DENVER, COLORADO — Today’s total solar eclipse was my fourth and my son’s first, and despite some traffic delays, it was a total success! Our plan was to witness the eclipse from Casper, Wyoming, where I once worked, so we got up early to drive from Denver. But, traffic on I-25 was slower than we expected, and we realized that if we continued to Casper, we’d miss most of the show, including totality. So, we opted to stop at Wheatland, which was just on the edge of totality. [See map below.] We got there just in time for me to mount my camera on a Benro tripod to catch first contact (no ETs, sorry). To minimize camera shake, I used a wireless shutter release for all of these shots. Unlike in 2009, when I used a #14 welding glass to shoot the eclipse in Wuhan, China — which made everything unnaturally green — I used a solar filter film from Thousand Oaks Optical. I waited too long to order a screw-on camera filter, so I settled for taping the film over the lens hood. Low tech, but it worked. Also, I discovered the camera could not automatically adjust the shutter ...
TAOHUAYUAN, HUNAN — I was on my way back from Changsha Monday evening, and snapped this shot of the Moon and Venus in the western sky around 7:15 pm with my cellphone. The shots are grainy, because I didn’t have time to diddle with the phone’s settings. I just let it set the ISO, etc. automatically. Still, not bad for a cellphone. The Changsha-Jishou bus typically makes a pit stop at the TaoHuaYuan rest area — about halfway — so time was limited. The color in the left hand shot I corrected with IrfanView’s automatic mode. The color in the right hand shot I left as is.
This is an example of gravitational lensing. A massive object between us and a distant galaxy warps space-time, “blurring” the image of the distant galaxy into a bug-eyed monster. (The classic video game Space Invaders had similar-looking critters.) This cluster of galaxies — each containing hundreds of millions of stars — is about 2 billion light-years away. So, we’re seeing these galaxies the way they looked a long time ago. [Photo from Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute.]
JISHOU, HUNAN — Phil Plait at Slate.com has compiled the 21 best astronomy images of the year. You have to go see them. Here’s the Curiosity Mars rover “in country” as it were. I’m especially partial to surface shots of Mars, because they’re so Earth-like (if Earth’s surface were incredibly dry and icy cold 24/7 and there was no breathable atmosphere). In fact, the background image used for this blog’s nameplate is a sunset on Mars taken by an earlier rover. Bet you thought it was taken on Earth! This next photo was taken on Earth — Wyoming to be precise. The tall thing at left is Devil’s Tower, which I once flew around while chasing a solar eclipse in 1979 with my boss and my buddy Dave Ansley. That’s the Milky Way (our galaxy) in the sky. Now go check out the others.