The comet in the top left of the photo. A tree in the bottom right.

NEOWISE update

Now that our fine comet friend has shifted so that it is visible in the evenings (~80 minutes after sunset, so ~10:20 p.m. Washington state time), it has been cloudy almost every single night. Yesterday it was cloudy all day too, but when I looked outside during our evening Zoom exercise class, I saw blue sky all of a sudden! After class, Cobalt and I went for a walk to get a better idea of the weather. It was relatively clear above us, but still cloudy to the northwest, where NEOWISE has been hanging out in the evenings. Maybe the clouds would continue to roll away in the two hours before NEOWISE was due to be visible in the sky?

We decided to attempt another comet sighting after dinner. We packed the camera and its tripod and headed off to our favorite area to see things west of us. It’s still in the city, but you have to go through some trees to get there, and then you end up looking across Puget Sound. Anyway, we got there at 10 p.m. but then had to turn around because the site has been closed during the pandemic to keep the number of people in the area down.

We drove north and finally turned down a street with a pretty good view of the northwest. There was one couple with masks and binoculars looking up, so we pulled over.

The viewing conditions were not great. The spot had tall trees blocking our view of the sky. And on either side of the trees were VERY BRIGHT streetlights. Also, other people showed up, driving down the street with their headlights blaring and then taking forever to get out of their cars and turn off all their lights. Everyone was staring at the sky, but no one was having much luck finding NEOWISE.

I was having trouble even setting up the camera. Because everything around us was so bright, I couldn’t find or focus on any stars through the viewfinder. And my glasses, which help me see the crisp pinpoints of light, were getting fogged up thanks to my mask. I was getting frustrated.

I took a break from the camera and pulled out a handy article from Sky and Telescope, which has very specific instructions and diagrams for finding the comet: Find the big dipper, it says, and then count three fists below the dipper. Then move a little to the right. I handed my phone to Cobalt to ask him if he could make sense of the diagrams while I struggled with the camera. “I found it!” he said, and motioned for me to move the camera even MORE underneath one of the streetlights. If I squinted to where he was pointing, I could just barely make out a blur that looked vaguely like the bright comet we had seen last week. Or maybe I was just imagining things.

I pointed my camera in that direction, adjusted the lens to “infinity” focus (no way to focus on something you can’t see… plus that streetlight was REALLY bright) and took a picture. This is what we saw 5 seconds later in my display screen.

The night sky with a comet tail barely visible at the bottom of the photo.
A TAIL! We found the tail!

COBALT HAD FOUND IT! Nice work, Cobalt. All of the other comet-viewers had given up by then, so it was just the two of us discussing how to tweak the camera settings without losing the comet. It’s always fun to photograph something COMPLETELY blind, using the display screen to give us any indication that we’re on the right track. Cobalt mentioned multiple times that we were so lucky to be in this digital photography age. Phew! Here are some more pictures from our adventure.

The comet in the top left of the photo with a small bright blur to the right of it. A tree takes up the bottom right of the photo.
I wonder what is next to NEOWISE in this picture. It shows up in a few of my pictures from around the same time, seemingly making an arc in the sky. Is it the International Space Station?! Someone who knows more about space, please weigh in.

 

The comet tail coming up from the bottom of the photo. You can sort of see the ion tail too coming off the top.
Did you know that comets actually have TWO tails? The main one is all the dust created from the melting ice/debris released when the comet passed the sun. The other is made up of ions released thanks to the solar radiation. I like this picture because I can sorta see the ion tail (it’s on top, kinda blue). Can you see it? :)

These photos were taken with a pretty long exposure (between 1 and 10 seconds) and a really high ISO. As usual, I have MOAR photo ideas that I want to try, but we’ll see if we get to go find the comet again. It is supposedly getting close and closer to Earth (it will be the closest on July 23), but it is also getting dimmer and dimmer. We’re lucky we have a telephoto lens and a camera that lets us take long exposures, but I’m worried that without binoculars, we won’t be able to see it by eye soon. :(

Anyone else have NEOWISE adventures that they want to share?

