2014 Oct 14-30, Daily Sunspot Tracking

•February 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s been several months, but I finally had the opportunity to process and animate a 17-day daily sunspot tracking sequence from October. It features AR2192, the beautiful large active region that caused a stir that cycle.


Oct 14 - 18

Oct 14 – 18


Equipment used
Celestron 102mm f/9.8 refractor, 7-24mm Hyperion zoom set at 16mm, 63x, Thousand Oaks white light filter, homemade Sun funnel for initial sunspot placements, LXD75.

Sketch media
White card stock, superfine black felt-tipped artist pen, 0.5mm mechanical pencil, processed in Photoshop and orientated so that north is up, west is right.





Oct 19-24

Oct 19-24

Oct 25-30

Oct 25-30

2011 09 11 – ISS Lunar Transit

•September 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I drove to Leander, TX, this morning to catch the ISS lunar transit. This is the field sketch, mirrored and rotated to match standard orientation.

20140911 ISS lunar transit

Equipment: 102mm f/9.8 refractor on an LXD75, 16mm eyepiece, 13% transmission Moon filter; Sketch media: black Strathmore Artagain paper, white pastels, white charcoal, black charcoal

The sketch was a quickie compared to the phase sketches I typically do, but I wanted to ensure the ISS wouldn’t be lost in the detail. The ISS crossed the lunar face in less than half a second, starting near the craters Steinheil and Watt. It then passed near Encke before crossing the NW limb.

I re-familiarized myself with the guidelines from Alan Strauss’ ISS solar transit observation in 2011. You can view the report and sketch on his site, Lost Pleiad Observatory.

Before leaving the house, I rechecked the ISS flight path and its central line for passing in front of the Moon. CalSky is a great program for this. On my iPhone, I used GoSatWatch and set alerts for 5 minutes before the pass and another for when the pass began.

The sketch was started almost an hour before the pass. So that the ISS wouldn’t be lost within the abundance of lunar terrain, the majority of detail was omitted from the sketch. Once the first alert went off, I stopped sketching and prepared myself for the pass. My observing partner, Freckles (my dog), was put back in the CRV so that I could focus solely on the view. The transit would last only a fraction of a second and in that time, I wanted to note: where it entered, the flight path, and where it excited; color and luminance; shape, size and orientation; and viewable panels and modules.

The second alert sounded and within moments, the ISS made its transit. I was surprised to see that it was a glowing white color (expected a silhouette) and what appeared to be a shadow on one side of it. It seems I may have caught a module and one of the solar arrays. The shadow was most likely another solar array or the shadowed area of the module. As for the orientation, it was offset a little from its path, but things happened so suddenly that I’m not certain I’ve recorded it accurately. My focus was more on the overall shape and the shadow of the ISS.

With each ISS pass, it’s an ongoing endeavor to improve my observing and sketching skills for the next time!

2014 08 25 – C/2014 E2 (Jacques)

•August 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

20140825 c2014 E2 Jacques

Comet movement during the course of the observation

Comet movement during the course of the observation

This long-period comet was an easy spot in the constellation Cassiopeia at 10.7 magnitude. The coma was bright and dense. Its outer edges were diffuse and there appeared to be a very faint elongation to the SSE.

2014 08 24 – ISS

•August 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It’s always a treat to follow the International Space Station (ISS) through an eyepiece. During a recent outreach event, I even had a line of visitors taking quick turns at the eyepiece while I tracked the pass for the them using the Dob with a Telrad.

During the past few days, my husband and I made a joint efforts to image the International Space station, his by webcam using the 10-inch LX200 with manual tracking and mine through sketches using the 16-inch Dobsonian and a 13mm Ethos. This telescope/eyepiece combination makes it fairly easy to track the ISS while providing a bit of umph for details.

There were two ISS passes on the night of August 23. I used the first one for practice and, from that, determined that a voice recorder was definitely needed for the 2nd run at 21:43-21:46 local time (Aug 24th 02:43-02:46 UT). Directly after the observation, I made a rough field sketch and jotted down notes. A more-detailed, color sketch was completed inside using my notes, voice recording and the field sketch for reference. When the sketch was complete, it was scanned and processed in Photoshop CS6 to better represent the luminosity of the view.


Original sketch from voice recorder and notes

Original sketch from voice recorder and notes

The solar arrays were outlined in bright burnt yellow with deeper burnt orange running through the center of them lengthwise. The module was bright and long on the following end. More details were visible during moments of clarity with smooth tracking, but I failed to describe the view with enough depth to transpose them onto paper. I was able to add what appeared to be the thermal control radiators near the truss on either side of the module as well as a section of the module that runs parallel to the truss on the leading edge.

