Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Jupiter and Venus are at it again.
Tonight is their closest approach in our skies. I returned to the same palm as last night so as to take a comparison shot.
To give you a sense of just how close the two planets are together, I also took photos of moon and the planetary pair fully zoomed and then added the images together. Here's the result:
Because their brightnesses are so different the exposure for the moon was 1/10 that of the shot of Venus and Jupiter.

The planets will still be close for the next few evenings, but they are already pulling apart. Still, if you missed it tonight, it is still worth looking at.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Planets With Palm

I've been insanely busy of late (more on that likely in a future blog post), but not so busy as to prevent me from enjoying the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. Here they are as seen tonight, poised above a palm tree located in San Marcos, California (my new home). Venus is the brighter of the two.

The planets will be even closer tomorrow evening (June 30). It is a special sight to see the two brightest planets so close together. Go out and take a look.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Telescope Tourist: Kitt Peak & Mont-Mégantic Observatories

Recently I had the chance to visit two observatories in the same week, the first was Kitt Peak National Observatory. As a native and current resident of Tucson, Arizona it's not unusual for me to have the opportunity to visit Kitt Peak. This time was a bit unusual though, as I was there to make an evening presentation on light pollution.
I really love the mosaic at the observatory's visitor center (For some detailed shots of it, have a look here). Nearby there's a second, much smaller mosaic on the building that's also pretty cool. It's located around the corner to the left and it looks like this:
This one depicts the dome of the 4-meter Mayall Telescope sitting on the mountain with a comet above. Speaking of the Mayall, it was a sunset visit to this telescope that made this trip so special.
Here's the view from out in front of the Mayall, looking back at the rest of the mountain. Kitt Peak has one of the largest telescope concentrations on Earth. That's the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at left and the Steward Observatory 90" (2.3 meter) Bok Telescope in the foreground at right.
Heading inside the dome, we arrived just in time to see the last orange rays of sunlight kissing the Mayall.
Soon it was dark enough for its astronomical research mission to begin. We snapped a few photos and were soon ushered out. Seeing big scopes (well these days, with BIG super telescopes just around the corner, 4 and 5 meter telescopes are called small) is always a treat and this was no exception.

The next morning I was off to Sherbrooke in Québec, Canada to attend the Third International Conference on Artificial Light at Night. The conference included a field trip to Observatoire Astronomique du Mont-Mégantic.
In 2008 the International Dark-Sky Association designated Mont-Mégantic as the world's first International Dark Sky Reserve. At the heart of the reserve is a research observatory and their visitor center, the ASTROLab.
The ASTROLab has a wonderful array of astronomical exhibits, a gift shop, a theater and more.
Uphill, and behind a gate from there is their is their 1.6 meter telescope, the largest research telescope in eastern North America. That's its dome above, illuminated by moonlight.
For the telescope geeks, here's the telescope's aluminizing chamber located on the ground floor. Periodically telescope's primary mirror needs a new reflective coating of aluminum, which means the mirror needs to be pulled from the telescope, washed and stripped of its old coating. Then the mirror is carefully lowered through a trap door and placed inside this chamber, where a new coating of aluminum is vacuum-deposited on the mirror.
Located in another dome nearby is their so called "Popular Observatory" (I suppose that means the 1.6 meter is unpopular). I didn't photograph it, but inside the dome of the Popular Observatory is a 0.61 meter (24-inch) telescope and nice theater-style seating, making this telescope perfect for public outreach programs. I guess that's what makes it so popular!

In spite of the total mechanical breakdown of the bus on our field trip (don't ask), it was a wonderful trip and I'm glad to have made the visit to Mont-Mégantic. I very much recommend the trip.