Moon and Venus in conjunction

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Tonight Venus and the Moon were in conjunction. A beautiful show that was clearly visible in the Sacramento, CA area despite clouds in the horizon

Camera: Canon EOS 50D – with tripod and remote control
ISO: 500
Exposure: 2 secs
Focal Ratio: f/4.5
Focal Length: 96 mm
Original Dimensions: 4752 x 3168 px
Time: 4/17/2018, 7:37 PDT
Location: Sacramento CA, US
Post Processing: Adobe Photoshop CS6

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Niklas Henricson
Sacramento, CA

Planetary Alignment Event on March 2018

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Next astronomical event will be the alignment between the planetary objects Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, Moon and the star Antares.

Take the chance to do a wide field photography or study the planets through either telescopes or binoculars to try and see their features.

The event will happen on March 7th, 2018 at 4 AM (PST) and can also be observable on the 8th of March as well.

Below I’ve labeled all the celestial objects that will line up.

  1. Saturn
  2. Mars
  3. Antares
  4. Jupiter
  5. Moon
Planetary-Alignment-2018
Planetary Alignment, March 2018

 

Niklas Henricson

A long cold and humid night but it was worth it

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I went off just outside Mather airport and started to set my telescope up. Unfortunately I didn’t have both of my telescopes with me so I couldn’t broadcast live. With me I had my  William Optics Megrez 72 APO.

The night was very humid, cold but there wasn’t any wind at all. As the eclipse was progressing the moon was turning more and more red/orange.

  • ISO-100 and 200 with Canon EOS 50D
  • Exposure Time: See each image for details
  • Telescope: William Optics Megrez 72mm f/6 Doublet Apo Refractor
  • Mount: Sky Watcher EQ6 Pro
  • Date/Time: 1/31/2018, 3:03 to 5:42 AM (PST)
  • File Format: RAW (CR2)
  • Weather Conditions: Cloud Cover from 40% to 10%, Transparency below average, seeing average 3/5, darkness 4.4 for 0.2 hours and magnitude 4.3 at full eclipse.
  • Wind: 6 to 11 mph (Forecast), 0 to 5 mph (Actual)
  • Humidity: 85% to 90%
  • Temperature: 41° to 50° F (5° to 10° C)

The humidity was the major disrupting factor this night. I had to bring in both telescope and camera twice and put the car heater on to get rid the moisture that was on the lenses causing the images to get worse over time. Unfortunately my telescopes are not equipped with a dew heater so over time they accumulate condensation from the surrounding air.

Despite that set back the night was remarkably beautiful and quiet. Only the airfield lights and street lights kept shining in the distant background. A few curious bypassing cars stopped to see what I was doing in the darkness and took the chance to look at the spectacle themselves. I must say they were very considerate and turned off their beams to not blind me which I appreciated lots. Thank you!

The results are presented below,

To work with lunar eclipse exposure times you can use the following formula in your preparations:

CodeCogsEqn

Where

  • t = exposure time
  • f = focal ratio
  • Q = lunar brightness value
  • I = ISO #

If you don’t know the focal ratio of your telescope/camera lens you can find that out by calculating f = focal length / aperture. Lunar brightness can be determined through the Danjon scale. More information on exposures and lunar brightness visit Mr Eclipse website here. Fred Espenak’s table breaks it down very straight forward and simple right here.

 

Niklas Henricson

First images from Lunar Eclipse in Sacramento

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These are the first images now from Sacramento as the eclipse is currently on-going.

 

Niklas Henricson

Sky-Watcher SynGuider Firmware Update

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I wrote a tutorial for updating the firmware on a Sky-Watcher SynGuider. If you have more questions or feedback please feel free to get in touch with me. I hope this comes to use and helps out people to understand the steps needed for the updates.

2
Sky-Watcher SynGuider

Enjoy!

https://astroniklas.com/tutorials/sky-watcher-synguider/

 

Niklas Henricson

Casing for telescope mounts

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I must say this was one of the best gifts I got for my birthday by my wife. It is a Condition 1 – Airtight/Watertight Case #839 with Foam. I absolutely needed one for my EQ6 Pro mount! For years I’ve been transporting and wrapping this mount in bed sheets and thick bed covers to provide safe transportation to and from my observation sites.