Equipment: 16-inch f/4.5 reflector on a non-tracking Dobsonian mount, Telrad, 13mm Ethos

Application for passes: GoSatWatch – Satellite Tracking for iPhone

Sketch media: black Strathmore Artagain paper, color pencils, white gel pen, color Conte’ pastels, blending stump and then processed digitally in Photoshop CS6

Related Links

Alan Strauss features a sketch of the ISS transiting the Sun. He explains the technique he used and how he planned for it on his webpage Lost Pleiad Observatory.

Jeremy Perez masterfully captured a series of sketches from a August 2012 ISS pass and another from an October 2012 pass that can be viewed from his Belt of Venus website. Make sure to read his tips on how to try this yourself!

ISS and Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 by Aleksander Cieśla
ISS and Progress M-02M in 2009 by Janusz Krysiak
Plus a few more ISS sketches from ASOD contributors.

Click here for the latest ISS news from NASA.

Solar Balloons

•July 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Solar hot air balloons are a great addition to any outreach event. You can purchase one online for as little as a few dollars or make your own using thin trash bags or sheets of polyethylene.

The heated air inside the balloon expands, making it less dense than the cooler ambient air. This causes the balloon to float. While conducting science experiments, kids can learn the basics on how the balloons generate lift, solar radiation, and solar energy.

Most balloons I’ve seen are shaped like long, slender tubes (sealed on both ends), tear drops (your typical hot air balloon) or tetrahedrons (also referred to as tetroons). But don’t let that deter you from making unique designs of your own!

The best time to launch is in the morning on a calm day while the ambient air is cool.

Materials needed for a tube-shaped balloon

5-7 thin black trash bags (0.3-0.4 mil)
Lightweight, strong tape
Lightweight string tied to a rubber band on one end, a piece of cardboard on the other


Step 1
Cut away the ends of all but one of the bags.

Step 1

Step 2
Starting with the bag that has the uncut end, overlap two bags by placing the end of one bag inside the other by an inch or two.

Step 3
Tape the seam. I used black duct tape that I split in half lengthwise. Cellophane tape would have been better because of its light weight. I’ve read where other people use masking tape.

Step 3

Step 4
Continue steps 2 and 3 for the remainder of the tube.

Step 5
Prepare the tie-down string by tying one end to a rubber band, the other to a piece of cardboard

Step 5

Step 6
Fill the bag with air using a hair dryer or fan.

Step 6

Step 7
Seal the open end with the rubber band.

Step 7

Step 8
Wait for the Sun to warm the air inside of the balloon, then watch it float!

Step 8

Step 8a

Step 8b

For more information about this topic, visit


Solar-powered Robotics for Outreach

•July 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Are you looking for a fun way to incorporate solar power into your outreach events? I ran across a robotic kit from Edmund Scientifics called Solar Space Fleet and had a blast using it at my last outreach event.

Per their webpage –

Transform and Power Your Own Space Command

The Solar Space Fleet Kit is an innovative solar powered science kit that can transform into seven different lunar modules and energized via direct sunlight or micro rechargeable battery.

For just under $26.00, the kit includes an easy-to-follow, 46-page instruction manual, decals, a solar panel, rechargeable battery, battery module and all the parts to build 7 different robots. Not included are AAA batteries (2 are needed for the battery module when not using solar energy), a utility knife and/or diagonal cutters to remove burrs before assembly, and little helpers keen to assist you!


First up is assembling the landing gear, front wheel, solar module and battery module. Next are the gear boxes.

The individual robots share parts, so each will need to be disassembled before building another module. A few examples are shown below. The robots’ actions vary with each module: spinning, turning, walking, or rolling forward.

Edmund Scientifics has several educational toys to choose from that are geared for alternative energy. Make sure to check them out and see what you’d like to include in your outreach program!

2014 Mar 20 – June 20, Solargraphs

•June 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The final three pin-hole cameras for my solargraphy experiments were taken down late Friday, the night before summer solstice. One of the cameras (positioned upright for a landscape view) was angled too low and very little of the Sun’s path could be seen. The other two were positioned on their sides to catch sunrise and sunset each day.

2014 0320-0620

When comparing the camera’s view to the processed photographic paper, you’ll notice that the view is mirrored.

2014 0320-0620 camera 2

All seven pin-hole cameras were reloaded with Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe MGD.44M Black & White Variable Contrast Paper and positioned in their new locations in time for sunrise on June 21st–summer solstice. I’ve adjusted their angles to include a higher arc in the sky. This set will stay up until winter solstice on December 21st. Fingers crossed!

Related topics:

Solargraphs, how to make 6-month exposures by Justin Quinnell
Tarja Trygg´s website of The Global Project Of Solargraphy