Jupiter and Aurora Borealis

Clear sky, fairly steady seeing, and a chance to “sleep in” the next day. Get out the telescopes!

I was out looking at Jupiter, which was 14 days past opposition (when it is opposite of the sun in our sky), and it was the best view I’ve had in years.

I started with the 120mm Skywatcher refractor, then dug out the 20 year old 8″ Dob for better magnification. I noticed that Ganymede had recently passed in front of Jupiter. At my maximum practical magnification of 163x, I could see the shadow of Ganymede just near the edge of Jupiter, as well as several bands and the Great Red Spot.

Here is a computer simulation of what was visible.

Went in at around 10:45 to get Ellie up. After she staggered out, she was able to see some of these features on Jupiter too.

After a few minutes she pointed out the Northern Lights to me. I knew this was a good possibility as I had read earlier that there was a large coronal hole in the sun that was spewing lots of solar wind our way.


There was also a forecast that we would be able to see something, but I didn’t expect it to be this energetic.


They were suddenly getting really active, so I sent her in to get Naomi. She came out and checked out Jupiter and the aurora. Together we watched the rapidly changing and moving aurora. We saw lots of bright greens, but also reds and purples which are more rare and are indicative of higher energy particles hitting the atmosphere.

Ellie and Naomi checking out the cosmic show.

With such a good display on, Naomi went in to get the other kids. That was when Ellie noticed that there were suddenly aurora directly overhead

… and then it disappeared just as the other kids came outside!

It is possible that the auroral ring grew larger and moved south of us, or that the aurora just stopped, but in any case, we suddenly had a very tired young man who had just staggered out of bed.

While the kids were all out, they had a chance to see Jupiter, but we also had a flyover by a Russian rocket body, Cosmos 1782, launched in 1986. Later on, I witnessed two other Russian space junk fly over the same spot as I was hunting for a comet that should have been visible. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find it because there was too much light pollution from all the street lights to be able to see enough guide stars.

One other highlight was that I was able to see one bright meteor from the Lyrid meteor shower, which are dust and small bits of material left over from Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. People have been watching this annual meteor shower for about 2600 years.

All in all, a great night of observing. Thank you Lord!

On the occult

No, not that kind of occult. I’m talking about the celestial-body-blocking-something-else kind of occult.

Last night I was trying to get some photos of the moon when I noticed it was about to occult a bright star. Here it is blocking out Mu Ceti. These 1.3 second exposures are taken about 4 seconds apart.

I ended up overexposing too much, but I couldn’t see the star on the screen on the camera unless it was a longer exposure. I later noticed I could see it (especially if I bumped the highlights for that part of the picture) with a shorter exposure that also doesn’t give a star trails. Here is an image from earlier in the evening.

These kind of occultations used to be quite important for lunar studies to help astronomer’s map the mountains and valleys on the lunar surface with precise timing and viewed from different locations here on Earth.

I think I got the star starting to come out the other side an hour later, but the moon was getting low. One app showed that it should be visible, another didn’t, so I’m not sure. There is a speck that wasn’t there 10 minutes before. It is interesting to see the moon moving quickly against the background stars. The whole sky moves pretty slow, unless you looking through a telescope, and the moon doesn’t appear to move on it’s own until next to something else, like Mu Ceti.

Hiking in Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park

In early September we took a weekend trip to Radium Hot Springs for a family getaway. It was really nice as we had a very busy summer and our trip east was jam packed with visits, so we wanted to spend some time together outdoors as a family. Naomi booked us a motel, we packed our stuff and off we went. We pulled the kids out of school early on Thursday (they don’t have class on Friday) and returned home on Sunday evening. We are so thankful that we live close to the mountains, and also for the wonderful weather (mid 20s C) during our time.

Our trip to Radium Hot Springs took us across the continental divide, the line where rain goes either to the Atlantic or Pacific oceans.

Kootenay National Park

We stopped in the valley along the highway in Kootenay National Park to throw rocks in the Kootenay river and enjoy the scenery.

Friday was hot springs day! We went in the morning to the pools, then on a hike, and back to the springs in the evening.

The next day, we went on a long hike to Cobb Lake.

Cobb Lake

The round trip was 5.2 km and took us almost 5 hours. That includes taking time for snacks and a picnic lunch when we got to the lake. Along the trip we could hear just the stream in the valley, but after that – silence. It was one of the very few times in my life where I couldn’t hear anything man made (other than the occasional whine about when we could have a snack). No cars, trucks, airplanes… It was wonderful!

cobb lake

North is on the right of the image. The trail head is just before the highway starts to descent into the Kootenay River valley.

The kids each had a backpack in which they carried their water, some snacks, and other stuff. Ellie carried my binoculars, Adelaine had the first aid kit, Ethan had the essential sling shot! Naomi carried our lunch and I had the photographer’s burden: glass and metal. And bear spray.

We were alone on the trail most of the hike, and even had about 40 minutes at the lake without anyone else being around. The water in the lake was flat and smooth like a mirror, providing some nice reflections. The lake is actually a bog, and the “ground” around it was wet and bouncy. You could feel the ground move quite a ways away when the kids were jumping up and down.