The mount was also transferred by sea all the way from Sweden intact. I had to pay lots for insurance so that all optics could be replaced if something happened.

This is a-must-have if you don’t know how to provide a safe casing for your telescope mounts that are originally shipped inside cardboard boxes from vendors.

My wife got this case from Amazon for just $93.60 ($103.37 if you’re not an Amazon Prime customer). Needless to say, this is just as nice as a Pelican case without the Pelican price. A real Pelican case would cost nearly double the price $176.28 for an equivalent type of case.

The interior dimensions for the Condition 1 case are, 21.91 x 16.96 x 8.41 inches.

So a big thank you goes to wifey for being very thoughtful about my hobby!

Niklas Henricson

Birthday and gifts

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On my birthday my beloved wife made me the most amazing present an astrophotographer could wish for. She took the composite image of the Great American Eclipse in Oregon last summer, printed it out on a 16 x 20 inches poster and finally framed it! Now it’ll decorate our wall to remind us of an amazing experience from our solar eclipse trip to Corvallis, OR.

Thank you my love!

Eclipse Composite
Composite image of Great American Eclipse 2017

Niklas Henricson

Cosmic Watch – App of the Year

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Screenshot_20171109-184948There are many apps that went through my download lists over the years, but none that have drawn my full attention so far. When it comes to astronomy apps available around for Android, iOS and Windows, there’s a huge variety in the app stores (I’ve mentioned a few in the past). As matter of fact I’ve had many thoughts on building my very own to use out in the field in order to help find my favorite objects, guide my telescope, create log book entries, search in databases, etc. But nevertheless there has never been enough time to build something worth keeping a long time. Before you know it you either loose your phone, get a new one and loose whatever these apps have stored locally in their internal databases on the phone.

One day as I was browsing my emails doing my weekly clean up, I came across an email with subject “SWISS Made Cosmic Watch For Astronomy in 3D”. In the beginning I thought it was one of these ads I receive letting me know of what cool gadgets I can buy. Ads that normally find me through diverted AI search bots checking at my age, my interests, location and places I’ve visited on internet. Interestingly though, Google didn’t toss that particular e-mail in my spam folder and so I opened it up.

The very first sentence made me understand it wasn’t one of the regular salesmen or spam bots that greeted me, but instead a person who was impressed by my blog. I kept reading and he asked me to evaluate his app.

For starters I didn’t expect much until he gave me a redeem code to download his app for free. The download finished just before I had to leave for work and I didn’t have much time to look at it before it was lunch time. Needless to say my jaw almost dropped once I switched it on.
In all honesty I never seen such advanced graphics and such an awesome implementation of a mobile device app before. And mind you, I’ve worked as a software engineer for almost 20 years now.

Among the many features available, the ones I got mostly impressed about were the ability to see the planet positions over time both in the future but also in the past. You could look at the planet position on the day of your birth, or other historical events down to the seconds level.

The modes available can display the position of constellations in night sky at certain point of time or real time in the day, make you zoom into features on earth’s surface and add favorites to re-visit something.

Well done Cosmic Watch and big thanks for letting astronomy fans access such great work!

This app exists for both Android and iOS devices

Cosmic Watch is developed by Celestial Dynamics Ltd.

Niklas Henricson
Sacramento, California

Light Pollution Awareness

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Google Earth Night Sky
Google Earth – Light Pollution

For a few years ago an astronomy friend of mine and myself went out to our favorite location where we normally setup our telescopes and did our stargazing and astrophotography. On a late evening we had two journalists joining us (Johan Joelsson & Jonatan Jacobson) to do an interview based on a research my friend had been working for years, namely, charting how extensively light pollution had spread across in south and the central regions of Sweden. At the time there was no agency, or other independent organizations that had any detailed maps over this. My friend’s idea was to assist amateur astronomers but also provide awareness over this issue.

Light pollution can be typically described as the unawareness of the effects on how we use light sources at public, our buildings, our farms and other types of facilities/buildings and the consequences it brings towards the environment and the ecosystem overall.

Light pollution in our environment can be easily discarded as nonsense but when satellite imagery started to become publicly accessible, it was hard to ignore it. The expansion of cities over the decades, the deforestation, the new road systems with lights spreading across countries and the ever increased human population start paying its toll towards the environment (Below is a satellite image over US, showing us how extensive light pollution is across the east part of the country).