The comet NEOWISE in the night sky

It’s NEOWISE to meet you

One of these stars is not like the others (hint: it’s a comet)…

Sooo on Friday The Seattle Times had an article about the comet NEOWISE and how we could actually see it from our often-times cloudy city of Seattle — as long as we were willing to be awake just before sunrise, which right now is around 3 a.m. Now you know me and my love of taking pictures of fun objects in the sky (the moon, solar eclipses, etc.), so I said CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

We got up at 2:45 a.m., thoroughly confusing the cat, and headed out in search of the comet. All we knew was that it should be near Venus and in the northeast. We had found a pretty good spot for photographing the moon a few months ago, so we decided to try that. Sure enough we saw Venus poking its head up over the mountains to the east. Then it was time to find the comet. It was relatively easy to see without binoculars — we just looked for a star that looked a little bit fuzzy. Maybe it helped that there was a tree next to us with a branch that was pointed straight at the comet. Here! Here! It’s right here!

We stayed with NEOWISE for about a half an hour, mostly with me furiously clicking away on my camera, trying to get the perfect shot. It was pretty dim, so I had to focus manually. But because it was pretty dim, it was also hard to focus manually. In addition, I wanted to do a long exposure to capture NEOWISE and its brilliant tail, but the longer I left the shutter open, the more everything shifted. So it was a lot of trial and error, but I think I got a pretty good shot or two!

Anyway, at some point the sun had come up enough to make NEOWISE even harder to see, and we were feeling sleepy. So we said good night (good morning?) to the comet and headed back home to bed.

It sounds like NEOWISE should be shifting to the early evening hours a little later this month, so keep an eye out for it! It’s pretty neat! I’ll certainly be looking for it. I have so many more photo ideas that I want to try now that I’m more awake. :)

The comet NEOWISE in the night sky

Those bad clouds

What happens when you’re super excited about something, and then it doesn’t happen? That energy has to go somewhere, right? Last week, I decided to put my disappointment about missing the lunar eclipse into taking crazy double exposure photos of Tarantula and the moon. It was possibly more challenging than photographing the eclipse itself, AND it made me giggle, which cheered me up.

It all started last Tuesday evening, when I was nerding out about the Super Blue Blood Moon! I love taking pictures of the moon (as y’all know), and lunar eclipses (the “blood moon” part) are especially fun to photograph. Unlike a solar eclipse, you don’t need crazy equipment to keep your eyes and your camera safe. You just point the camera at the moon and click click click click. Yayyyy. Cool moon pictures.

The total eclipse was supposed to start at… 4:50 am on Wednesday morning here in Washington state. My friend K and I planned to get up at 4 am and meet up so we could witness/photograph the wonder together. Great plan!

4 am is quite a bit earlier than I am used to getting up, though, so I decided to pack my camera stuff the night before. That way, I could roll out of bed, grab my fancy new camera bag, and go see the moon!

I was getting everything ready when I looked up and saw the super moon watching me through the window. It was pretty neat. Some trick of the light made a mini reflection of the super moon right underneath the moon itself. I liked it because it was still a pretty detailed reflection. So I took a few photos. But not too many because I thought I would have way cooler ones in the morning.

I love my little blurry mini moon. It almost looks like the mini moon IS the moon and then there’s some crazy bright planet/star lurking behind it!

BUT when I woke up at 4 am, it was CLOUDY. Cobalt, nice husband that he is, even went on a mini walk outside to see if our apartment was blocking the moon. He came back with sad news. No eclipse for me.

I was so grumpy on Wednesday. People were posting such cool photos online. Blood moon over an observatory, blood moon over the ocean, blood moon, blood moon, blood moon! It seemed like everyone saw it! And yet, I had nothing. It’s not like I slept through my alarm, or I forgot to charge my camera battery. It’s just that sometimes, these things happen. It was out of my control.

On Wednesday night, when the moon rose, I glared at it. It was still kind of cloudy, but you could see the moon. It was taunting me. Oh now you decide to show up, moon.

A part of me suggested that maybe I take some full moon pictures anyway. My camera was already prepped for moon photos. So I grudgingly set everything up and took a few photos of the moon from our deck.

Dang. That’s a sweet moon.

Tarantula watched me from the back door. That’s when I got the idea. What if… I took a picture of the moon and then, using the multiple exposure mode on my camera, took a picture of Tarantula so that it looked like she was watching it?

