Thursday, July 10, 2014

Delta II Rocket Image Sequence from OCO-2 Launch

Four minutes during NASA's OCO-2 satellite launch from Vandenberg AFB, California
NASA sent the OCO2 satellite up on a Delta II rocket last Wednesday morning, and I captured it on several different cameras at once.

+Philip Plait (The Bad Astronomer) goes into some detail on the satellite in his blog posNASA Launches a New Eye on Carbon Dioxide, so I'll stick to the photographic detail in the following sequence of photos matched to their corresponding events in the launch timeline.

2:55:53 a.m.
T-minus 30 seconds. SRB ignitors will be armed at T-minus 11 seconds.

The launch ignition sequence will begin at T-minus 2 seconds when a launch team member triggers the engine start switch. The process begins with ignition of the two vernier thrusters and first stage main engine start. The three ground-lit solid rocket motors then light at T-0 for liftoff.
2:56:23 a.m. 
LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Delta 2 rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 to watch the Earth breathe from space!
T+plus 15 seconds. The launch vehicle is departing Vandenberg Air Force Base, heading south for the trek downrange over the Pacific carrying the OCO 2 spacecraft.

T+plus 36 seconds. Delta has broken the sound barrier, rapidly accelerating on the power of its first stage main engine and the three ground-lit strap-on solid-fuel boosters.
2:57 a.m. 
T+plus 50 seconds. The rocket has flown through the area of maximum aerodynamic pressure in the lower atmosphere.

2:57 a.m. 
T+plus 1 minute, 6 seconds. All three ground-start solid rocket boosters have burned out. The Delta 2's first stage RS-27A main engine is providing the sole thrust for the next couple of minutes.

2:58 a.m.
T+plus 1 minute, 50 seconds. The ATK-made solid rocket boosters have jettisoned from the first stage. They remained attached until the rocket cleared off-shore oil rigs.

T+plus 2 minutes. Delta now weighs half of what it did at liftoff two minutes ago.

2:59 a.m.
T+plus 2 minutes, 41 seconds. Delta now traveling at Mach 5.
T+plus 3 minutes. The first stage main engine still firing well. The Aerojet Rocketdyne powerplant consumes kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen to produce about 237,000 pounds of thrust.
3:00 a.m. 
T+plus 3 minutes, 34 seconds. The Delta 2 is now passing a speed of Mach 10.
3:01 a.m.
T+plus 4 minutes, 39 seconds. MECO. The first stage main engine cutoff is confirmed and the spent stage has been jettisoned.
T+plus 4 minutes, 44 seconds. The Delta's second stage has ignited! The engine is up and running.
T+plus 4 minutes, 51 seconds. The rocket's nose cone enclosing the satellite payload has been jettisoned.

3:02 a.m.
The rocket is at an altitude of 82.7 nautical miles, a downrange distance of 360 nautical miles and a velocity of 11,127 mph.

Here's NASA's diagram of the sequence (click on it  for a much larger view):

Here's the whole sequence put together in a time-lapse video covering 3 hours prior to 1 hour after launch:

If night photography looks like something you'd like to master, I'm scheduling a night photography session at California's Bodie State Historic Park on July 25:

Digital photography differs from film photography in many important respects, and nowhere is that more true than for night photography.  I've invested the sleepless nights learning the techniques and trade-offs to save you time and money required to discover it all for yourself.

Friday, July 04, 2014

NASA Launch This Week: Orbiting Carbon Observatory

NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory Launch from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

What happens when a time-lapse astrophotographer goes to a NASA launch?  Enjoy my latest edit of this new footage, just uploaded to +Vimeo :  
NASA's OCO-2 Orbiting Carbon Observatory will take 1 million measurements daily at a resolution of one square mile, enabling the analysis of local, regional, national and global CO2 emissions and trends.
My new blog:
#NASA #science #news #space #climatescience #NASAJPL #NASASocial #OCO2

Thursday, July 03, 2014

How to Photograph Fireworks

People often ask me what my settings were for certain night shots, but the light on the landscape and your subject varies from night to night as the moon phase changes, it varies from hour to hour as the moon moves in the sky, and even from moment to moment as your point your camera in different directions and have more or less light pollution in your shot.  So when I pursue night shots, I focus on determining the best exposure, and I remain vigilant to adjust it as conditions change. Normally you have to monitor f-stop, exposure time and ISO, but for fireworks the situation is simplified a bit.  The burning embers have a certain brightness which you can turn up or down adjusting f-stop or ISO, and the exposure time simply controls how long you want the trails of the moving embers to be.  You can determine the time between each shot fired, you can get many complete explosions of color.