Part of the descent to the stream in a valley was quite steep, so there were a series of switchbacks as we criss-crossed our way down the slope. Ethan and Adelaine both like being at the front when we go on a hike. Ellie usually lags behind. When we got too far ahead of her we called her bear bait and told her to catch up. We made a treaty so that Ethan got to lead us to Cobb Lake, and Adelaine lead the way back. Here is Ethan the trail master stopping to listen…

He kept doing this quite a bit along the trail as the only thing we could hear was the stream getting closer and closer.

Here he is crossing a little spring that made the trail a bit muddy, and his method of keeping off his feet dry.

Once we went up the other side of the valley we got to this one part of the trail where we turned away from the stream and started to descend to Cobb Lake. Over the distance of about 4 meters on the trail it got very quiet… suddenly we could no longer hear the stream, or anything else for that matter. It was so quiet. I took the kids back up the path to the corner where you could hear the stream again, then a few meters down the path where is was silent. Magical.

At Cobb Lake


The stream about halfway along the trail provided lots of entertainment for the kids. We could have spent a lot more time there, but we had to get back to our hotel. The kids didn’t know it, but there was a movie being shown in the park that night!

Before the movie started we got to witness some interesting behaviour of some of the town’s resident big horn sheep. They were eating apples and pears off the trees. Watch the video to see how they did it.

Watching Big Horn Sheep knock pears down

Drive-in movie in the park!

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Our last day in the mountains we drove back into Kootenay National Park and stopped to do two hikes as we made our way home; Dog Lake and Marble Canyon.

Dog Lake

The Dog Lake hike was 5.8 km.

Dog Lake

Along the trail to Dog Lake, Adelaine and Ethan couldn’t agree who would lead the family along the trail, so they decided to share the job, holding hands as they went along.

sharing the leading


Cobb Lake & Dog Lake

Cobb Lake and Dog Lake in relation to Radium Hot Springs.

Marble Canyon is an easy hike along a fenced-in trail with lots of bridges crossing over the deep, cold canyon. The glacial melt water of the Rockies are a wonderful blue colour, which creates an amazing palette with surrounding nature.  I didn’t realize that there was a waterfall at the end of the hike, so I left my tripod in the car. Luckily I had my gorrilapod in my backpack, so I was able to use some neutral density filters to get some long exposures.

Marble Canyon

Family Time

We had a wonderful 3.5 days away as a family, with many new memories and a greater appreciation for the beautiful world God has given us. Thank you Lord for the opportunity, the wonderful warm weather, the sights along the trails and time as a family. What a blessing.


Then we crossed the mountains and returned home to this, but that is another story…snow in September?


Transit of Venus

I had been waiting since the last transit of Venus back in 2004 to see this rare sight again, and it looked like I was going to miss it entirely. A transit of Venus, superseded by a transit of clouds.

This was beginning to look a lot like the eclipse of the sun that was almost clouded out just a few weeks earlier.

Ellie was quite interested in hearing about what was happening and was disappointed that she was likely going to miss it. She wanted to do some reading up on Venus so she would know more about what was happening.

Reading my Peterson’s Field Guide: Stars and Planets

Just as we were sitting down for supper, I realized that there was a beam of light coming in the window, so I jumped up, grabbed my camera and solar filter and ran out the door. It was only a small “sucker hole” in the clouds, but I was thankful for at least a glimpse of Venus crossing the disk of the sun.

I set up the telescope and tripod for the camera and prayed for some more clearings so that the family and I could get a good look. After wolfing down my food, I headed back outside, and was treated again to some thinning clouds now and then. Naomi and the kids took turns looking through my pieces of welding glass and telescope.

Thick clouds move back in…

This was a longer exposure (1.6 seconds) taken through my solar filter. The reflections bouncing around off the glass and inside of the filter created an interesting image.

Finally, the sky opened up for a few brief moments and we even saw some blue sky, giving us a long look at this rare event. I don’t plan to be here for the next viewing in 2117.

“The last transit occurred in June 2004, and the next one won’t be until December 2117. Transits of Venus follow a peculiar pattern — two transits 8 years apart, then 105.5 years with no transits, then two transits 8 years apart, then 121.5 years with no transits, for a total cycle of 243 years” www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/Some-Details-About-Transits-of-Venus.html

When we had a truly clear shot of the sun, you could easily see the sunspots along with the spot of Venus.


Thank you, Lord, for an answered prayer for a glimpse of your marvelous creation.


Partial Solar Eclipse – May 20, 2012

Image courtesy Amos

It looked like the partial solar eclipse was going to be eclipsed entirely by clouds. We missed the first contact of the moon to the disk of the sun because of thick cloud cover, but after about 45 minutes, the thicker clouds were breaking and we could see the sun through a haze.

Heavy clouds came back as we reached the maximum for our viewing location, and I was only able to get this image of the max.

After another 30 minutes the cloud cover was getting thinner and we were able to see the sun and start taking pictures again.

Just as I was waiting to get a photo of the final contact of the disk of the moon with the sun, the clouds once again rolled over that area in the sky. By this point,  there was lots of blue sky with only scattered clouds.

Thankfully, I was able to get a shot of the final contact through a gap in the clouds. Almost missed it!

Two minutes after the eclipse ended, the sky was clearer and I was able to get a clear image of the sun with three groups of sunspots on the surface.