Crazy challenge accepted! Finally all my grumpiness had somewhere to go: This photo was going to require some serious planning.

The way the multiple exposure mode works is that it takes two (or more, depending on what you tell it) consecutive photos and smashes them together into one photo. So I had to take two perfect photos back to back. Which was hard because the moon and the inside of my house are lit quite differently. Also Tarantula is quite a bit closer to my camera than the moon is. ALSO… I had to remember where I framed the moon in the photo and then somehow get my cat to look in that general direction.

It took two different lenses (take picture of moon, switch lens to portrait lens, adjust settings, take picture of cat) and a lot of trial and error.

This was my first attempt. Moon looks good, but T’s not really looking in the right direction. Also I didn’t really like the closet in the background behind her.
Cobalt was on cat-attention duty. He tried: saying KITTY!, snapping his fingers, and getting out her favorite butterfly toy to get her to look where I wanted her to look. This picture happened because she leapt out of the frame for the butterfly. I was going to redo the whole series anyway, so I just snapped a quick second picture of her and the camera smashed the two together. I think it looks like a record cover. What would the title be?

I’m still sad that I didn’t get to see the eclipse. But at least I got to have fun with my camera, which is one of the things I was looking forward to. I’ve been trying to take pictures that tell a story. Sure, a photo of the eclipse would have told a “Potassium got up super early so she could see this sweet lunar phenomenon” story. But these photos tell a pretty neat story too. I mean, how often do cats get to look at a moon in their own living rooms?

Now it’s your turn! Did you see the eclipse? What’s something that’s disappointed you lately? How did you handle your feelings?

Meteors and other camping phenomena

Hello everyone! How are you? Cobalt and I went camping last weekend! On Saturday afternoon, we and our friends M and E (and their dog Bear) and K (and her dog Josie) piled into two cars with tons of camping supplies and hit the road to go camping in Umatilla National Forest!

So I like car camping because you don’t have to carry all of your stuff on your back and you have plenty of room for all the fun camera supplies you want. I had an extra bag full of a tripod, a variety of lenses, and my trusty DSLR because I was hoping to photograph the Perseid meteor shower.

While I gave myself a crazy photo challenge of trying to catch meteors streaking across a random spot in the sky, I think that camping offers a fun environment to try night time photography. It’s usually way darker out there since one point of camping is to get away from the city. And wow you can see so many stars (unless the moon is out…)! Plus it’s just fun to play with light when it’s dark. So I thought I’d talk a little about that, show off some crazy night sky pictures, and then we’ll top it all off with some fun hike pictures from the next day. Sound good?

Great. Let’s get started. So for those of you have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that Cobalt and I love taking weird photos at night. There are some creepy ones like this one of him sneaking up on me. There’s a romantic one of us with the Big Dipper. Plus there are some weird ones like this one with the moon making weird patterns in the sky.

The thing I like about night time photography is that you have to be creative about what kind of light your camera sees. So sometimes I use the flash followed by ambient light. Sometimes I use just ambient light. And sometimes I use ambient light to convey motion. That is the most fun.

Check out my crazy star pictures from this weekend. Both of them have a pretty long exposure — I left the shutter open for a long time to try to capture a meteor in action. Look at how the stars are swirling around. Cooool.

Holy light streaks, Batman! Also maybe that’s a meteor in the top right hand corner? I played around a little with the settings in Lightroom here but maybe it’s too black and white? Check out the next photo for comparison.
We started the picture and then walked away for ~10 minutes while we got ready for bed. The stars moved sooooo much! Also maybe I caught two meteors on the right? It’s hard to tell. :-/

I ended up getting pretty frustrated with this whole process because the remote control I usually use with my camera to start and stop loooooong exposures was on the fritz. I think it needs a new battery. Also we kept seeing AMAZING meteors in the opposite direction from where my camera was pointing. Oh well… that is life. Plus, it’s important to remember to actually experience life too. Not just stare at it through a camera lens.

