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1. Transit of Mercury – by Dan Heim
2. Spring Equinox at Heimhenge – by Dan Heim
3. Comet Lulin – by Scott Loucks
4. Atlas Launch from Vandenberg – by Dan Heim
5. Blue Moon Rising – by Dan Heim
6. Annular / Partial Eclipse – by Dan Heim
7. Transit of Venus – by Dan Heim
8. Perseid Meteor Shower – by Dan Heim
9. Falcon 9 Rocket Launch from Vandenberg – by Dan Heim

1. Transit of Mercury – by Dan Heim

Optics: Takahashi FS-128 + Coronado SM40 H-alpha filter + 10 mm TeleVue Plossl (eyepiece projection)
Imaging: Canon EOS 20D, EFL 4000 mm, f31, ISO 3200, 1/200 sec
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Nov 8, 2006
Note: North is approximately at the 9 o’clock position; 3rd contact was at the western point on the solar limb.

Comments: This was my second attempt at solar imaging in H-alpha, and my Coronado filter arrived just a few days before the transit. I missed 1st and 2nd contact due to clouds, but caught 3rd and 4th contact, which occurred around 17:10 MST. By then, the Sun was fairly low in the sky and seeing was getting worse. Further, the scope plus accessories was straining the clutch on my old Polaris mount and I was getting some slippage. Now that I’ve made my excuses, I’ll tell you what I did with the results.

I had 38 time lapse images of the transit over the 8 minute approach to 4th contact, courtesy of my TC-80N3 controller. I had set it to record an image every 10 seconds, in the hopes of catching the elusive “liquid drop” (aka “black drop”) effect that occurs just before 3rd contact. When I looked at those images, I discovered I needed to manually re-center each image to get a smooth time-lapse animation. As you can see in the video, my results were less than perfect, but usable. The still image (frame 32) displayed at the end was enlarged and contrast enhanced, and just barely shows that effect. In retrospect, I probably should have been shooting 1 frame per second. Many lessons learned.

I have since learned that the “black drop” debate was put to rest by the Swedish Solar Telescope during the 2004 transit. No “black drop” was observed. The effect is now considered a sign of poor seeing, bad optics, too small an image scale, or all of the above.


2. Spring Equinox at Heimhenge - by Dan Heim

Optics: Canon EOS 20D with TC-80N3 remote time-lapse controller, Time interval = 1 minute (from 6:00 pm to 6:37 pm)
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Mar 20, 2008

Comments: People who have visited Heimhenge know how this works. The rock monoliths in my front yard align their shadows on the solstices and equinoxes. It's my Arizona version of Stonehenge. The video on this page shows a time-lapse sequence of images capturing the motion of the shadow cast by the Equinox Rock over a 37-minute period ending at sunset.


3. Comet Lulin - by Scott Loucks

Optics: 11" SCT with ST-402ME CCD, focal reducer providing spatial sampling at 1.9 arc-seconds/pixel, one minute/image.
Location: Comet images captured at Lamp Observatory, New River, AZ
Date: Mar 2, 2009

Comments: This time-lapse series of five images shows the apparent motion of Comet Lulin over 50 minutes. Its apparent motion on this date (near opposition) was an amazing 9.9 arcseconds per minute (about 4º/day). Earth and the comet were moving in opposite directions around the Sun. Distance to the comet on this date was 0.470 AU. The comet's magnitude was about 6.4, and a light cloud cover made tracking and focusing difficult. Still, this image sequence is notable for showing the comet's rapid motion. Also of note, this was DFAC's first attempt at remote imaging: the images were being streamed via wireless connection to member Ron Walker's laptop during a Cub Scout Astronomy Night at Heimhenge in New River.


4. Atlas Launch from Vandenberg - by Dan Heim

Optics: Optics: Canon 20D, 18-55 mm @ full zoom
Imaging: f/18, 1 sec, ISO 3200, time-lapse: one frame/sec
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Sep 20, 2010, 9:03 MST

Comments: This was the 586th (?) launch of an Atlas rocket, reliable workhorse of our space program since the 50s. It was carrying a classified NRO (National Reconnaissance Agency) satellite, and launched from Vandenberg AFB, California. You can see that it appears to veer toward a northward polar trajectory, which of course provides whole-Earth surveillance. Curiously, polar launches from Vandenberg are supposed to be directed southward over the ocean for safety. Of course, this could have been some unusual trajectory toward the northwest, the projection of which would appear "northward." Haven't been able to find much online about this specific launch (Hey, it's NRO) so the mystery remains.

