Here Comes the Sun

   I have a new toy!!
   Well actually it is a solar filter from Thousand Oaks Optical and is a 58 mm screw-in type filter. It simply screws into the lens as would any other filter. It’s coatings only allow 1/1000th of 1% of sunlight to pass through, and the filter material gives the Sun a yellow-orange color. The filter is a visible light (light that we see) filter so in addition to decreasing the light intensity, and filtering out UV and Infrared, it allows viewing of the photosphere (what is usually called the Sun’s surface), its granulated texture, as well as sunspots.

4 September - (3 pictures)

4 September – (3 merged pictures)

      I am still experimenting with camera settings to find a balance between showing the granular appearing surface and especially the sunspots. So far the pictures look okay under various settings however I find that the images require some after tweaking in a graphics program which is why some of my pictures will look different.
   This picture is a merged or stacked set of 3 pictures. Each picture had a different aperture setting but used the same shutter speed and ISO. The ideal setting seems to be an ISO 200; shutter speed 1/40, and aperture around f10 to f15.
   So what is my setup? I use a Canon Rebel T3i, a 50-255mm lens, and a solar filter as described above. Once I am aimed at the Sun and satisfied with the focus I then control the picture taking from my laptop using software that came with the camera. The one thing I cannot do from the computer is adjust the focus. The cardboard shoe box top is for shading the camera to help it stay cool. I usually have a the laptop under a box shade as well, or use the table umbrella for shade.

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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

The Elongated Mercury

   This evening the waxing crescent Moon and three planets will be above the western horizon at sunset, however depending on your latitude and shape of your local horizon Mercury and Saturn may be a challenge to see. Adding to that is at the time of sunset the sky is still too bright to see these planets with the naked eye. And by the time the sky darkens enough, maybe another 20 minutes or so, Mercury and Saturn may have already set.

Mercury at Elongation

9 October: Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation

   The Planet Mercury has reached the point in its orbit around the Sun where it is at its maximum angle out from the Sun as we see the two of them from here on Earth. This is known as an elongation. Since Mercury is currently on the left or east side of the Sun it is an ‘evening planet’ setting after the Sun, and today it is at its Greatest Eastern Elongation.
   Not one to stop, Mercury continues moving until reaching greatest western elongation at the end of next month. Until then the innermost planet will be moving in retrograde or toward the west. As Mercury moves west at the rate of about 4 degrees each day the Sun in its apparent motion toward the east is moving about 1 degree each day. So in less than a month, on 1 November, Mercury will have reached inferior conjunction, between the Sun and Earth.

   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Tracking Satellites – Online

   In planning for a photo opportunity with either or both the International Space Station and an Iridium Satellite flare I use each of the 3 web sites displayed in the slideshow below in addition to the information provided by the Kindle App, ISS Detector Pro. If my Knidle is not available I go online to the NASA Spot the Station web site for important viewing information including where and when the ISS is visible, and the duration of its visibility. The link here takes you to where you choose a location. Once selected the sighting opportunities will be calculated for that location.
iss-ani   Another online resource is the SATVIEW web site. Your ISP will be detected and used to determine your general location like latitude, longitude, and timezone. This information is then used by the web site to calculate satellite visibilities and other data for your location. You may select from a list of satellites to track and then watch its orbital path on a larger Mercator projection type map of the Earth. Superimposed on top of this map is an animated graphic that shows the satellite from above in motion as it orbits the Earth’s surface below. Below these maps is a data stream display of location information, speed, altitude and so on, and is constantly updating.
   The AstroViewer web site shows an animated graphic as if looking down from the ISS as it orbits above the Earth’s surface. It also displays a data stream of information about the ISS as well as the orbital path plotted on a world map. The ‘ground track’ shows the path the ISS is following and is updated every second. Clicking on the snapshot button opens a new browser window with a larger and more detailed graphic of what the ISS was orbiting above. Additionally you may get a visibility listing for a location similar to the list from the NASA web site.
   This particular web site, AstroViewer, requires the use of Java and if you have heeded any of the cautionary reports about using Java then your computer should either not allow Java and subsequently not show the animated graphics, or you will be prompted to allow the use of Java.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

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   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Tracking Satellites: An App

   As a followup to my posting from yesterday I thought it would be worthwhile to do sort of a review of the things I use for planning photo opportunities for the ISS and Iridium Satellites. You have seen some of what is possible with them so the review will be more of a description and how I use it. So watch for these reviews over the next week or so.

