Fly Me To The Moons

On the 18th of February 2013 the planet Jupiter and our Moon had a meeting in the night sky.  For most of the world it was visible in what is know as a conjunction, where Jupiter and The Moon are close together.  However there was a relatively narrow strip of the Earth where Jupiter would actually pass behind The Moon in what is called an occultation.
The place where I live in southern Australia was just outside of this occultation path by about 50km.  If I stayed home I would see Jupiter and The Moon very close together indeed, but at no time would Jupiter disappear.  I wanted to photograph and observe a proper occultation so it meant packing all my telescope and photography gear into my car and heading further south.
After checking the weather and cloud forecasts and figuring in travel and setup times I decided on a general location, actually not too far from where I grew up in central Victoria.  After driving about 200km I arrived at my chosen location at about 10:30pm and I had my telescope aligned and up and running by 11pm. Jupiter was due to start its pass behind the moon at about 11:40pm.
The equipment I was using for this shoot was a 10inch (250mm) F/4 Newtonian Telescope mounted on an NEQ6 Pro Telescope Mount.  The telescope has a native focal length of 1000mm.  The camera I decided to use was a Canon 60D which is directly hooked into the focuser of the telescope by way of some adapters.  As this camera is not a full frame camera it has a crop factor of x1.6.  So I was effectively taking images of The Moon and Jupiter at a focal length of 1600mm (1000 times 1.6).  The mount is a tracking mount so once it is setup properly it can follow objects in the night sky and keep them centered in the field of view by countering the effects of the rotation of the Earth.

I had the camera imaging The Moon and Jupiter at about 10 second intervals when I noticed the lights from a plane close to the moon. I realised that there was a chance that it would pass in front of the moon, so I quickly canceled the remote timer I was using to take the shots and instead started shooting high speed continuous frames. I lost the plane in the glare from The Moon as it got closer so I wasn’t entirely sure if I had got it or not.  After a minute (long enough for the plane to have passed by) I stopped shooting frames and went back through the images on the camera.  It was a good thing that I was on a deserted country road because my scream of excitement would have echoed for miles.  I had managed to get the plane crossing the moon in five individual frames just as Jupiter was about to be occulted by The Moon, as well as a further 7 or so frames with the dissipating jet trail.  I knew right then that I had captured something unique.

“Fly Me To The Moons”

The image above is a two image composite. Click to enlarge.  The Moon, Jupiter and the plane are all one single image. I then took an overexposed image to bring up the Galilean Moons of (from left to right) Io, Callisto and Europa. Ganymede had already been occulted by The Moon.

I thought it would be fun to make all the plane transit images into an animated GIF.  I have to give a big thanks to Russell Preston Brown at Adobe for his help with this.  Russell made a tutorial, featuring all of my plane transit images, in which he explains how the above animation was created here:

A behind the scenes look at my telescope imaging the Jupiter and Moon occultation.  Note how low in the sky The Moon was at the time which made the seeing conditions less than ideal so I couldn’t get as much detail in the Moon and particularly Jupiter as I would have liked.

Nancy Atkinson from Universe Today wrote a lovely article labeling it “Luckiest Photo Ever”.  Not quite sure about that but I am certainly not complaining.  You can read that article here:

Update (25th of February,2013)             APOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Featured as the Astronomy Picture Of the Day

Yes, I was very lucky to get this shot.  I don’t know if I will ever top it, but I will continue to go out into the night and point my cameras at the sky.  You just never know…….