Often an exposure time of around 4 seconds works well, but in this case the shots were being fired every 6 seconds, so I left one camera on an intervalometer capturing 5 second exposures at f/16, ISO 640, then triggering the next shot one second later, so they were 6 seconds apart in total. Upon returning, I assembled the resulting shots into a time-lapse video, as described on my blog:

Create a Timelapse Video on Your Digital Camera

For the video sequence it appears that I re-framed the shot a couple of times during the fireworks display.  I've also had been experiencing a bug in Lightroom where a crop from one shot pasted into others does not always take effect correctly, so that may be coming into play as well.
Independence Day fireworks at Crowley Lake in the Eastern Sierra 2013
Google+: Reshared 34 times Google+: View post on Google+

Here are some other fireworks displays I've photographed in the past 5 years:

Bridgeport, California 2012

South Lake Tahoe, Nevada, 2011

Tahoe City, California, 2010

Seaside, Oregon, 2009

Sunday, June 01, 2014

New Milky Way over Bodie Photo on Theneeds

Milky Way over Bodie IOOF Hall, May 25, 2014

One of my new photographs from our last Bodie night photography workshop was picked up on TheNeeds, where you can see the latest news, images, videos, and so on.  Most news readers are too heavily filtered and limited, so I've been looking for news readers where you can nominate or publish content to the app and site, and have a much more customized flow of more interesting content.  I've added the app to my iPhone, and it'll be interesting to see whether it picks up more of my work and tailors what it sends to me based on my interests, or whether it just selects fairly generic and less relevant and interesting content to rebroadcast from time to time.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Amazon Wins Patent for Photography Against a White Background!

If we didn't already have enough evidence that the U.S. Patent system is very broken, we do now...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Planning Milky Way Photography

Milky Way over Mono Lake Tufa Rock Formations
By now most of us have seen stunning Milky Way shots, but when we go out at night in the Northern Hemisphere we find that the Milky Way is not prominent in the sky all of the time and the moon often interferes with its visibility as well.  The best nights and times are fairly easy to anticipate, so let's review them.

The Milky Way is like a big, flat disk, with a fatter portion in the center, much like flying saucers are depicted.  At least arms spiral out from the center, and our solar system is partway out on one of these arms.  So while the disk of the Milky Way which we're in looks like a stripe of stars across the sky, when we're looking towards the larger center of the disk containing more stars, it's brighter.  Due to the tilt of the earth's rotational axis, that bright center of the Milky Way is highest in the sky in the weeks around the Summer solstice.

As for best viewing conditions, the dark sky days around the New Moon are best, when the light of the stars in the Milky Way seem brightest and offer the greatest contrast against the dark sky background.  There is an added complication as the position of the Milky Way and constellations change nightly, moving east to west further each night, until the constellations end up in the same place in the sky at the same time the following year.  The constellations moving all the way around us in 12 months to return to the same place in the sky is similar to the movement they make in 24 hours, so to complete the trip around in a 12 month year, each month the constellations rise 24 divided by 12 = 2 hours earlier, 30 minutes per week.  So Whatever time the Milky Way rose above your horizon last week, it'll be 30 minutes earlier this week and 2 hours earlier on the following month.

Fortunately you don't have to make a bunch of observations and calculate future times, there are apps to do the work for you.  There are a number of stargazing programs out there for both interpreting the current sky and anticipating how it'll look at some date and time in the future.  I use StarWalk, which provided the following display last week as the April 15 lunar eclipse was ending:

When you see that trident-shaped pattern of Scorpius coming up along the east to southeastern horizon, you know that the bright galactic center of the Milky Way is not far behind.  It would have been 2 hours later, 2:45 am, to reach this position in the sky four weeks earlier.

Now let's look at other months.  Note the time changes in the upper right corner as we go from early May to late May, as the moon rises roughly 90 minutes earlier after three weeks pass:

As we jump forward to dates close to the new moon dates in late June, July and August, rise time is no longer an issue as the Milky Way is already in the sky once the sky gets dark enough to see it.  So June, July and August are the most convenient months to shoot it, since you won't have to wait long after sunset to start shooting.  There's a term astronomical twilight to describe when the sky is fully dark, and a program such as The Photographer's Ephemeris can tell you when that is, both at night after the sun sets to the west and in the morning as the sun approaches to the east.

You'll notice that the Milky Way starts the night a little more vertical or "tilted up" in the sky each month.  It's also a little further along the southeast to southwest path that the galactic center takes in the sky, so you can use that knowledge to plan specific compositions.  The Galactic center also starts a little lower in the sky as you get further form the Summer solstice.

So using the new moon dates each year and a program like StarWalk, you adjust the date and time to pre-visualize what the sky looks like and determine approximately how many compositions featuring your favorite natural or man-made landmarks will look.

For more information on how to shoot the Milky Way once it's in the sky in front of you, read my prior blog post: How to Take Milky Way Photos.

To take the concept even further, you can capture sequential photos of the Milky Way and convert them into a time-lapse video like this!

