, or an event related to the eclipse. With tens of millions of people headed for the zone of totality, it’s going to be the biggest science event in history. In this blog I list 25 of the eclipse's important details for our readership, the general public, and the media. Read them, and learn about the event. But for sure plan to experience totality. You'll remember it for the rest of your life as the greatest thing you ever saw!

1. This will be the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years. The last one occurred February 26, 1979. Unfortunately, not many people saw it because it clipped just five states in the Northwest and the weather for the most part was bleak. Before that one, you have to go back to March 7, 1970.
2. A solar eclipse is a lineup of the Sun, the Moon, and Earth. The Moon, directly between the Sun and Earth, casts a shadow on our planet. If you’re in the dark part of that shadow (the umbra), you’ll see a total eclipse. If you’re in the light part (the penumbra), you’ll see a partial eclipse.
3. A solar eclipse happens at New Moon. The Moon has to be between the Sun and Earth for a solar eclipse to occur. The only lunar phase when that happens is New Moon.
4. Solar eclipses don’t happen at every New Moon. The reason is that the Moon’s orbit tilts 5° to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Astronomers call the two intersections of these paths nodes. Eclipses only occur when the Sun lies at one node and the Moon is at its New (for solar eclipses) or Full (for lunar eclipses) phase. During most (lunar) months, the Sun lies either above or below one of the nodes, and no eclipse happens.
5. Eclipse totalities are different lengths. The reason the total phases of solar eclipses vary in time is because Earth is not always at the same distance from the Sun and the Moon is not always the same distance from Earth. The Earth-Sun distance varies by 3 percent and the Moon-Earth distance by 12 percent. The result is that the Moon’s apparent diameter can range from 7 percent larger to 10 percent smaller than the Sun.
6. It's all about magnitude and obscuration. Astronomers categorize each solar eclipse in terms of its magnitude and obscuration, and I don’t want you to be confused when you encounter these terms. The magnitude of a solar eclipse is the percent of the Sun’s diameter that the Moon covers during maximum eclipse. The obscuration is the percent of the Sun’s total surface area covered at maximum. Here's an example: If the Moon covers half the Sun's diameter (in this case the magnitude equals 50 percent), the amount of obscuration (the area of the Sun's disk the Moon blots out) will be 39.1 percent.
7. Solar eclipses occur between Saros cycles. Similar solar and lunar eclipses recur every 6,585.3 days (18 years, 11 days, 8 hours). Scientists call this length of time a Saros cycle. Two eclipses separated by one Saros cycle are similar. They occur at the same node, the Moon’s distance from Earth is nearly the same, and they happen at the same time of year.
8. Everyone in the continental U.S. will see at least a partial eclipse. In fact, if you have clear skies on eclipse day, the Moon will cover at least 48 percent of the Sun’s surface. And that’s from the northern tip of Maine.
9. It’s all about totality. Not to cast a shadow on things, but likening a partial eclipse to a total eclipse is like comparing almost dying to dying. I know that 48 percent sounds like a lot. It isn’t. You won’t even notice your surroundings getting dark. And it doesn’t matter whether the partial eclipse above your location is 48, 58, or 98 percent. Only totality reveals the true celestial spectacle: the diamond ring, the Sun’s glorious corona, strange colors in our sky, and seeing stars in the daytime.

