Aug 282019

You live in the Milky Way galaxy. It’s home base. It’s where almost everything you can see with your naked eye lives, too. Some people can see the Andromeda galaxy, and if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you can see two small galaxies (the LMC and SMC) that orbit the Milky Way. But other than those three things (and maybe three others, if you have really awesome eyesight and really dark skies) everything you see – in daylight or at night – is in the Milky Way.

There’s about 100,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way. There may be more; there may be less. It’s hard to count them actually. In the same way that you can’t easily count all the cars on the road if you’re one of the cars on the road. Now, if you could fly over the road in a helicopter, it’s much easier. But we can’t “fly over the Milky Way” in a spacecopter very easily (yet), so we rely on observations of other galaxies to infer information about our own.

Picture of Milky Way and meteor
Click image to enlarge

This image is one taken near Orleans, Massachusetts, looking south towards the “elbow” of Cape Cod. The sky glow in the distance is caused by the Chatham Lighthouse sweeping out an arc of light every 10 seconds. This exposure was 30 seconds long, so three such sweeps helped illuminate the lower border of the image. And, as luck would have it (because you can never actually plan for this) a short-lived meteor was caught almost dead-center in the image!

Jul 192019
Image of solar eclipse during totality

Speaking of time machines, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything. Almost two years, in fact. Time to correct that.

Since I mentioned I wasn’t really planning on taking photographs of the 2017 Great North American Eclipse, it was happenstance that I managed to capture some really good snaps through the camera that I did set up. It was placed on a tripod with a tracking mount, set to follow the sun, and take automatic exposures every 5 minutes during the partial phases and then every 5 seconds during totality.

In case you were wondering, these were shot on a Canon EOS Rebel XSi / 450D DSL with a 70-210mm/f4 lens aimed at the brightest thing in the sky with automatic exposure. None of the usual rigamarole with regards to perfect pictures here. Just “point and shoot” and hope for the best.

Here’s what I got, purely by chance, with some slight contrast stretching and color correction (since it was behind a Baader AstroSolar ND5 solar filter). You’ll notice at between 2-3 o’clock (if the Sun were a clock face) that there is a slight prominence taking palce. Another one is visible at about 4-5 o’clock. Not great pictures of the prominences, but a pretty good picture of totality.

Image of solar eclipse during totality
2017 Solar Eclipse at totality

Next up was the diamond ring as the Moon moved away from the Sun’s face and the skies started brightening again. Another picture that I wasn’t really expecting to get, but was pretty happy with the luck I had. The blue streak is an internal lens aberration and is not an alien Astropotamus.

Diamond Ring during the 2017 Solar Eclipse

More eclipse pictures will follow. Hopefully it won’t be two years. I did capture the entire partial phases before and after, as well as some pretty badly exposed pictures of totality that I just haven’t processed yet. I saw these two and pretty much stopped there.

Aug 282017

The Moon starts to eat the Sun

August 21, 2017 has come and gone, and WOW what and entrance (and exit) it made! The Great Eclipse of 2017, viewed by people in 14 states, from an airplane, and on boats at sea, this Eclipse Across America was likely the largest viewed, photographed, and media covered single national event that wasn’t man-made. Of course, I had to get in on the action.

We raveled to Hopkinsville, KY where two minutes and forty seconds of totality awaited us at 1:24pm local time on Monday.  I really didn’t plan on taking lots of pictures, or even setting up a time machine.  I mostly planned on viewing things through my 20×80 astronomical binoculars (sort of a dual time machine).  I set up a camera anyway, and every now and then I took some pictures of it while I was still looking through the binoculars.  So the camera pictures may not have come out very well.

Nevertheless, I got this image of the start of the eclipse, and with some image stacking software, you can even see some sunspots that are doomed to be eaten by the monster that’s devouring the Sun.  Note that, coincidentally, the Moon basically followed the sunspots across the surface of the Sun.  I photographed all stages from start to finish, but was more excited to watch than take pictures.

More to follow, but I wanted to get this up there for now.

Aug 102014

Moons for All SizesWhat is a Super Moon?

Coined in 1979 in an astrology magazine, the “Super Moon” is simply the full moon (or new moon) that occurs within 90% or closer of its closest possible approach to the Earth during a given orbit.  It’s also a lot easier to say than its astronomical term, perigee-syzygy Moon.

Today at 2pm Eastren, the full moon will reach perigee just a hair under 220,000 miles from the Earth.  It will appear as much as 14% bigger than usual and correspondingly brighter.  However, astropotamuses in North America won’t see it since it happens in the middle of the day.  In fact, this ‘potamus will be at a baseball game.

Even if it were visible, you probably wouldn’t notice.  That’s because we don’t remember the full moon from one to another with enough clarity to be able to tell.  Photographic evidence would show a difference if you were careful enough to take pictures with the same camera, lens, and settings on a Super Moon night versus a “normal Moon” night.

From 1990 to 2020, the Moon’s closest approach to Earth will occur on November 14, 2016.  It will be 221,524 miles away and be a full moon.  Since astronomers measure astronomical distances from the centers of bodies, that means the surfaces of the Earth and the Moon will be almost 5,000 miles closer than distance between their centers.

The smallest full moon of 2014 was on January 15th with the moon 252,607 miles away.  That means today’s full moon will be over 30,000 miles closer, which is 12.2% closer and therefore 26% brighter.  That’s a mangitude difference of .25 or the difference between Betelgeuse at magnitude 0.58 and Aldebaran at magnitude 0.85.

If you look a these two stars in the same night in North America (and they are visible together) you could generally tell that Betelgeuse is brighter.  But if you looked at Aldebaran in January and then seven months later looked at Betelgeuse in August, would you remember how much brighter the first one was?

I’ll leave you with a picture that I did not take (Anthony Ayoimanitis did) that shows a full moon in 2006 and a full moon in 2005.  The 2006 moon on the left is at apogee (the farthest point away) and the 2005 moon on the right is at perigee (the closest point in its orbit).  Decide for yourself if you would notice a difference if they were hanging in the sky outside your backdoor, a month apart from each other.

Aug 032014

This old Astropotamus is about to dust off the Time Machine again.  It’s been a while.  Please excuse the lateness of my reply, but do start looking for upcoming posts again.

Jan 142013

NOAA has outdone themselves. is a new tool that not only estimates the strength of the current auroral conditions, but how easily they can be seen on the ground, which is where Astropotamus lives.

Check it out, and make sure to say thank you to your congressperson the next time that NOAA’s funding comes up for renewal!

Jul 182012

Leave it to a comic to put things in perspective.

Leave it to a comic to put things in perspective.

Jun 222012

Rather than posting them here, I’ve put them on dropbox.  You can see pictures of the transit of Venus occurring at the same time as a solar flare (look at about the 7:00-8:00 point on the solar disc) at:

Happy viewing!

Jun 072012

Today is June 6, 2012.  The day after the last transit of Venus that everyone alive today will ever see.  Well, there may be a few people that were born on June 4 that will live to be 105 1/2, and see the transit that occurs in December of 2117, but we’re discounting those few.  By now, you’ve probably heard that transits of Venus occur in pairs separated by 8 years, but those pairs are separated by 105 or 121 years.  So the last one was in 2004 and the next will be 2117.

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