Friday, April 11, 2014

More Endangered Than Most

Desert tortoise populations have declined up to 90% in recent decades due to human activities such as housing developments, energy development and grazing. They spend up to 95% of their time in burrows, where they may get trapped or succumb to heat if the burrow collapses due to a vehicle or large animal. They like sandy soil, and when visiting sand dunes people can cause these collapses. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages endangered species, and many desert tortoises are on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. A center was established by the BLM to care for desert tortoises, mainly surrendered pets.

In the last 2 days some many news reports have falsely implied that the BLM was euthanizing the protected wild tortoises. The misrepresentation of fact must be intentional, since the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center clarified the situation in a press release months ago:

 Aug 26, 2013
Statement Regarding Media Reports on Status of Desert Tortoise at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Nevada

Recent media reports regarding the status of desert tortoises at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC) have implied that the FWS is currently euthanizing desert tortoises at the facility. We want the public to know that the FWS is not euthanizing healthy tortoises. 

The DTCC was established in 1990 to receive wild tortoises in harm’s way from development and has taken in unwanted pets since 1996. Over 1,000 tortoises arrived at the DTCC each year, and approximately 98 percent of those are surrendered or stray pets. Science-based protocols developed for desert tortoises brought to the DTCC have been instrumental in helping the FWS maintain a healthy population of desert tortoise in the wild. Managing to recover desert tortoise, a threatened species, is a complex task in which all options need to be considered, and all risks and benefits to the species must be assessed. 

Many pet tortoises, unfortunately, are diseased or otherwise in poor health, and run the risk of spreading disease to wild tortoises. These tortoises cannot be relocated to the wild, or otherwise contribute to recovery of the desert tortoise population. Sometimes euthanasia of unhealthy pet tortoises is necessary, but only as last resort, and only after we evaluate other options. All healthy tortoises at the DTCC will be relocated to sites that will support the recovery of the species. 

Progress is being made on translocating the healthy DTCC tortoise population to the wild. A Programmatic Environmental Assessment is complete, and tortoises are already being translocated by the FWS to an approved site in Trout Canyon, Nevada. Public scoping for a second translocation plan was completed Aug 22, 2013, for a proposed translocation area south of Coyote Springs, Nevada. 

The Animal Foundation (TAF), Lied Animal Shelter continues to take in unwanted pet tortoises from the public. However, the fact remains that the DTCC does not currently have the capacity or the funding to accept and care for additional tortoises. 

Recovery of the desert tortoise in the wild continues to be our top priority. However we are deeply concerned about the growing number of unwanted pets, and will continue to work with our partner agencies toward finding a suitable solution for tortoises that cannot be returned to the wild. Posted on August 26, 2013

The factual misrepresentations are coming up in a story about a Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy who reportedly owes $1.1M in grazing fees to the BLM, and who following decades of debate over the issue in federal court has been issued court orders to remove his cattle and to not interfere with removal operations if he fails to remove them himself. The matter has gained national attention in recent days as people have flocked to the ranch to side with Bundy's resistance to the court orders. Various political scapegoats are trotted out by media outlets with an agenda to promote, and many of the protesters onsite now resisting federal authorities are reveling in repeating the misinformation. The incident could turn into quite a sideshow in the coming days. 
#bundyranch #deserttortoise #mojavedesert

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ten Photos for Flickr's 10th Bday!

Flickr is celebrating their 10th birthday this week, and they've invited members to nominate ten of their favorite images shared there over the past 10 years. You can place your image in the #Flickr10 group on Flickr, and if you're lucky, perhaps Flickr will share your photos on their blog.
One of my "most interesting" photos according to Flickr's ranking algorithms, which provide some of the most strategic advantages Flickr has over other sites for photography:

Of course I had to include a travel photo:

and it was a tossup between Bodie and Burning Man for coolest place to shoot, but Bodie won out:

Weather seemed like a good theme to represent as well:

Here are all 10 photos in a set over on Flickr:

Solar Rainbow in Yosemite ValleyLight Painting in Badwater BasinHagia SophiaLightning in a Sunset ThunderstormStarry Night over Bodie ChurchRim Fire, Yosemite - time-lapse video
Natural Firefall (255,478 views on Flickr so far!)Horsetail Falls at SunsetThe WaveRGB UFOs (wow, over 1400 Flickr favorites, thanks!!)

Flickr's 10th Bday, a set on Flickr.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Seasons of Topaz

Seasons of Topaz, my latest time-lapse video,with "Sierra Wave" lenticular clouds, pogonip ice fog, rain, snow, sunrises, sunsets... a year's worth of weather in 3 minutes:

The music, used with permission, is "Odyssey" (instrumental version) by The Wyld, as heard in the McDonald's commercials during the Sochi Winter Olympics.  Drop by their Web site for links to their social media pages where you can say "Hi": 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Meteor Shower from Comet ISON?

