This post will be its own individual gallery while going over two celestial events that ended the year 2021 for yours truly. While the two events alone are worth the photography, the added bonus of a deep sky journey on the night I imaged C/2021 A1 (Leonard) from a deep sky adds more icing to the cake!
ALMOST TOTAL Partial Lunar Eclipse
November 18-19, 2021
Besides being the second lunar eclipse visible over Southern California in 2021, with the first being back in May that resulted in my first ever cover shot!, What was “special” about this lunar eclipse on November 18-19, 2021 was that while it was officially a partial eclipse, the Moon still crossed almost entirely – 97% inside Earth’s umbral shadow.
Being part of Griffith Observatory’s stream team, the plan was to track the Moon using the historic telescope, but also use a C11 Edge as a back up telescope just in case the old telescope’s clock drive wasn’t staying with the moon properly. Once again, it opened it up for me to take still images of this lunar eclipse due to us having other telescope operators who could focus on guiding the historic telescope.
But of course once again, weather was a major issue! Just like last time, the sky seemed promising enough with the full moon on full display, but it was only a matter of time before the night became more and more misty!
In May, we were dealing with high clouds that periodically blocked our view of the Moon during the eclipse, and we didn’t really have to worry about too much dew build up on our equipment. But this time, with us LITERALLY inside the clouds on this misty night, everything set up outside was subject to the condensation! The fog could be seen creeping inside the Zeiss telescope dome too, so nobody was safe!
And just like clock work… during the periods around max eclipse was when we dealt with the fog just giving us a hard time! Unlike May’s eclipse where the clouds passing in front added “character” to the images and videos we were trying to produce, the thick fog just kept dimming and brightening the moon, until it was no longer bright enough to shine through. Both the Zeiss operators and myself with the C11 kept having to adjust the exposure settings on the Sony Alpha cameras to keep a consistent image.
In the above image, you can see how badly the outdoor Observatory lights pointed at the sky were actually creating a “curtain” of light in front of the eclipsed moon. But because the fog got too thick, turning off these outdoor lights only helped slightly.
The humidity outside was so troublesome that even with a dew shield on the C11, I kept having to blow off the dew build up on the corrector plate at the front of the tube, especially when I needed to allow as much light as possible to capture any “red” from this eclipse. The computer streaming equipment was also subject to freezes and small malfunctions due to the water build up.
It wasn’t until about 1:13 am local time, roughly 9 minutes after “max eclipse” when I was able to get ANY hints of the shadowed limb of the eclipsed Moon through the fog. And the the following two images were the best I could do with processing and layering. In this instance I’m grateful I used an 11″ telescope , because I don’t think I would have had enough aperture to capture the hints through the 8″ telescope I normally use.
I had only a 15 minute window where the fog was thin enough to get hints of “red.” But once the eclipse was past the climax, and the fog remained too thick to get any more “red,” there wasn’t much else I could do when it came to shooting the eclipse. I hope to one day do a composite that shows all of Earth’s shadow, but this night wasn’t the night.
Until the stream was officially ended, with the C11 no longer being used to take still images and not being needed while the Zeiss telescope kept on the moon as normal, the C11 Edge was left to collect dew until it was time to put away the equipment.
And thus concludes this portion covering the November 18-19 “Misty Eclipse.” While I’m always honored to be part of the team that produces the media to showcase events like these, this is one case where being further inland away from the coastal fog would have had the advantage.
A Comet Named Leonard
While NEOWISE put on a good show in July of 2020, we were not going to be that lucky this time. With the designation C/2021 A1, that literally means this was the first long period comet discovered in the year 2021, and as far back as midway through the year, this comet named Leonard was predicted to be the brightest of the year, AND possibly be a naked eye target.
My first “jab” at this comet came on the morning of December 2. I had seen that my former boss had observed it from Mt. Wilson with his own equipment, so I knew that going to my Gavilan Hills observing spot near my Woodcrest, CA residence would be a suitable location.
Even WITH a skyglow filter for light pollution, I couldn’t expose too much for this comet without having to deal with the added light washing out the background sky. But it performed as expected, and I knew that this would possibly be the best time to catch it and image it while it was a high enough morning target in the night sky before it cradled the horizon too much as it got closer to the Sun.
Finally, the night came when I would go out and capture this comet from a deep sky location. At first, I was going to go to my usual spot at Cottonwood Spring, but because I was unhappy with the wind forecast, AND didn’t like how it felt when I tried to go there to be sure if it would be too windy, I went out to the much more remote location of Rice!
What initially struck me the most on this night was that I could see the lights from Las Vegas, 148 miles (127 nautical miles or 236 km) away as the bird flies! I had not seen the lights from Vegas from Rice before, or at least not as prominent… and that could have been attributed with the distant wind picking up dust over the Mojave desert, and the haze above the horizon. In terms of wind, it wasn’t AS bad initially as Cottonwood, and it would eventually settle down.
While waiting for the Comet to rise high enough to image, I went after other objects that I wanted to add to the “Messier” collection, or try and make a better version of.
I am happy with how M78 turned out, as it is a lot of high sub exposures with a moderately high ISO. While I know that certain filters will be better in bringing out the “dark nebula” features, this is definitely an image that outdoes my previous M78 effort.
My shot of M81 and 82 is also good in terms of color and detail… but unfortunately it was rather breezy when I shot the exposure data for it, so the background stars are not as sharp as I’d like.
The above image is actually a composite of two images stitched together. I had always wanted to capture a shot showcasing these three objects, but a 1000mm focal length telescope is too narrow, unless I carefully shoot them separately and stitch them together.
But hey… you want comet pictures, right?
This one has about five 180 second exposures layered on top of a couple 60 second star exposures. I also did a lapse showing the comet’s movement across the telescope over a period of 20 minutes. Each frame in this “movie” is a 30 second exposure.
I would have tried longer…. but my camera’s battery ran out.
While the comet did eventually became an evening target when it had its closest approach to Earth on its way to perihelion, it wasn’t as easy to spot due to its closer proximity to the Sun. It did not become a naked eye object until close to winter solstice, but by then, the comet became a southern sky target and wasn’t positioned well in the sky for northern hemisphere viewers. Even if I wanted to try to look for it, seasonal rain storms over Southern California made that impossible during that brief window.