Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sunset, Moonset and a Surprise Guest!

Post number 1,001, so the pressure is off - back to being mediocre! Just kidding, but if this post seems weirder than most - I can blame it on the drugs - had some oral surgery this morning, and even now 10 hours later - I still don't have much feeling in my jaw... Long story short, while flossing about a month ago, a crown popped off, taking the lil' stump with it, so need gum and bone trimmed back ("crown lengthening")for a new crown to grab on to... This post is from images collected last (Tuesday) night...

It had been a while since I've been on a photo outing, and the confluence of later sunsets these days, finishing medical appointments on time, and getting chores done early, I loaded up and headed out to Gates Pass to catch the sunset last night. Melinda held down the fort at home, and my trip west got stuck in "rush hour" traffic slowdowns, but pulled into the last parking spot at Gates Pass about 15 minutes before sunset.

With the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in full swing, I expected a full crowd, though most of the people I talked to were local - just out for your standard spectacular Arizona sunset! With the sun still up, my first goal was if there were any 3D shots of interest. There were! Get out your red/blue anaglyph 3D glasses for these. Both were taken from or a few yards from the parking lot, they show a couple "hyperstereo" images, where the baseline was significantly more than your eye separation - in these cases 5 feet or so. The shot at left was nearly down-sun shooting into the hills of saguaro cacti, and at right, the ridgeline of the Pass with a few sunset watchers in residence.  One more anaglyph down below!

The sunset finally came - a "standard" Arizona one where it was way too brilliant to look at unfiltered, even as the last shards of the disk sat atop the horizon. Shooting with the 300mm, the last little remnants are visible on distant mountains, but no green flash made an appearance.

A couple months ago, the sun would have set considerably to the left, where from Gates Pass, Kitt Peak is conveniently located. Imaged with the same 300mm lens, here the National Observatory is located. Interesting from this lower viewpoint, the 4 meter telescope is nearly eclipsed by the lower (in elevation) but nearer peak of the Coyote range, seen just to the right of the big 4 meter. Also, even though the sun had just set from my viewpoint, you can see a golden glow in the foreground - likely the still-above-the-horizon sun illuminating some intervening haze.

Here is a wider view showing the western horizon, from the sunset point to Kitt Peat at the far left. The view from atop Gates Pass is dominated by flat plains and mountain ranges that just from them. Here is the Avra Valley is an interesting sight - large square bodies of water - seen here with the glow of twilight reflected from them. I was able to talk to some folks who brought them up in conversation. They are "recharge ponds". A couple decades ago when we first got Central Arizona Project (CAP) water from the Colorado River, the water corroded pipes as the different chemistry of river water differed significantly from ground water (think - shades of Flint, Michigan!). So now, at least a large part of CAP water is allowed to percolate through the ground to the aquifer, where it is pumped and used to supply Tucson with water... Not an ideal solution for a large desert city, but there it is...

As I returned to the car for a change of gear, I noticed the lights of Tucson coming up in the little notch visible to the east - hey, another 3D opportunity! While there isn't a lot of detail visible in the cacti, I like being able to see down the canyon as it opens out into the Tucson Valley in this hyperstereo with about a 10 foot baseline.

Now it was time for the after-show! Back nearly a week ago at our Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) meeting, Erich Karcoschka (you gotta hang on his every word!) mentioned that this time of the year the ecliptic rises nearly vertically, and with the moon actually north of the ecliptic, here in the mid-northern latitudes, we get to see something unusual - a skinny crescent moon that "holds water". In other words, the moon is nearly directly over the now-set sun and cusps are nearly horizontal, making a cup that would hold water! Also, the just-over 34 hour moon would have very bright earthshine - seen from the moon, the "full" earth would illuminate even the dark side of the moon. Sure enough, as it darkened, the crescent appeared with brilliant earthshine, shown at left.  The bright star at the very top of the frame is Lambda Aquarii.

But wait - there's more! I happened to look at Heavens-Above at their sky map to note the position of the moon and sun as they set and noticed that there would be a little "guest" next to the moon - the outermost planet Neptune! The little plot is shown at right above - it appeared to be close enough to be easy to catch, so had to give it a go!

I hadn't planned on bringing any hefty mounts for tracking with telephotos, so crossed my fingers that I could use the little Polarie tracking mount with my heavy 70-200 zoom (used for the above moon shot). Now with it set to 200mm for maximum reach, I took a few exposures up to 8 seconds in hopes of catching the outermost planet. I wasn't sure which it was at the camera, but now back at home and with the sky guide above for the appointed image time, at left the minute Neptune appears from 2.9 billion miles (4.6 billion kilometers)!  You'll likely have to click the image to load the full-size view to see it well, but it is there!

And even then the show wasn't over! My friend Ken Spencer blogs a picture he takes every day. He is currently touring western New Mexico and yesterday had posted an exquisite image of the Zodiacal Light seen from the boondocks near Magdelena, NM. Since Gates Pass is sort of on the western edge of the Tucson metropolitan area, could the Zodiacal Light be seen from that vantage? The short answer is yes - I could see it visually, but wanted to try a photographic record... By the time I tracked down an appropriate wide angle lens (in this case a Canon 10-22 zoom, set to 10mm) on the tracking mount, the setting crescent moon was just sitting atop the western horizon. This 45 second exposure easily shows the Zodiacal Light - a sky glow that outlines the ecliptic plane where planets and asteroids reside, and dust from comets and ancient asteroid collisions are illuminated by the sun. You can see some signs of civilization to the west - there are some houses out in Avra Valley, and cars along Gates Pass road outline it in bright glows. Also the bright orange development is actually the "Old Tucson Studios", which from the sounds of it, was hosting some sort of banquet or function likely associated with the Gem and Mineral shows going on. Do note the earthlit disk of the moon sitting on the mountaintop and also the little light dome just right of Kitt Peak - likely from Sells 60 miles distant.

By this time I had been alone for a long time and it was 8pm - long past time to pack up and head from home - but boy, what a fun evening! Wish you had been there!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey melinda this should make you smile next week #craigyferg is hosting a new show on the history channel Join or Die! starts next week personally i can't wait to see this sexy geezer rock American History!