P.S. Do you see all those weird specks of light all over my pictures? Pretty sure it was still smokier than we thought out there. :p

While the night sky was perfect for star watching, we woke up Sunday morning to rain. Not big fat drops but just enough to make for a wet, cold morning. After hot oatmeal and coffee, five damp humans — and two soggy pups — shuffled up the trail for a 5 mile hike. I decided to leave the DSLR in the car though because I didn’t want to get it wet. So the iPhone got to take pictures instead.

Check out this fun panorama with Cobalt and M. I think they need to start making music together because it looks like an album cover to me. What do you think? Something indie, most likely.

I think their band would be called “Elk Snacks.” Thoughts?

If I had brought my DSLR, I think I would have liked to do some jumping pictures like I have in this blog post about the Maroon Bells. Those are always fun to do but they require some playing around with settings that makes them best suited for a DSLR instead.

I like to test the limits of my iPhone camera anyway though so here is my attempt to photograph this wet bee that was clinging to a flower. I got the camera close enough to the bee that you can make out her spiky fur while the background is a blur.

Fuzzy…..

Finally, I got one of my favorite hiking photos: Cobalt with the trail in front of him. I take this type of photo a lot. I like it because it shows off some scenery but then Cobalt’s there to put it all in perspective and make it interesting. Plus he’s always so determined on hikes. Here he’s wearing my amazing shark backpack. Also, isn’t this trail gorgeous? We’ve really been missing our trees over here.

That’s all for now. Who’s excited about the eclipse in LESS THAN A WEEK!?!?! What percentage totality is it where you live?

A lunar grin

Hi team! How’s it going on this lovely first Friday of March? I’ve been super busy as usual with this program. Some of my recent activities include: eating peanut M&M’s on the air for my internship, photographing a science rally for Science, and combatting a vicious cold! Now we only have two weeks left in this quarter and everything is going nuts (like my M&M’s!). All four of our huge assignments this quarter are due back to back to back to back and then back to back to back to back again with revisions. Yikes!

But even with all of this craziness going on, I couldn’t help noticing the moon these past few nights. In case you were wondering, yes I’m still obsessed with the moon. Two nights ago, I caught it chilling with Venus when Cobalt and I went to run some errands. Then last night, I saw it grinning through our back door as I was getting ready for bed. “Oh I see what you’re doing there, moon,” I told it. Then I ran to get my camera. But by the time I came back, the moon was already hiding behind one of the apartment buildings in our complex. “Don’t think you’ve won,” I told its faint glow, all I could see from behind the building. “We’ll meet again tomorrow night…” So tonight I sat on the couch scritching a sleepy Tarantula and doing homework, just waiting for the sun to go down. Finally the moon appeared, smile and all. A HA! Caught ya, moon!

Telescope + Camera = new sky friends!

Hello everyone! How were your weekends?! I hope they were good. We are on spring break so Cobalt and I headed up to Steamboat Springs to hang out with our friends L and B and their kiddos. We had tons of fun eating, playing pool, skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, game-playing, hot springs-ing, etc! It was so awesome to get away from Boulder and relax a little in great company. Plus I think I am finally succeeding in teaching myself how to snowboard!

One night, B set up his telescope so that we could see Jupiter up close and personal. I have only seen Jupiter from earth without the aid of a telescope or in books that show it waaaaaaay up close with its huge spot that can fit 3 (!!!) earths in it. That night, I got to see a middle version – Jupiter with two rings around it! So cool. I tried to take some pictures with my cell phone camera but it was hard to point the tiny phone camera into the eyepiece of the telescope. I ran upstairs to grab my big DSLR so I could try that instead. It still turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Jupiter was moving around in the sky so B had to readjust the telescope frequently and I had to hover with my camera around the vicinity of the eyepiece to try to catch Jupiter in the eyepiece of my camera! Plus, autofocus was not working (it has a hard time in the dark) so I had to hover around the eyepiece while constantly fiddling with the focus to try to bring Jupiter’s cute little rings slightly more into focus. Whew… 50 pictures later, I think this picture (which is actually one of the first ones I took) takes the cake! Introducing my new friend: JUPITER!!