Only being on the center line will allow viewers to see the diamond rings and the interval of totality between them. // Ian Wardlaw
10. You want to be on the center line. This probably isn’t a revelation, but the Moon’s shadow is round. If it were square, it wouldn’t matter where you viewed totality. People across its width would experience the same duration of darkness. The shadow is round, however, so the longest eclipse occurs at its center line because that’s where you’ll experience the Moon’s shadow’s full width.
11. First contact is in Oregon. If you want to be the first person to experience totality in the continental U.S., be on the waterfront at Government Point, Oregon, at 10:15:56.5 a.m. PDT. There, the total phase lasts 1 minute, 58.5 seconds.
12. The center line crosses through 10 states.After a great west-to-east path across Oregon, the center line takes roughly nine minutes to cross a wide swath of Idaho, entering the western part of the state just before 11:25 a.m. MDT and leaving just before 11:37 a.m. MDT. Next up is Wyoming, where the umbral center line dwells until just past 11:49 a.m. MDT. The center line hits the very northeastern part of Kansas at 1:04 p.m. CDT and enters Missouri a scant two minutes later. At 1:19, the shadow’s midpoint crosses the Mississippi River, which at that location is the state border with Illinois. The center line leaves Illinois at its Ohio River border with Kentucky just past 1:24 p.m. CDT. Totality for that state starts there two minutes earlier and lasts until nearly 1:29 p.m. CDT. The center line crosses the border into Tennessee around 1:26 p.m. CDT. Then, just past the midpoint of that state, the time zone changes to Eastern. The very northeastern tip of Georgia encounters the center line from just past 2:35 p.m. EDT until not quite 2:39 p.m. EDT. Finally, it’s South Carolina’s turn. The last of the states the center line crosses sees its duration from 2:36 p.m. EDT to 2:39 p.m. EDT. One further note: The extreme northeast part of Georgia does experience some totality, but at no point does the center line pass through that state.
13. Totality lasts a maximum of 2 minutes and 40.2 seconds. That’s it. To experience that length, you’ll need to be slightly south of Carbondale, Illinois, in Giant City State Park. You might think about getting there early.
14. The end of the eclipse for the U.S. is not on land. The center line’s last contact with the U.S. occurs at the Atlantic Ocean’s edge just southeast of Key Bay, South Carolina. I’m pretty sure the crowd won’t be huge there.
15. Cool things are afoot before and after totality. Although the big payoff is the exact lineup of the Sun, the Moon, and your location, keep your eyes open during the partial phases that lead up to and follow it. As you view the beginning through a safe solar filter, the universe will set your mind at ease when you see the Moon take the first notch out of the Sun’s disk. Around the three-quarters mark, you’ll start to notice that shadows are getting sharper. The reason is that the Sun’s disk is shrinking, literally approaching a point, and a smaller light source produces better-defined shadows. At about 85 percent coverage, someone you’re with will see Venus 34° west-northwest of the Sun. If any trees live at your site, you may see their leaves act like pinhole cameras as hundreds of crescent Suns appear in their shadows.
16. This eclipse will be the most-viewed ever. I base this proclamation on four factors: 1) the attention it will get from the media; 2) the superb coverage of the highway system in our country; 3) the typical weather on that date; and 4) the vast number of people who will have access to it from nearby large cities.
17. Only one large city has a great view. Congratulations if you’re one of the 609,000 people lucky enough to live in Nashville. The city center and parts north of it will experience 2+ minutes of totality. Unfortunately, that’s the only large city with a great view. In the tally below, column 1 lists 25 other large metropolitan areas. The second column shows the amount of the Sun’s surface the Moon will cover as seen by viewers in each city.
Atlanta97 percent
Boston63 percent
Chicago87 percent
Cincinnati91 percent
Dallas76 percent
Denver92 percent
Detroit79 percent
Houston67 percent
Indianapolis91 percent
Las Vegas72 percent
Los Angeles62 percent
Memphis93 percent
Miami78 percent
Milwaukee83 percent
Minneapolis83 percent
New Orleans75 percent
New York City72 percent
Oklahoma City84 percent
Philadelphia75 percent
Phoenix63 percent
Pittsburgh81 percent
Portland99 percent
Salt Lake City91 percent
Seattle92 percent
Washington, D.C.81 percent
Now a brief follow-up: about half of both Kansas City (pop. = 464,000) and Saint Louis (pop. = 318,000) lie within the path of totality. Unfortunately, the center line doesn’t pass through either of them. An educated guess then, tells me that most residents interested in the eclipse will drive 30 minutes or so for an extra two minutes of totality.
18. A few small cities are well-placed. Here’s a list of smaller municipalities either on the center line or near it with their approximate population.
Carbondale, Illinois26,000
Casper, Wyoming58,000
Columbia, Missouri113,000
Columbia, South Carolina132,000
Grand Island, Nebraska50,000
Greenville, South Carolina61,000
Hopkinsville, Kentucky33,000
Idaho Falls, Idaho58,000
Jefferson City, Missouri43,000
Paducah, Kentucky25,000
Saint Joseph, Missouri77,000
Salem, Oregon157,000
19. Totality is safe to look at. During the time the Moon’s disk covers that of the Sun, it’s safe to look at the eclipse. In fact, to experience the awesomeness of the event, you must look at the Sun without a filter during totality.