But it's still a nice video. First appearance is actually ignition of the second stage. The Atlas burns liquid fuel (LOX and RP-1) and uses no SRBs, so you don't get the spectacular exhaust plume of, say, a Delta or Minotaur or STS. But you do get a brilliant bluish flame. As the rocket accelerates, its image become increasingly smeared due to the fixed camera shutter setting. This was a tough shot, but from 500 miles away, I'm pleased with what I got.


5. Blue Moon Rising - by Dan Heim

Optics: Zuiko 200 mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/4, 1/1000 sec, ISO 100 - 400
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Aug 30, 2012, 7:15 pm

Comments: August 2012 had a Blue Moon. Full Moons occurred on Aug 1st and August 30th. My astronomy software told me it would be rising behind Gavilan Peak, so I was hoping to catch it silhouetted against a nice saguaro. Alas, it missed that prominent saguaro by about 3 Moon-diameters.

I had to do some digital editing on this video, using a longer exposure of the mountain pasted into each frame. And to ensure the rising Moon had the same brightness in each frame, I needed to adjust the ISO settings on the camera four times. That explains the "variable" time lapse. Still, it worked well. Even if the only object silhouetted is a rock outcrop on the side of the mountain.


6. Annular / Partial Eclipse - by Dan Heim

Optics: Takahashi FS-128, Coronado H-alpha filter, eyepiece projection at about 100x
Imaging: Canon 20D, mirror lock-up, shutter priority, 1/200 second, ISO 200
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: May 20, 2012

Comments: This time lapse is a composite of 9 images from before first contact through maximum annularity. I was disappointed that no solar prominences showed through the H-alpha filter. Unfortunately, my new 26 mm Plossl has a rubber grip around it and wouldn't fit all the way into my eyepiece projection adapter. This created some focus issues. I could see the prominences visually, but through the DSLR view-finder it was tough to get a good focus. Still, there are a few sunspots just barely visible. After some image processing, I was able to create this time-lapse that nicely shows the progress of the eclipse (which was only partial from this location).

With equipment problems keeping me busy, I opted to stay with the same exposure through the entire event. So as the Sun becomes increasingly covered, you will see it dim. Not a bad effect, actually, even though it wasn't planned.


7. Transit of Venus - by Dan Heim

Optics: Takahashi FS-128, eyepiece projection @ 104X, Coronado SM40 H-alpha filter
Imaging: Meade B/W Electronic Eyepiece (ca. 1980s) into Sony Digital 8 TRV310 camcorder
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Jun 5, 2012

Comments: Yes, it's old technology, but it was available, and I felt like experimenting. This time-lapse started out as 164 frames culled from around 20 minutes of video (pre-1st Contact to post-2nd Contact). The final video is the best 52 of those frames I could extract. Frame registration, gamma adjustment, and coloration to simulate H-alpha, were done individually on those final frames.

The image still jumps around a little, and the focus blurs occasionally, but if you watch for it, right around mid-ingress, you can see hints of atmospheric effects on the dark limb of Venus.

And note the "clean break" after 2nd Contact. No black drop effect. That's the great resolution of Takahashi optics plus "adequate" seeing. There were several wildfires burning in the area, and a smoke haze was visible in the air. The reduced contrast is why no solar prominences are visible. Apparent granulation on the Sun is probably a seeing and processing artifact.


8. Perseid Meteor Shower - by Dan Heim

Optics: Sony TVR-310 digital 8 camcorder with 0.6x conversion wide angle lens (60º FOV)
Imaging: continuous video in night mode
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Aug 11, 2013, 10 pm - 1 am

Comments: I was disappointed that my early model (ca 1990) camcorder only picked up the brightest 3 meteors that happened to fall in its FOV. But after 3 hours of video review, that's all I could find. In an attempt to extract all the useful video I could, and not write this off as a total fail, the following edits were done:

— gamma, brightness, and contrast adjusted
— video cropped to focus on meteors
— violet color boosted to better show true color of meteors
— video slowed by 50% to make meteors last longer (makes the vocal reactions sound weird but cool)
— location arrows added before meteors appear so you don't miss them
— Alpheratz (M = +2.1) indicated for brightness comparisons

That third fireball, the brightest of the night, was around M = -5, spanned 30º of sky, and left a glowing trail (not visible in video).

9. Falcon 9 Rocket Launch from Vandenberg - by Dan Heim

Optics: Zuiko 200 mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging: ISO 400, f/4, 1 sec, time lapse interval = 4 sec
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Dec 22, 2017, 18:26 MST

Comments: I vastly underestimated the scale of this display (expecting something more like my Atlas launch video above) and should have used my fisheye. The exhaust trail spanned close to 90° in azimuth and 45° in elevation. I had to re-aim my camera several times, as you'll see in the video. This Falcon 9 carried 10 Iridium satellites and successfully delivered them to LEO. More details in my Jan 22, 2018 post on Sky Lights.