Something Unexpected

The delinquent photographer is back again.  Hey, this time its only been 3 months!  Anyway, this evening Venus and Jupiter were aligned with each other in the evening sky after sunset and for about two and a half hours they could be seen hanging over the western horizon.  I thought it was an fairly unique occurrence and decided to photograph them.

I pulled out the Nikon D2x and the 400mm f/5.6 lens that I use to photograph the moon each month.  I made the first photo at an ISO setting of 100 which required an 8 second exposure.  I knew that was too long but wanted to see how much blur resulted in the photo.  It was pretty bad.  I raised the ISO setting several stops to bring the exposure time to 1 sec, the maximum that I can use for celestial objects with this lens.  The resulting photo is below.

Venus, Jupiter and Moons?

On the outset, other than Venus, the lower brighter orb, and Jupiter being so close together its not that interesting of a photo.  However if you look closely at Jupiter you’ll see some other small lights next to it.  That puzzled me for a moment as I looked at the camera’s LCD screen while zoomed in on Jupiter.  Then I realized those must be the moons of Jupiter!  A quick look at the StarMap application on my phone and it was confirmed those indeed were the moons of Jupiter.  How in the world did this camera, with sensor technology that is at least 10 years old, capture them!

So to highlight those moons, I created an enlarged composite of Venus, Jupiter and Jupiter’s moons, which happen to be Ganymede (upper left), followed by Europa, Io and Castillo (lower right).  Click on the image to see an enlarged view.

Composite photo highlighting the moons of Jupiter

If you missed today’s rendezvous of Venus and Jupiter, then don’t worry, the will be together for the next several evenings as Jupiter passes Venus moving from the upper left to the lower right.

I apologize for my lack of posts, but I have been busy at work on some new custom equipment that will allow me to photograph the milky way using my 4×5 camera.  I should have it done and working by the end of summer, and expect some interesting work appearing here in the Autumn.  Until then, I will try to post more often.

Peace to all.


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Rajab 1434 Begins

This evening the new crescent moon of Rajab for the Islamic year 1434 made its appearance.  It was a delicate moon and had the company of Venus as it set in the western sky.  A mild evening that at first posed some possible cloudy interference.  But as the sun set and the sky cooled, the clouds for the most part dissipated leaving the Moon and Venus in plain sight.

Rajab Crescent 1434 with Venus

Rajab Crescent 1434 with Venus

It was interesting that Venus was spotted first and was brighter in the sky than the crescent moon was, even though the moon is closer to us and many orders of magnitude larger.  We used Venus as our marker to find the moon, as we knew from an ephemeris that the two would be close to each other.

The moon was first sighted around 8:20 pm PDT and it was primarily in blank sky. I photographed it over the next half hour until it was just about to set.  The photograph above was made at approximately 8:45 pm PDT, as the dark band of clouds added an extra dimension to the scene.

Rajab is an important Islamic month as it helps in locking down the start times for the following month Sha’baan and then the month of Ramadan when fasting begins.  It ripples from this day onward for both the start of Ramadan and its end which ushers in Eid Al-Fitr, the festival of fast breaking.

I feel very fortunate living here on the west coast.  We have the best possibility, and in most cases, the last word on any given day for sighting the new moon each month.  I and my assistants were not the only ones who sighted the moon this evening, I did receive one other report from a long time friend and fellow crescent chaser who saw it as well from atop Mount Tamalpais about 60 miles north of my location, also a stunning location in its own right.  We were atop Russian Ridge in the northern reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

To all my Muslim readers, Rajab Mubarak!

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The Traveler

On Tuesday June 5, 2012 an event occurred, that in all probability, will not be seen again by any living soul on the planet today, if not for a very few of us.  The planet Venus transited the the sun.  A transit is when a planet passes in between the sun and earth.  It is the same event as an eclipse, however in this case because the planet’s distance from the earth is so great, it cannot block out the entire sun.  Rather, it appears as a black dot on the disk of the sun.

Second Contact of Venus with the Sun

Second Contact

As the transit continues, Venus has five points that are of interest, First Contact, Second Contact, Greatest Transit, Third Contact and Fourth Contact.  The contact points are when an edge of Venus touches the edge of the Sun.  First and second contact occur when Venus enters into the disk of the sun and third and fourth when it is exiting.  Of course the first and fourth contacts are to say the least not very exciting as Venus is outside of the disk and not seen.  Second contact, when Venus is completely in the Sun as shown above, is the first exciting celestial moment.

From there the traveler, which is the meaning of the word planet from ancient Greek, planetai, which literally meant traveling or wandering star, because the planets were “stars” but they continually moved around the sky appearing in the various constellations throughout the year, continued on its way across the face of the sun.  Today of course we know that they are spherical masses of either rock or gas that reflect the light of the sun back to us here on earth and seen in the night time sky.

Venus during the 2012 transit.

The Traveler

The 2012 transit of Venus began at 3:06 pm PDT and continued and was in progress at the time of sunset.  It reached its Greatest Transit point at 6:29 pm PDT, which is the point where Venus is closets to the center of the sun.  From this point onward it will approach the edge of the sun and Third Contact as it leaves the disk.

Venus at the Greatest Transit point

No Return

The ending for us here in California was anti-climatic.  The Sun slowly sank into the cloud laden sky with Venus still well within its disk.  It was an event that I will remember for the rest of my life, an event that comes only once every 105 years and one that I am very fortunate to have been witness to.

Sunset during the Transit of Venus

Nearing The End

I hope you all had a chance to see this in person.  If not, take care of your self as you will need to live another 105 years to see it again.


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The Mother and the Moon

Venus and the old crescent moon.

Venus and the old crescent moon.


When I was young I would sit out on the front porch of our house at night with my mother, God rest her soul and have mercy on her, which faced east and some times we would see the moon very close to a star.  I would ask my mother about it and she would tell me that that star was the moon’s mother and when the moon was close to it, the moon was visiting its mother.  That story always made me feel close to my mother.  I still recall those days whenever I see the moon close to a prominent star in the sky.

Two mornings ago, I stepped out of my front door, which faces south, and I looked towards the east to estimate how many more days we had left in Ramadan by gauging the size of the crescent moon.  To my surprise it was very close to Venus, the start shown above.  The sky was getting light and I was moved to photograph this pair as they visited each other in the morning sky.

I happend to look to the south and also saw the constellaton Orion, or Musa according to the Muslim Astronomers naming, and its distinctive belt of three stars that I grew up know as The Three Sisters, again named by my mother.

Three Sisters

Three Sisters

It has always amazed me how universal the stars are and at the same time how ‘culturalized’ they are at the same time.  Growing up I knew Venus as the Mother of the Moon, and the Belt of Orion as the Three Sisters.  Every cultural or civilization has named the stars by different names and some have crossed over to other cultures.  Of the 57 navigational stars some 18 of them still have Arab names give by the Muslim Astronomers during the Golden Age of Islam.  The list of these stars can be found on Wikipedia at this link.

In a few days the month of Ramadan will have passed and the new crescent moon will make its appearance in the western sky after sunset.  And even though time keeps moving on, the stars, moon and sun will still be there to help us keep track of time and grow richer as they bridge the gaps of culture and the ages.

Did you have any special names for the stars when you were growing up?  I’d love to hear what they were.

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