Soooo stripey. Jupiter kinda looks like a baseball… or a Mr. Stripey tomato…

After B and I had so much fun trying to get cool pictures of Jupiter, he decided to set up the telescope to look at the moon. It was REALLY bright and also REALLY COOL. I was completely floored by how much detail we could see! Again, I am used to looking at the moon without the aid of a telescope or seeing pictures of moon craters in a book. I couldn’t believe that all the rocks and crags that I was looking at through the telescope belonged to the same moon that I usually see outside my house! Photographing the moon through the telescope eyepiece had its own interesting set of challenges. First of all, it was much brighter than Jupiter so I could mess with some of my camera settings to decrease the chance that I would make the moon blurry by all my hovering around. I learned that I could change some camera settings but not others (e.g. the f stop, or how much light you let into the camera, had to stay the same). Second of all, the moon is BIG and my camera was limited to how much it could see through the eyepiece of the telescope. It was really hard to get the entire moon into frame with the lens I had chosen to use (a 50 mm prime lens). That was kind of okay with me though because I really liked focusing on various parts of the moon and didn’t really feel the need to have ALL MOON in my pictures. Finally, the focusing – still hard. Even with a bright moon, I was still messing with my focus to try to get the moon details as sharp as possible while hovering around the telescope eyepiece. None the less, I really like a lot of my pictures, including these awesome ones:

(my relationship with the moon is forever changed by this picture….)
Cheese, Gromit!

Another fun thing – we also looked at sunspots during the day (obviously not through the eyepiece). B held a piece of paper up by the eyepiece so that the BRIGHT light from the sun was projected onto it. There we could see tiny little sunspots hanging out with the sun. Before I got a chance to look, apparently a plane flew in front of the sun and Cobalt and B saw a tiny plane projected onto the sun on the paper. Jealous…

Anyway, that’s all for now too. Do you get a spring break? Are you doing anything fun? It seems that the most popular options for spring break are: a) go to the beach, b) go to the mountains, or c) staycation/sleep. What did you choose? Back to work for me today – technically postdocs don’t get spring breaks. :(

PS – If you remember me talking about the moon in my Top Books of 2015 post, yes I am still unhealthily obsessed with the moon (you try reading a book in which the moon blows up without warning and then having a normal relationship with the moon after that…).

Moon Fingers


Hi all, sorry for the short post today but I have been super stressed out working on essays and job applications (plus working in the lab). It’s been a bit crazy here. I’m still going to try to write a sweet science post for y’all next week though so stay tuned!

Today’s picture: moon fingers! So I am still obsessed with the moon after reading Seveneves last year. On Sunday night I was writing at my desk when I looked up and noticed the moon out my window. It looked particularly awesome hiding behind the branches of the tree by my house and I wanted to capture it. I know that the moon is a bit overexposed in this picture but 1) it was hidden in fog anyway so focusing on it wouldn’t be very exciting and 2) I like the bright backdrop it provides for the tree branches. Creeeeeeepyyyyy.

How are you guys? Anyone reading from the east coast? What did you think of the most recent storm? It was 56 degrees here in Boulder on Saturday but it snowed a tiny bit today. Boulder weather is weird… :-/

Painting with the moon


Last night, Cobalt and I went out in search of auroras. We didn’t think CO would be cool enough to get auroras being pretty far south but we thought we would give it a try anyway. It turned out that even if there were auroras, the moon was soooooo bright that we probably wouldn’t have been able to see any anyway. Booo moon. But all hope was not lost! We hung out by moonlight and had ourselves a creepy (romantic?) hike above the town of Boulder. From that hike, I bring you our fun photography brainwave – moon painting! That’s right. This is the easiest kind of photography ever – You set your camera on a long exposure setting, point it at the moon and then run around! So what do you guys think? Awesome abstract art? Looks like a 3 year old did it? Reminds you of Ghostbusters? Let’s hear your comments! I kind of want to try it again and try to actually make shapes with the moon – like use your camera as a giant pencil? Hrmmm….

Below I used both the moon and Boulder for painting…

I hope you guys all have awesome weekends!

Creepy Clouds


We have been getting a LOT of rain here recently (wish I could send it all to Los Alamos, NM) so I snapped this picture one night. I was about to go to bed when I saw the moon all creepily obscured by clouds. It’s one of me and Cobalt’s favorite moons (the cool moon if you ask me or the “Lon Chaney” moon if you ask Cobalt…) so I had to take a picture of course. It turned out really cool if you ask me!