Station Fire Moon

Over the last few days thousands of photos of the Station fire have been posted on the internet by many people. I have myself posted photos to Facebook of the fire that burned behind JPL on Friday night and some of these have been picked up and reposted elsewhere by others.

Astronomers have been hearing about the imminent danger that Mt. Wilson has been in and every night for the past few nights I have periodically stepped outside into my back yard and peered up to see if the antenna towers are still visible. Usually the peak has been swathed in clouds of smoke completely invisible from Pasadena but tonight when I stepped out they were still visible. The moon, shown in the photo I took this evening, was also up and is a bright orange, typically only seen during an eclipse and referred to as a blood moon by some cultures. These days we know that the orange colour we see tonight is due to light scattering from the large amounts of smoke and ash in the atmosphere that have been catching at our throats for the past few days but historically a blood moon was thought to foretell coming disaster and destruction.

Tonight is expected to be the night when the fire will make it’s assault on the historic observatory on Mt. Wilson. The weather today has been much better for fighting the fire and the defences on Mt. Wilson have been buttressed as much as possible during the day. A good account of the measures taken can be found on the Los Angeles Time L.A. Now blog. However as I look up at the mountain and then at tonight’s blood moon I can’t help but shiver. On this night our hopes and prayers are with the fire fighters that have remained on the mountain overnight to defend our history.

Moon, Venus and Jupiter

This was first published on December 2nd, 2008, republished January 12th 2019 after website move.

Moon, Venus and Jupiter setting

Tonight’s photo was taken a little later than last night’s photo so the sky background is darker and not so interesting. We can see how the moon and the Venus/Jupiter pair have swapped position. If you live in Europe then you had the opportunity to see the Moon eclipse Venus earlier today – unfortunately not visible from N. America. If you haven’t caught this grouping yet you will get another chance tomorrow night although the distance between the moon and Venus/Jupiter will be increasing. The next planetary occultation will be on Dec. 29th when the 3-day old moon will occult Jupiter however you will need to be in Central/Western Australia or Tasmania to see this. The next lunar occultation of a planet visible from N. America will be on Apr 22nd when the moon will again occult Venus.

Astronomy Saturday

This was first published on December 1st, 2008, republished January 12th 2019 after website move.

Moon, Venus and Jupiter setting. (click for larger image)

Went out to Cottonwood Springs campground in Joshua Tree National Park yesterday so that Catherine could try out her new telescope. We packed both Catherine’s and Elizabeth’s 8 in Dobs together with my 12 in into the minivan together with camping gear and food for 4 people. There were a few other astronomers out there that were holding star parties for groups and dueling green laser pointers were in evidence.

It was pretty windy prior to sunset but the winds died down shortly after sunset and we had some reasonable observing. Transparency was very good although seeing was at best average – luminosity of nebulous objects was very good. Right at sunset there was a thin crescent moon together with Jupiter and Venus. Catherine just enjoyed pointing her telescope at random objects while Elizabeth settled down to completing more of the Messier list from “A Starhopper’s Guide to MESSIER OBJECTS” by Lenore (ISBN 0-913399-57-4). This book by Lenore Freeman is a great starter’s guide to star hopping (thanks Jane). We dueled to see who could find things the fastest, after finding something she would come over to my scope to confirm the view was the same and we had a lot of fun. When there was a particularly long star hop we would use Sky and Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas to provide a little more context.

She viewed the following:Andromeda: M31, M32, M33, M110 (I also did M34 and M76)Cassiopeia: M52, M103Cetus: M77Cygnus: M29, M39Gemini: M35Lyra: M56, M57Orion: M78 (she had done M42 and M43 back in March but we looked at them again in all their glorious nebulousness)Pegasus: M15Pisces: M74which was a pretty good total for a few hours.

After the girls had gone to bed I browsed around Auriga but the wind started to pick up and so I packed up the scopes and was done by 11pm. The wind rattled the tent all night and packing up the scopes for the night before retiring proved to have been a wise decision. This morning we headed back home early in order to meet commitments here in Pasadena. This evening the moon, Venus and Jupiter were setting over the tree in the neighbors yard and I captured the image above using the D50 on a tripod (200ASA, 80mm, 1sec, f# 4.5).