20. Yes, the Sun’s a lot bigger. Our daytime star’s diameter is approximately 400 times larger than that of the Moon. What a coincidence that it also lies roughly 400 times farther away. This means both disks appear to be the same size.
21. You won’t need a telescope. One of the great things about the total phase of a solar eclipse is that it looks best to naked eyes. The sight of the corona surrounding the Moon’s black disk in a darkened sky is unforgettable. That said, binoculars give you a close-up view — but still at relatively low power — that you should take advantage of several times during the event.
22. Nature will take heed. Depending on your surroundings, as totality nears you may experience strange things. Look. You’ll notice a resemblance to the onset of night, though not exactly. Areas much lighter than the sky near the Sun lie all around the horizon. Shadows look different. Listen. Usually, any breeze will dissipate and birds (many of whom will come in to roost) will stop chirping. It is quiet. Feel. A 10°–15° F drop in temperature is not unusual.
23. Maximum totality is not the longest possible in 2017. The longest possible duration of the total phase of a solar eclipse is 7 minutes and 32 seconds. Unfortunately, the next solar eclipse whose totality approaches 7 minutes won’t occur until June 13, 2132. Its 6 minutes and 55 seconds of totality will be the longest since the 7 minutes and 4 seconds of totality June 30, 1973.
24. The future is bright but long. The next total solar eclipse over the continental U.S. occurs April 8, 2024. It’s a good one, too. Depending on where you are (on the center line), the duration of totality lasts at least 3 minutes and 22 seconds on the east coast of Maine and stretches to 4 minutes and 27 seconds in southwestern Texas. After that eclipse, it’s a 20-year wait until August 23, 2044 (and, similar to the 1979 event, that one is visible only in Montana and North Dakota). Total solar eclipses follow in 2045 and 2078.
25. This event will happen! As astronomers (professional or amateur), some of the problems we have are due to the uncertainty and limited visibility of some celestial events. Comets may appear bright if their compositions are just so. Meteor showers might reach storm levels if we pass through a thick part of the stream. (Oh, and the best views are after midnight.) A supernova as bright as a whole galaxy is visible now, but you need a telescope to view it. In contrast, this solar eclipse will occur when we say, where we say, for how long we say, and in the daytime, no less. Guaranteed!
BONUS: Facts are great, but I also posted a list of two-dozen-plus-one tips you might find useful. Check out Two dozen tips for the August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse.  
Credit Michael Bakich, Astronomy Magazine


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Possible Asteroid Impact On The Moon

A "possible asteroid impact on the moon is being discussed on the MPML Yahoo forum.
You read that headline right, although the chances are probably quite remote. We have 
a new close-approaching asteroid, 2016 RB1, that was just discovered and confirmed 
the past two days as approaching the earth very closely - an estimated 24,000 miles 
distant at closest pass.

All interest in this object has shifted, however, as possibly flying by so close that 
it might be perturbed gravitationally to impact with the MOON tomorrow, September 8at around sunrise in the northern hemisphere. Such an event would of course be extremely rare and would cause great interest and response to the possible consequences of such an impact".
This info is from by Dr Clay Sherrod​.... 

