There’s been lots of attention over Mars this past week. I can’t really blame all the media coverage, the Mars 2020 Perseverance EDL to the Martian surface was really cool and a great feat for NASA. I enjoyed watching it live on the NASA YouTube feed. But this weekend let’s turn our attention to the Snow Moon; the only full moon in February.
The full moon will occur at 3:17am Saturday, so tomorrow evening will be the best time to catch it. There’s nothing particularly special about this full moon, not a Blue Moon (second Full Moon in the month) or “Super Moon”. The name Snow Moon comes from the Farmer’s Almanac as February is normally the month that receives the most snow in North America.
The great thing about full moons is that you don’t need to stay up all night and wait outside in the frigid cold to see it. At this time of year, in the Northern hemisphere, the Moon is visible for more that 12 hours a day.
If you’re tempted to photograph the Snow Moon, leave the mobile phone behind, it’ll just give poor results and you’ll end up frustrated with frozen fingers. Instead just enjoy the view, paying close attention to the various dark “seas” spanning the lunar surface.
If you do try taking a picture, grab a DSLR or compact camera with manual mode. Set the ISO around 200 and the focus to manual. Your shutter speed should be high, around 1/800s; a full moon is surprisingly bright. You’re get better results by slightly under-exposing your shot. If you have a tripod, use it, else try to steady yourself on something (railing, chair, car roof, etc..) Subtle movement can easily ruin the details in you photos.
Ever since Photoshop (and other editing software) allowed user to manually manipulate pixels there has been edited pictures. And with the computing power available at our fingertips and some built-in tools it’s surprisingly simple to “stich” together two photos. So full disclosure, the image below is “Photoshopped”.
I decided as an exercise to see how to insert into a nighttime skyline a photo of the Moon photo taken with my telescope.
The New York city skyline was taken by me a visiti of the Empire State Building in October last year (pre-pandemic) with a Canon 80D, 17mm F4.0 lens at 1/50s ISO 6400. The Moon is with the same camera body, but paired to a Skywatcher 80ED and I had the settings at ISO 200 and 1/20s. There is no software scaling of either photos, they are stitched “as is”.
This image was done with GIMP, I also inserted 2 “blurred” layers to create a small amount of haze around the moon to make it look a little more natural. The Moon was purposely placed “behind” a skyscraper to give it an element of depth and lowered the color temperature.
So dig through some of your old photos and start experimenting…
The photo above is of a 10-day old Moon taken a few days ago. After the darker “seas” of old lava flow, one particularly bright crater in the southern hemisphere stands out, especially with the rays that appear to emanate from it. That is Tycho, a 85km wide and 5km deep crater and one of the more “recent” ones if you consider 109 million years the not-to-distant past. The Moon is 4.5 billion years old after all… having formed just 60 million years after the solar system. On the Moon, “fresh” material have a higher albedo and hence appear brighter, whiter.
The bright rays surrounding Tycho are made of material ejected (up to 1500km away) from the impact of a 8-10km wide body. In time these rays will disappear as the Moon continues to be bombarded by micro meteorites, which stirs the material on the surface. The rays are more present on the eastern side, as would be expected from a oblique impact.
Tycho is names after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.
The Surveyor 7 space craft landed about 25km north of the crater on January 10, 1968.
Ever wondered how mosaic space photos were done before the invention of powerful software algorithm to stitch them together? Take a look at the series of Surveyor 7 mosaic photos. Someone had to painfully print each photo and lay them on a grid in a specific pattern matching optical field and geometry.
Most people don’t plan to take photos of the Moon, they just happen. You are outside doing something else and then you spot it over the horizon or high in the sky: “Hey that’s a pretty Moon tonight Maybe I should take a photo!”
I find that normal camera lens, even telephoto don’t do it justice. The setting and focus can be very tricky. The multi-lens setup of telephoto can also cause internal reflections or chromatic aberrations making the resulting photo less appealing.
So just grab the telescope tube and leave the tripod behind. If you have a small APO refractor you can simply hold the tube, but for anything heavier you’ll need to prop yourself up on something like a railing or a car roof.
The photo below is a single shot at 1/250sec and ISO400 with Canon 80D and William Optics Gran Turismo 71 held on the end of my arms.The setup takes only a few minutes and the results are always worth it.
Last Saturday evening, if you happened to look outside and had a clear view there is no way you could miss the Venus-Moon close encounter in the dark blue sky. But just in case it was cloudy, or you weren’t paying attention here it is.
For those curious on the camera setting, the above is cropped from a single frame at 33mm f/4.5 1/30sec and ISO800 with Canon 80D.
Moving up to 85mm gives you the image below, also at 1/30sec and ISO800. Both images were hand-held from a bedroom window. Could a tripod have helped? Sure, but I figured I could do just fine , especially with image stabilization enabled on the lens.
To put a bit of perspective on the distance of these two heavenly bodies and their apparent size in the sky I’ve added a bit of information on the above image. While Venus may be nearly 4 times larger in diameter, it looks quite small next to the Moon in the sky.
After yesterday’s photo with the smart phone, I decided to go for a more professional shot and grabbed the Canon 80D and capture once again the Moon and Jupiter through the clouds. However this time around took two exposures, and stitched the together.
The wide-angle was 24mm F4.0 1/10s ISO-1600. This was to pick up the clouds against a night sky as well as Jupiter. Then a close-up of the Moon, with a shorter exposure and lowered ISO to pick up details of the lunar surface (85mm F5.6 1/250s ISO-200).
Opened them both in GIMP and played with layers, masks and curves to get the desired image. The close-up Moon photo was scaled down to match the 24mm wide-angle photo to avoid having gigantic moon.
Sometimes all it takes is a little cloud layer to hide the background stars to really reveal how bright Jupiter is right now. The photo below was taken with my smartphone on May 26th, with Jupiter clearly visible next to the Moon.
Jupiter and Earth were at their closest (opposition) on May 8th, but the entire month of May is a good time to spot Jupiter as it’s up high in the sky most of the night. Once Venus sets in the early evening, Jupiter is the brightest “star” in the sky, a good 20 times brighter than the next brightest stars.
Up until May 28th, Jupiter and the Moon will be near each other in the night sky, making for good photo opportunity.
Came home from my piano lesson (yes you can still learn a new instrument past 40) and the sight of a 2-day old Moon and Venus in the dusk sky was stunning. Unfortunately by the time I got home to grab the camera, the sky had darken quite a bit, so I lost my opportunity for some color in the photo.
While I did take more close-up photos, I find adding the rooftop in the foreground helps establish scale.
Notice the Earthshine, it was easily picked up to naked eye.