Well we are in a lull period for visual early morning observing Starlink satellites in Orange County until December 7, when the rotation of the Earth and the satellites orbit make visibility possible, so we can capture the Venus/Jupiter conjunction, clear up some Starlink imaging loose ends and report on planning (or not) a visit to Brownsville, TX, to watch the first liftoff of the SpaceX Starship.
First up, is noticing the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, easily visible just after sunset, We normally don't find the view of the planets so close to each other, but November 24 was the closest approach in months.
|Venus and Jupiter after sunset in DSLR, 125 mm, 3 second image (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
This next image was supposed to be at the maximum 300 mm of the DSLR telephoto lens, so that he moons of Jupiter would have a better chance of being easily visible, but the setting was only 160 mm. Anyway in this 5 second exposure you can begin to see some of the moons around Jupiter.
|Venus and Jupiter after sunset in DSLR, 160 mm, 5 second image (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Now capturing the conjunction of November 24 was the first part of the observing program. In addition, I wanted to review again the tripod wobble noticed the previous night, as described in the November 23 post, where a practice photo of a passing aircraft showed wild gyrations in the observed navigation lights. It turns out that this gyration was due to tripod wobble, mostly from my hurrying to get the aircraft in the field of view and the lightweight, flimsy tripod still vibrating. In reexamining that photo, the wobble seen in the navigation lights was about 3 arc minutes, peak to peak, way more than anything that could be attributed to atmospheric seeing conditions. Anyway, you can see the photo below showing the tripod that the flimsiness is not the only problem in the light polluted setup area. A flimsy tripod has another drawback which is that it is hard to focus the camera manually because just touching the focus ring disturbs the field of view.
|Resident Astronomer takes selfie of shadow and flimsy tripod (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
So, for the next aircraft test photo, I waited 10-15 minutes for the next passing aircraft and after getting the plane in the field of view, waited a few more seconds for the tripod to settle down before using the remote shutter trigger. Ok, so this time the navigation lights show up with a lot less tripod wobble. The tradeoff, as many astronomers already know, is that carrying out a lightweight tripod or using it for many shots where you have to hike a bit is a lot easier than carrying that monster, heavy, but more stable, tripod. So, maybe just adapt your shooting to the tripod and let it settle down. I guess that should be fairly obvious, but in the heat of the moment we can sometimes forget!
One of the first things we checked out was how to get to the Brownsville area? Well, there are several low cost flights from Orange County to Brownsville, TX. Check out these two available flights with one stop in Houston.
|Getting to Brownsville, TX from Orange County with one stop in Houston (Source: www.expedia.com)|
Now all we need to know is when the test launch is scheduled to occur? This is a bit harder to determine in that there is not much of an official announcement from SpaceX as to when it will go. So what to do? Air Force Veteran, Vince, reminded me that there should be a NOTAM released before any rocket launch so that pilots can stay clear of the launch area. Yes, that is right. I can remember that when I was learning to be a pilot, we could goto the Flight Service Center and review any of the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen), but now you can get them online. Here is one of the recent NOTAMs for Brownsville. So, we might be able to track NOTAMs for Brownsville and get a heads up when the launch was scheduled. Thanks for reminding us of that, Vince!
|Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for Brownsville, TX (Source: www.pilotweb.nas.faa.gov)|
Now, sadly, just as we start our planning to be at the launch, whenever it was scheduled, we saw a Twitter feed from Scott Manley, who told us that the Starship had exploded during a propellant tank pressure test. Hmm, I guess we won't be travelling to Brownsville this year!
|SpaceX Starship ruptures tank during pressure test (Source: Scott Manley, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P98JcBQPiiI&feature=youtu.be)|
You can get some of the initial details from this YouTube by Scott Manley and the other news junkies that follow activities there just by watching what goes on, without any official notice from SpaceX. The video can be found at:
There will probably be some official announcement from SpaceX in a day or so, but for now we can just get by with these informal reports. Thanks for that, Scott!