Monday, January 26, 2015

Massive Asteroid BL86 Approaches Earth

Mountain-sized asteroid BL86 came hurtling towards its near-miss with earth today, and I caught it on my camera as it approached late Sunday night. Here's the time-lapse video, both an edge to edge 16:9 crop at 200mm, then a second copy cropped to 1080p. Look in the center as it moves from lower right center to upper left center:

 Both clips in the video were assembled from 119 separate images of the sky, taken with a full frame DSLR and 70-200 mm lens, on a star-tracking mount. Here's a composite image assembled from the first 60 photos.

If you missed the asteroid Sunday and Monday, +NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a chart to help you find it in the sky into the night of Tuesday, January 27 in the U.S., Wednesday January 28 GMT:

Although the asteroid is bright enough to see with binoculars, it probably won't do you much good to try to find it that way. The asteroid moves so slowly, it's very difficult to tell from the smaller stars in the background.  In the time-lapse video you see it move because several minutes of time are shown in each second of video.

Since it's easier to see the asteroid that way, I just pointed my camera where the asteroid should be, and I set an external timer to have it capture photos for a couple of hours. I used a star-tracking mount so the area of sky it was in wouldn't move away form where the camera was pointing.

 For the video, you can adjust the playback on YouTube from its standard low resolution playback to as high as 1080p HD.

 I also have a copy down-converted to 720p HD on Vimeo if that works better for your Internet connection:

Asteroid BL86 Approaches Earth from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Four Nights With Comet Lovejoy

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy on the evening of Monday, January 19, 2015.
Last night I enjoyed the best viewing conditions for capturing Comet Lovejoy so far.  Seen under the dark skies of California's Eastern Sierra region and with no moon in the sky, even its long tail showed up well.  Knowing where to look (near Pleiades) I was able to just see it with my eyes, and find it with a 70-200 mm lens.  Using a Canon 70D DLSR, its "crop sensor" gave me the equivalent of 320 mm focal length.  I even added a 2X teleconverter to bring the effective focal length to a massive 640 mm!

I used an external interval timer to capture one-minute exposures until the camera's battery power ran out nearly 2.5 hours later.  I had the camera placed on an inexpensive star-tracking mount to follow the comet as the earth rotated.  I converted the resulting 147 exposures to video, and with 640 mm zoom, over the course of 2 hours you can see the comet move against the starry background!

Here are the time-lapse video results of several nights shooting, at effective focal lengths of 28 mm, 35 mm, 320 mm and 640 mm.  The video is best viewed full screen, switched to HD 1080p quality:

I hope that I get more clear nights this month to shoot the comet, as it gradually moves away from the earth and the sun on its big lap of our solar system.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Photograph Comet Lovejoy in January

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy on January 6, 2015.
Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy passes closest to earth tonight, offering our brightest viewing of it for several thousand more years.  It will brighten as it continues to approach the sun, but appear to fade in brightness as it recedes from earth, and as those two trends work against each other we'll have continued good viewing conditions for the next couple of weeks. 

The recent full moon challenged viewing, but tonight, January 7, in the Northern Hemisphere the moon rises about 3 hours after sunset.  Once the sky is fully dark (approximately 6:30 pm in mid northern latitudes), you'll have roughly an hour of dark sky viewing before the approaching moon brightens your sky.  Tomorrow, January 8, your dark sky window extends roughly 6:30 - 8:30.

You don't need fancy equipment to see this comet.  It's bright enough to see with binoculars, or in test exposures taken with a 24mm or 50mm lens or to find in a 70-200 mm zoom at the widest 70 mm focal length.  For the next few nights Comet Lovejoy will be to the right of the constellation Orion.  +Universe Today provides a handy finder chart in their article "Finding Lovejoy: How to Follow the Path of Comet 2014 Q2 Through January".

I captured the test image above with the nearly-full moon in the sky, using a Canon 70D DSLR and EF 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount.  If you don't have a star tracking mount, no problem, just use your widest lens (I'd use an EF 16-35 mm f/2.8 lens wide open at f/2.8 and at it's widest focal length of 16mm).  Crank up the ISO and take a number of long test exposures to determine which combination of ISO and exposure time work well on your camera.

If the skies remain clear I should be able to capture even better images during moonless hours in the coming nights.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Vote for Bodie SHP in Via Magazine

California's Bodie State Historic Park at night

+AAA's Via Magazine is running a Wonders of the West sweepstakes.  They ask you a few short questions, then ask for your nomination for the best sight in the West.  What could epitomize the West better than a real Wild West ghost town?  All respondants are entered to win $1500 for a trip, plus $400 credit at Hertz for your rental car.

If you have a moment, go to their poll at, click on your votes for their 3-4 standard multiple choice questions, then write in Bodie as a Wonder of the West!