Night Skies
December 14, 2004

I finally captured a meteor with the camera. Shortly before midnight I drove up to a spot east of Cedarville to hopefully photograph some of the Geminid meteor shower. It was a cold 28 degrees when I shot the picture, with a fierce wind making it feel more like 10. I only took refuge in the truck for the last ten minutes of the long camera exposure. It's been a long journey to get to this point where I am able to photograph star trails and meteors. I've been experimenting with different camera settings on different occasions since this past summer.

After one outing last month my pictures were so bad I almost gave up on the idea of photographing star trails. But turns out a bizarre coincidence was to blame: On Sunday night November 7  I went out to test my latest batch of camera settings. I wasn’t trying to compose an interesting picture so I just pointed the camera on the North Star. I was able to check my pictures right away using the screen on the back of the camera. I was puzzled and frustrated to see green and red hazy patches at the bottom of the screen.
I played around with some settings and shot more pictures, and the red glow got even worse. Although there aren’t that many variables to work with, this camera stuff can get confusing. I assumed I was doing something wrong and decided not to waste any more time and went straight home to check my figures. I got even more frustrated when I couldn’t find that I was doing anything wrong.
The following Tuesday morning the first thing Stacey said to me was “Did you see the Aurora the other night?” She went on to say that she saw on the news where people as far south as Fort Smith reported seeing the Northern Lights the same evening as I was out making my test shots. Now, I didn’t see the Aurora that night, but in the span of a three-minute exposure my camera sure did. I went back and took another look at my photos and the red haze in one of them definitely had that look. When you compare the photo above to ones from this web site, , there is a definite resemblance.
It’s a shame I didn’t have the camera pointed down to capture anything on the ground - I bet the green glow came up pretty far above the horizon. I also might have realized what was going on.

The following Saturday night, at Redding Campground on the Mulberry, I gave my settings another try and came up with the shot below. The orange glow is from the campfire.
Just last week I found myself outside before the crack of dawn for another surprise astronomical event called the Jupiter occultation. This happens when Jupiter passes behind the moon, and appears to be touching it
just before it disappears and again when it reappears. It is an extremely rare site. The last time the occultation was visible in the Eastern U.S. was 1889; for the Central and Western U.S. it was 1968. There won’t be another visible Jupiter occultation for most parts of North America until October 6, 2026.
I got up a little after 3 a.m. to view the disappearance, which was supposed to be the most interesting site because Jupiter would be touching the bottom edge of the crescent moon. However there was thick cloud cover so I set my alarm clock for around an hour later when Jupiter would be emerging from behind the dark part.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I got up the second time, and it was exciting to watch the little point appear and get brighter and brighter. With the telephoto lens, my camera doubled as a telescope. In under a minute Jupiter had fully emerged from behind the moon.
Soon a series of fast-moving patchy clouds came racing over to pass in front of the moon, which was high in the Eastern sky. It was a beautiful scene and I zoomed the lens out to try to get some pictures. I was surprised when the clouds didn’t show up in the pictures my camera displayed on its back LCD screen. But I got to thinking about it and it made sense - that this was a good example of how cameras aren’t near as good as our eyes at capturing a wide range of brightnesses. Our eyes can see the bright moon and it’s darker gray areas and those moonlit clouds all at once, but that’s too much for a camera. Those moonlit clouds are actually a lot darker than the moon, so my camera couldn’t see them.
My solution was to take a brighter picture so that the clouds would show up. The result, shown below, was a long exposure in which the cloud, moon and Jupiter are blurry because they were in motion. The features of the moon were also blown out because it was over-exposed.