Meteor Shower from Comet ISON?*
Robert Lunsford of the  recently posted details on a possible meteor shower from Comet ISON passing near the earth's orbit on its way towards its rendezvous with the sun.  I had heard that the earth could reach the debris in the January 12 -15 time frame, so I went out early on 3 mornings to see what I could pick up.  I've condensed hundreds of photos from those nights into the HD video below.  

As illustrated in a diagram on Robert's post here, the incoming meteors were expected to appear to radiate out from a point in the constellation Leo:
Meteor Activity from Comet ISON?

Meteor trails look longer away form a meteor shower's radiant point though, so the first two nights I shot north to minimize star movement and northeast in case the movement of the earth through space caused extra collisions with comet dust to the east.  On the third night I trained my 24mm lens on Leo and I used a sky-tracking mount to follow the constellation while shooting almost continuously for hours.  I did capture a bright and colorful meteor trail:

Unfortunately its length and direction, along with a second meteor captured 10 minutes earlier, implies that its radiant point was across the sky near the Big Dipper, so those were more likely to be late arrivals from the Quadrantid meteor shower which peaked on January 3.

So did I catch any meteors from ISON?  I swear that I can see little flashes in my original images as they were getting down-converted in resolution to video, but it's hard to peer into 22 megapixel images to detect the smallest details on a 2 megapixel monitor.   Even my video gets compressed for re-broadcast from video hosting sites, so it's even harder to show others what I captured.  The question might not be definitively answered until I re-examine the results some time from now when I can re-process the images in "4K" video format and can view the 4X higher resolution video on a 4K monitor (4096 or 3840 resolution).

The increasing brightness of the moon and its later rise times started interfering with meteor viewing on the third night, so I decided not to shoot on the fourth night.  I've shot dozens of meteor showers in the past, but this time I was particularly focused on trying to capture the faintest of meteors, so it was good to "push the envelope" and develop new insight and techniques which can fine tune my meteor shower shooting in the future.

Here's another shot of that meteor, with room to see Leo just to the right:

To see more of my time-lapse videos from more major meteor showers, drop by my  channel:

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Comet Lovejoy C/2013 R1 1/4/2014 85mm 30fps 1080p HD Time-lapse Video

This video converts 762 individual photos shot at 85mm focal length into 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. Each photo was cropped to approximately 3840 pixels on the longest side ("4K video"), then they were converted to HD video at 1920 x 1080 resolution (1/4 the original resolution).
This was shot before dawn on January 4, 2014 on a standard tripod (no tracking mount).  Most of the streaks passing through the frame occupy several photos (which have an average exposure time of 2.5 seconds each), so most appear to be satellites.  It was shot less than 24 hours after the peak of the Quadrantid meteor whower though, and Comet Lovejoy isn't sll that far in the sky from the radiant point of that shower, so if I hunt through all of the 7262 photos I might find a Quadrantid meteor or two.

This blog post is a test of sharing a 1080p HD video from Flickr to Blogger... click on "HD" and the full screen icon in the lower right corner to see it in the highest possible resolution!  It may need to play twice before the player gets it fully buffered for smooth playback.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Testing Embed of Google+ Posts in a Blog Post

Although I have a new WordPress blog set up so that it should have my Google+ posts available for people who might happen to come upon my content through my blog, the tool that was supposed to copy and maintain my G+ posts on my blog seems to have missed some of my most popular posts.  Fortunately there's now the ability to take at least those most popular ones and add the content into a blog post.

So let's try this out...

It works! Best of all, I think G+ users can interact with the G+ post directly on the blog... +1 it, comment, share. How cool is that?  I've tested it with WordPress as well:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Photos of 2013

This image was developed (post-processed) in 2013, but exposed in 2012, so which year gets credit?
Around this time of year many photographers assemble their "Best of the Year" images. It's hard to pick favorites among so many amazing moments I experience in a year, let alone apply the added value judgement of "best".

So here are a few candidates. The 10 best? You decide!

Monitor Pass Sunset Sun RaysWater Vapor over BadwaterRim Fire in Yosemite, 116mmLight Painting in Badwater BasinPoconip at Topaz LakeMoon Beams Over Bodie
Moon in Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Rising Over Mono LakeLenticular Clouds at SunsetMilky Way over BodieSunrise Moon Set by Mt. WhitneyBreaking Morning FogSunset Beach at Sunrise
Twilight on The California CoastStorm Cloud Reflection at Valley ViewMerced River ReflectionFall Colors in California October 2013FloatingMono Lake Moonshine
Lenticular Cloud over Mono LakeComet PANSTARRS from Death Valley National ParkInto the Night

Best of 2013, a set on Flickr.
Here are a few more of them displayed large: