Taking advantage of a string of “clear” rainless nights and days, I’ve been learning by doing. My first objective was to image the supernova that was discovered recently in Messier 101 — The “Pinwheel Galaxy”. The object has a low surface brightness and, in our light-polluted suburban skies (Bortle 6/7) made worse by Canadian forest fire smoke, it’s invisible to me by eye and a very challenging target for imaging. Add to that the steep learning curve I’m on using an astronomy camera instead of a DSLR and, well, let’s just say results were disappointing. So I turned to the waxing Gibbous Moon last night and got some experience and passable results. This same Moon, as its phase grows toward Full, is making the sky brighter nightly. At the same time the supernova is believed to be fading now.
After a long absence, we returned to Sandy Ridge Reservation, a notable area for birders in the Lorain Metro Parks System, and were richly rewarded. We spotted and watched a Sand Hill Crane family as they explored the waters’ edge for food: the impressive adults escorted their colt (that’s what the young are called) watching humans watching them from the nearby path. The colt was allowed to explore a bit on its own but the mated pair were never far away. It was thrilling to see the family and a first for me; a wonderful surprise.
As we watched the Sandhill Cranes, Great Egrets, and dragonflies, an American Bald Eagle soared overhead. We could not see the eagle’s nest but behavior told us it was on hunting flights, probably feeding its young in the hidden nest.
After a stormy night, it was a welcome surprise to look out the window and see the silhouette of a Great Blue Heron against a clear twilight sky! I watched the heron as it sat quietly for a long time at the top of a dead tree’s trunk, the lovely curvature of its long neck and smooth body evoking thoughts of Asian art. Finally the bird pulled back, lunged forward, and sprang into flight. A fine way to start the day and a new month.
It is unusual for our area to see discrete thunderstorms — individual storms visible against otherwise clear skies — so we miss out on some thrilling sights. The anvil or thunderhead of a strong storm usually happens above a lower cloud layer in our region, hidden from those of us who appreciate such things. On July 20, 2022 a severe thunderstorm rolled right overhead. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard so many cracks of thunder so close by. I was indoors, did not see the mammoth bolts directly above my roof, and was actually getting concerned the house, or my tall flagpole, would be hit. I was close to being afraid of the lightning, and that’s very unusual! The storm passed, as storms do, and I took a peek through a window. To the west the sky was clearing as the clean edge of the thunderstorm moved east but then the thrill: mammatus clouds! Technically, mammatus are not rare phenomena, often hanging from the anvils of thunderstorms, but we rarely see them here for the reasons given above — we rarely see the anvils. The sky was full of them! I grabbed my iPhone (nearest camera) and hurried outside. Though I feared it would end quickly, the display went on til after dark. Here are a few views…
I haven’t been “dragon hunting” in some time so today’s mission was to shoot a few. One I bagged today — a male Halloween Pennant (?) — at the Medina County Park District’s Letha House Park West. I saw and photographed several varieties and missed a couple. It looks like it will be a fine Dragonfly Summer.
I stayed up late, anticipating the arrival of a powerful storm system the night of June 13. The MCS (mesoscale convective system) tracked to the south of its predicted path, leaving me at the northern end of storm activity. I thought I was out of luck but saw some lightning and decided to try for some photos. My persistence and resulting sleep deprivation was rewarded. I witnessed several impressive displays of “anvil crawler” lightning — cloud-to-cloud discharges along the cloud base — but missed a couple. At midnight, however, this amazing crawler filled my visual field and the view from the camera. The strong horizontal bolts steal the show but look closer. Even in this reduced-resolution web version of the photo, streaks of lightning reach up and down across the bottom of the storm cloud. I remember seeing the motion of the light, almost like an advertising sign, luminescence racing along those fine lines. The MCS blasted across our region, downing trees and utility poles along its path. Here, the storm passed dropping only a little rain here with virtually no wind, allowing me to make this capture (a single exposure). The local newspaper surprised me by using the image — full-frame, in color — huge on their front page! It’s hard for newspapers to hold the finest details in print but the e-version looks pretty good.
It looked like a great opportunity to see and photograph a total eclipse of the Moon! Too often, it seems, lunar eclipses have been either just starting or in progress at moonset or sunrise, either curtailing what might be seen. The May 15 – 16 lunar eclipse was an exception.
The entire eclipse sequence might be visible from my location with its peak — totality — at about midnight; not too late or too early a time for those who need sleep. Of course the big “IF” was IF the weather would allow viewing.
Early in the evening things looked good but forecasters called for an influx of cloud cover and, of course, just as the partial phase of the event began, clouds began to gather.
At first, the brilliant partially-eclipsed orb was easily photographed through thin overcast. The thin veil of clouds gave a mystical feel to the event. As the clouds thickened, however, the view worsened. At times, though the camera could pick it out, Moon was visible only as a smudge in the cloudy night sky.
Late in the partial eclipse, I could make out a trace of copper-red in the darkened portion of the lunar disk though that did not register with the camera.
Just as totality was reached, Moon was covered with clouds thick enough to block the view entirely. Disappointment set in but the clouds had some streaks where a star or two could be seen.
So while I missed the precise moment of peak eclipse at 12:11 a.m., EDT, I waited to see if the moving clouds would allow a peek at the still-red Moon. It happened!
There, in a narrow slot between masses of cloud, appeared the beautiful eclipse I’d waited for in the damp chill. I got busy with my camera, stood and wondered at the sight my eyes enjoyed, took a picture of my camera setup, and after only a few wonderful minutes, heavy overcast set in — the red Moon disappeared.
With no visible openings in the cloud deck approaching, I packed up my gear and went indoors happy to have been able to enjoy the natural wonder.
As a postscript, I submitted an image of totality to the local newspaper and it didn’t show up there. Okay, maybe not something they wanted. A couple of days later, too late to I checked my email spam folder and, to my dismay, the newspaper editor wrote that he wanted to use the photo but at higher resolution.
Just as the Japanese Maple reached full fall glory, the first snow arrived.
Burdened by the icy wet, leaves shower from the treetop down; they dress the ground beneath the tree in brilliance not seen in a year.
As winter draws near.