​This will be better observed (if it happens) from the southern hemisphere, and odds are that it likely will not occur as the moon is a very small target area ~ but if it does, we may soon be seeing images of the impact.

If you want to get up tomorrow morning a little before sunrise to try to see it, focus near the moon's south pole or better yet turn your video camera on and photograph it 
Good luck.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our planetary imaging from few weeks ago

Note: This is a repost of the older entry due to editing issues.

On June 10, me and Perry Arts were able to do some planetary imaging using Luna 2. The planets were low over horizon so it was hard to achieve great detail despite the rather good seeing conditions that night. We took images of Saturn and Mars.

Also, special thanks to Tim Schott for doing the C14 alignment prior to that session. For some reason, when different people use the C14, the alignment goes off once in a while.

Vladimir Alexandrov

Friday, June 24, 2016

Start Imaging while the weather is nice.

The weather has been fair lately, although clouds don't need much reason to sit over the observatory it seems.
I hear that the 14" is working very well so I hope to get some images of Mars and Saturn tonight. A Rockland  Astronomy Club member (the NEAF guys) and good friend is visiting me tonight (Friday, June 24) and he wants to see what all my bragging is about. We'll be at the observatory before it gets dark and I will bring my equipment to see how well my new imaging and control program "Backyard Nikon" will perform.
Hopefully I will have some results by Monday... (fingers crossed)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Multiple Images of the Mercury Transit

Perry Arts submitted an image he did on May 9th over a span of almost four hours, from 8:30am to 12:15pm. Before his imaging run the sun was too low and obstructed and after he finished it became too cloudy.
His multiple shots were taken 15 minutes apart from Branchburg, NJ, USA
Perry's equipment included his Celestron C1100 Edge on a Paramount MX+ using an AstroZap white light solar filter. He imaged with a Fuji Finepix S5 Pro and processed with Fuji Utility Studio and Photoshop CS5.
Great idea Perry ~ thanks

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sierra Nevada's night sky

Over the last couple years I was able to visit Sierra Nevada's mountains in California. Even if one is not remotely interested in the night sky and the insane amounts of days of excellent seeing conditions, I would still not hesitate and recommend it to anyone. The granite peaks, the fresh air, the crystal clear lakes, the remoteness of wilderness is very much worth of a visit. However, if one is coming from east coast where dark skies is such a rarity, the Sierra Nevada night sky becomes an exotic that I wish anyone could experience and see for themselves.

Next two images were taken at Sequoia National Park at more than 7,000 ft of altitude. One of the first things you notice is that stars don't flicker much. At high altitude, so much of dense air is beneath you and stars appear brighter and steadier. It was so dark and so steady that it did seem that you are on a rock in space and you are in this galaxy that you see all around you from horizon to horizon.

In this image I was 20 min away from Yosemite National Park, at the Mono Lake. During that trip, it was (shocking!) raining during most of the week and I only had few hours to take pics of Milky Way from dark location. I got up at 2am in Lee Vining and went to the location I visited a day before, which is Tufa formations at Mono Lake. It was me, coupe other photographers from LA area and a couple of screaming coyotes.

If one loves nature and night skies, you can't go wrong if you visit Sierra Nevada range. There is nothing like that available on the east coast. 

Some of the equipment I used: Canon 6D. Rokinon 24 mm 1.4 lens. Shot at high ISO, around 5000. I stopped down lens at F2.0. Regular tripod (make sure it is very steady, use weights if necessary).


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tim Schott was recently in Hawaii

Here are the shots Tim got while under the Hawaiian clear dark sky at an altitude of only 120 feet above sea level...
Equipment used: 
Nikon D7000
Tamron 10 - 24mm f/3.5 -4.5 lens
White Bal set at 5000k
ISO 2000 - 5000
Exposure times 20 - 30 sec
Very nice work, Tim.... they look great with the foreground in your shots for depth.

Our blog is now available encrypted

Our HTTPS settings have changed, so now all our visitors will be able to view our blog over an encrypted connection by visiting:

This blog is being watched....

The NJAA AstroPhotography blog is watched by many people.... over 5,ooo  viewers have seen what our members can do since this blog was started. Interestingly, almost half of our viewers come from Russia, also, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and the U.K. represents groups of viewers so I want to welcome them and all the others that have watched our postings. 
I know Tim, Vlad, Jim R, Les, Perry, Judson and other members have been imaging, so let's start letting people see our work. You can take images from anywhere, on your personal equipment or the clubs... it doesn't matter. Just send in your image to me or post it yourself.... but let's get going!

I should have mentioned in my last post that the Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaked on May 6th ~ during the time I was in Arizona. Luckily the comet stream continues with various success through May 26th ~ Find a dark sky and LOOK UP!!! 
Unfortunately, I left Sedona and travelled to Scottsdale the day before and so seeing them was hindered because of the city lights. But as you can see in my photos, there often is a meteor in the shot.  Because of the dark sky near Sedona, I saw meteors or satellites almost every time I looked up from the camera! 
It was wonderful to see the myriad of dim to bright streaks so easily there. 
And wouldn't you know that right after I took a photo of Mars and Saturn (and while I waited patiently for the camera to finish saving the data), a very bright green meteor fell right between both planets.

A plane competes with two meteors:
Coincidentally, the brighter meteor streaking between Mars and Saturn is almost exactly in the same position that the green  fireball fell. The green fireball was travelling in the opposite direction though.
The next fairly strong meteor shower will be the Delta Aquariids peaking  July 28 - 29th 2016. They will be a southern hemisphere shower but the northern latitudes will still be able to see some. They predictably are a bit fainter than the Eta stream.
Then of course, the Perseids will peak August 11 - 12th which ~ this shower often has a larger viewing due to more people being outside.

The Night Sky at Sedona, Arizona May 2016

While I was on vacation in Sedona last week I tried my hand at photographing the Milky Way, which I never did before for some reason. 
I arose at three AM and drove to a desolate dark site. My plan was to go to an open parking space some miles away from a local town that I saw during a day hike into the hills..... but even after my second trial car trip to find some landmarks that would help me locate the site, I failed.

It is VERY dark out in the desert during the early morning!! So dark that I couldn't find a single landmark. I decided not to waste any more time so I went back toward town where I knew of a couple open sites just outside of town . On the way I discovered an open parking lot next to an electric substation, so I pulled in and set up for some southerly shots that included Mars and Saturn. I was literally 200 yards from the main road but there was very little traffic. Even with decent lighting restrictions there is still quite a lot of ambient light coming from the towns ~ most of it doesn't go up into the sky though but it is surprising how far it travels laterally.

Mars is spectacularly bright and very orange and Saturn is also very noticeable in such a dark sky. 
Unfortunately by the time I started getting fairly good exposures it was approaching Nautical then Civil Twilight with it's deep blue sky creeping into my shots. I did trial and error for a while before I remembered that my camera is an APS sensor so I kept getting streaks until I figured out what I was doing wrong ~ to photograph the night sky, the 500 Rule states that you take 500 and divide your lens focal length to get the exposure time. As I was using an 18mm fl lens that would give me about 27 seconds.... opps! Then I calculated the 1.5x that my APS sensor required and I found that I should really be exposing at only 18 seconds! BIG difference and it shows.

Here's the image of my first try of Mars at 27 seconds at ISO 1600:

         Then I got it at 15 seconds, rounding down to be safe with the shot below:
             I don't like the ambient light color     But black & white shows the subtleties
         Note how this city's lights are yellow while the closer town is redder below

Here I annotated the image taken later as twilight grew:

In this twilight image below you can easily see the red color of the town lights on the Courthouse Butte and beyond. The town was a few miles away from it and my eyes couldn't see any of that light at all.
I am not happy with the low light results from this Nikon D300 camera but to be fair I may have to try to set it differently:

The Big Dipper visible to the upper right of Cathedral Butte and again the red light from the town:

So now, after this first attempt I think I will adjust my camera for less noise and try again ~ I still need to improve my results.
What spectacular clear and dark skies. I can't stop thinking about what I could do with my telescope there.