ISS Detector Pro

ISS Detector Pro

   My posting yesterday included the App ISS Detector Pro, one of the programs I use for setting up a photo opportunity for the International Space Station, or Iridium Satellites specifically. This particular App is available for Android phones and Android devices such as what I use, a Kindle Fire HD. With that in mind I can only describe how it works on my ‘handheld’ device. (By handheld I mean web enabled and capable of running Apps or software – like cell phones, tablets, or other small screen device held in the hand as opposed to the typical laptop or notebook type of computer.)

bottom bar   An additional couple of features are located at the bottom of the locator display screens. Tap or click on the left button to go online with your default web browser to a web site describing the particular Iridium satellite or the ISS. The button on the right side brings up a map showing the current location for the satellite or the ISS and a plot of the orbital path relative to the Earth’s surface as the banner picture on the top of the page shows.
Top Bar   At the top of the locator display are some other things you could do with the information shown on the display. The 3 dots icon takes you where you could share by e-mail, or by social media sites, for example. You could add the event to your Google Calendar; the 3 vertical dots take to a configuration page where you have control over a variety of things.

   The slideshow below cycles through 3 screen shots from the ISS Detector Pro App: The Home page showing any sighting opportunities for the ISS and Iridium satellites; a locator for the Iridium flare; and a locator and path for the ISS.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   
                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

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   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

InSight Into the Red Planet

Click on image to download a bookmark.

Click on image to download a bookmark.

   InSight or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the next NASA planned mission to Mars. Set for launch in March 2016 the lander will have a flight time of approximately 6 months with a scheduled landing during September of 2016. In order to learn more about how terrestrial planets form this mission will be studying the Martian interior rather than the surface as all previous lander and rover missions have done.
   As a lander the power will be generated with solar panels and in order to maximize the efficiency of the solar panels a location near the equator needed to be chosen. This led to helping decide the final landing area within the Elysium Planitia, a large relatively flat plain like feature that lies on the equator. However a decision on the specific landing spot has not been made yet.
Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page

Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page.

   On board will be two types of instruments that will be used for a variety of tests including the use of a seismometer, and a heat flow probe. Cameras will record daily events and operations. Precise measurements of the distance to the sun will be made that will enable scientists to determine how the planet wobbles as it is tugged on by the Sun’s gravity. The wobble of a planet is determined by how unevenly mass is distributed throughout the planet’s interior. Areas with a greater concentration of mass in one part of the interior will cause that part of the planet to have a greater attraction with the Sun than an area with a less dense lower concentration of mass. So as the planet rotates and revolves with respect to the Sun the gravitational attraction between the two varies slightly causing the wobble. Among other things this results in a better understanding of how the process of differentiating occurred within the planet and how that mass is distributed within the interior.

   Click here to go to the InSight mission web site for more information.

   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Catching an Iridium Flare

Click on this image to see it full size.

Click on this image to see it full size.

   Last night and this morning brought clear skies, again thanks to the influence of a high pressure system that has lowered the air and dew point temperatures. “Photo op!” I thought. So using ISS Detector Pro, an App on my Kindle Fire HD (7″) I was able to see when and where to look for the next Iridium Flare that would become visible to me. This App, obviously by its name, also tracks the International Space Station and shows where and when to look for the ISS to become visible as it orbits above your location. The App uses data from the Heavens-Above web site, one of the best online resources for star maps, ISS and other satellite flyby events.
   What is an Iridium Flare? Iridium is the name for a series of around 60-70 numbered communication satellites orbiting the Earth. The ‘flare’ is simply the reflection of sunlight off the satellite’s solar panels. You see this reflection as a sudden burst of light, a flare, as the satellite re-positions its orientation to the Earth to keep its antenna aimed at ground-based antennas.
A 'Bonus' Satellite Flyby

A ‘Bonus’ Satellite Flyby

   Given the time, direction, and altitude for Iridium Satellite #3 and the Starry Night Pro program I was able to see what the satellite’s path would look like. For this particular satellite it would travel toward the southwest below the length of the summer triangle asterism from near the star Deneb toward the small constellation of Delphinus the Dolphin, as the labeled picture at the top of the page shows. Then it was simply a matter of setting up my trusty Canon Rebel T3i on a tripod and doing a series of test pictures trying to find the best settings.
   For the satellite flyby – which was totally unexpected – I was using 3.5 second time exposures at F4.0, with an ISO setting of 1600. These are also the settings I used for the flare sequence of pictures. Some of the pictures have additionally been enhanced using Photoshop and Image Enhancement/Auto Levels settings.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   To pause the slideshow move the cursor over the pictures to bring up the controls.

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   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Saturn at East Quadrature

Click on this image for full size

Click on this image for full size

   Today the position of the planet Saturn with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Saturn is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Saturn follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Saturn rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.
   Where is Saturn now? Click here to see a graphic showing Saturn and some of the brighter stars over the southwest horizon at 10 pm CDT.

Learn a little (or a lot) more about Saturn by visiting the Cassini at Saturn mission web site.
Click here to go to the Cassini Mission web site.
Click here to go to the Cassini Mission Flyby web page to see when the next Saturn satellite flyby will be.

   This is a short 5 minute video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that I was part of in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Saturn and some of its moons as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft that month.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.