Satellite Image over light pollution in US
Satellite Image over light pollution in US – NASA

What many people are unaware of (other than the term itself) is that it has an immense impact to human life and wildlife. Wild animals that are using darkness to hide from nightly predators, or predators who use darkness to be camouflaged or to see better, or even newborn turtles are mislead starting to wander towards cities instead,  are just a few out of many examples where the pollution got out of hand.

To us astronomers just like wildlife itself, are trying to seek ourselves away to darker areas, as far as possible from civilization in order to be able to observe the wonders of the night sky. Professional astronomers that work with research are trying to build new facilities in remote areas as well, such as the top large mountains or inhabitant areas in other continents.

Apart from that, there’s also on-going studies to determine how badly flora is effected when it comes to cellular respiration and growth. And not so surprisingly when it comes to humans there are already two types of cancer connected to this issue, as well as the disturbed production of melatonin in our bodies. In recent years there has been an increased amount of prescribed melatonin by doctors around the world to their patients. Melatonin is the substance produced by our brains to help balance our sleep cycles.

Below is an illustration from the software Stellarium that got a setting to turn on different levels of light pollution on your night sky. Stellarium can even extract data from your area you live at and apply the appropriate level of light pollution automatically for you. From left to right you have light pollution level 1 (national parks, or far away from civilization), level 3 in rural areas (country side, with few farms and some forests), level 5 (minor cities with a population of 1000 to 5000 people), level 7 (suburban areas with a population of 10,000 to 100,000 people) and finally level 9 are large cities where only main constellation stars, planets are making barely any appearance in the skies in ideal city conditions (without smog, fog, smoke, etc.)

 

Light Pollution in different environments
Light Pollution in different environments

All in all, the severity of the effects from light pollution can be easily classified as an equal to other environmental pollution. We loose our night skies resulting to younger generations having no memory of describing something as easily identifiable as the milky way. Some humans haven’t seen anything else apart from the moon and sun. Their knowledge is based on images from google, school books and because the teacher said so.

The night sky was once upon a time a source of inspiration from the ages of antiquity to recent years, but it is constantly under daily threat. Would humanity ever experience night-sky-inspired individuals such as Galileo, Newton or Einstein if the skies don’t look the same anymore? For those who’ve been reading on their biographies will realize that they were inspired by the freedom of thought and the wonders of cosmos.

There is still however hope as long as we get aware of what all this means and if all of us take a few moments to take our own little measurements that will add up. Get new light bulbs for your backyard that point downwards and don’t reflect or spread light more than what is necessary and even visit the International Dark Sky Association to read more in regards to light pollution and how you can help to educate others about it and to become the advocates of it.

Our environment is in need of more awareness from all of us, much more now than ever before. You can save energy and lower your energy bills at your own home by turning off unnecessary light sources, install light sources pointing down to the areas you’re interested instead of letting your light sources scatter light in your surroundings and the sky (unnecessary loss of energy for no purpose). If you live near the beach, harbor, sea in general, avoid pointing light sources towards the waters or forests. That may save the life for animals.

Once a year is the celebration of Earth Hour. Turn off your lights for just 1 hour to save energy and to teach your younglings about the environment which we are part of.

 

Niklas Henricson

Total Lunar Eclipse – January 31, 2018

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Right after solar eclipses it is commonly expected to observe a total lunar eclipse. In California we’ll be able to observe a total lunar eclipse on January 31, 2018 starting at 02:51 AM.
As the moon moves the first type of shadow will be the earth’s penumbra and as it finally reaches totality it will turn full red (umbra).

The examples I’m posting here, are some very old afocal photos I took when I was living in Stockholm, Sweden through a Newton telescope. These were my very first images back in August 16, 2008 and little I knew about focus, exposures, etc. That will make it easier for me to redeem myself with proper equipment and methods.

Below is how the total lunar eclipse shadow will move across the continents on January 31, 2018. This illustration originates from timeanddate.com. Visit this website to find out how your own eclipse will look like at your location and which time.

Here’s an image from the free license software – Stellarium, showing how the lunar eclipse will look at from your location. Stellarium can be downloaded at no cost for all platforms (Mac, Linux and Windows) click here to download Stellarium.

Lunar Eclipse as viewed through Stellarium
Lunar Eclipse – Stellarium

Niklas Henricson