Mercury's Transit of the Sun on May 9, 2016

Mercury was captured Monday May 9th, 2016 transiting the surface of the Sun by members Tim Benko and Vladimir Alexandrov.
Vlad used the club's Coronado 60mm Ha scope at the observatory with the set up help by members Bruce Pierson and Jonathan Morgan. 
 He stacked 500 of the best frames that he got with the club's (amazing) Point Grey CCD camera at 120 fps.
Tim took the white light image using the club's Canon T2i  at prime focus on his Orion 120ST 120mm/f5 600mm FL refractor with minimal adjustments in Photoshop.
I really like the detail in the sun as little Mercury whizzes by. They both had to try for a single shot as clouds covered much of the sky. 
Excellent work guys.... hopefully some of our other members also captured the event as well and will post on our blog soon because the next transit will be November 11, 2019.

Image by Vladimir Alexandrov

Image by Tim Benko

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lunar Terminator

On 15 April 2016 I helped give a group of Boy Scouts a tour of NJAA. The night was clear but fairly bright with the moon just a couple days past half....
Still with the 14" Edge in Luna 2,  they got to see quite o few objects ~ even the ISS gave us a show as it went over us after dark.
The Moon's terminator was especially stunning through the scope. Here's a quick glimpse of what we saw:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Last Weekend's NEAF

Hi all,
NJAA's booth received a lot of visitors... some were members, some were past members and many new people, most from all over the Northeast. The visitor that travelled the furthest was from Norway.

I manned our booth both days ~ it was great meeting so many amateur astronomers

Many mentioned our website and blog and liked our club's recent progress. All liked our array of telescopes available to our members especially our astro-imaging set up in Luna 1. Everyone also wanted to talk about the 26" and if we could image through it but the 14" Celestron Edge in Luna 2 was also a hit with the people that preferred viewing. Many wishing they could live closer to NJAA still took a card or membership application to join. 
Support comes in many ways.

26" imaging used to search for NEO's

14" peeks out of Luna 2

There were deals to be made everywhere
I hope to see you at the observatory ~ tell me you were at NEAF!!!

Monday, April 4, 2016

We will be at NEAF this weekend April 9 & 10 ~ stop by

I'll be hosting the NJAA Table at the 2016 NEAF April 9th & 10th. Anyone that may have questions about the club, I will have most of the answers as well as cards to apply for membership.
Stop by if you are there and we can chat.
Keith Marley

Saturday, February 13, 2016

As discussed at the research and astrophotography meeting, I suggested a project for those of us interested. It will involve  doing differential photometry this summer on a very peculiar star. The star is Tabby's Star or KIC 8462852 or TYC 3162-0665-1.

The star is about 12th magnitude and both Luna 1 and Luna 2 will easily pick up and we can compare its brightness to neighbor stars.
Reason why we would want to image it is because it has strange dips in brightness that is so far unexplained. In fact in some instances it dimmed up to  22%!

Not only that, it also has smaller dips in brightness that are very irregular. A month ago, a new paper was published showing that this star has dimmed by about .16 of a magnitude over last century.

Overall, I think this should be very exciting and challenging project. At NJAA, we have a book called "The handbook of Astronomical Image Processing". It has a very good information about how to do photometry. Also, there is a lot of resources on the web about it.

Here are some of the links to learn more about this star.

This is the original paper that brought it to attention. After that a lot of news sources started talking about it.

Wiki article on it

Recent paper that showed it slowly getting dimmer over last 100 years.

Phil Plait's article

AAVSO alert notice to start imaging it