• Amy Sanchez

Planetary Reflection

I wanted to be an astrophysicist when I was younger (ok.... or a marine biologist, or a "band member"... guess which one won?!). This photo may be the closest I ever get to outer space, but being able to capture the Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn from about a billion miles away - from the rings of Saturn - was pretty rewarding.

I started noticing the two planets traveling together on my road trip this past summer. From clear nights with "billions and billions" of stars in the Valley of the Gods, Death Valley, Glacier National Park, or clear across the country at Pennsylvania's Cherry Springs International Dark Sky Park, I noticed the two bright planets marking the sky everywhere I went. When you're alone on a long road trip in the middle of nowhere, those piercing eyes in the night become good friends- a familiar comfort in ever-changing, unknown surroundings. I'll share some of my favorite Milky Way, Comet Neowise, and otherwise mind-numbingly vast starfield photos from the trip soon.

While I'm not always up to speed following astronomical events, the general trend of having more "free time" this year due to the pandemic has allowed me to follow my curiosity and devote a bit more time to learning about things that have always fascinated me. Whether it's Aurora-hunting (more to come about a brief, almost well-timed Aurora-hunting excursion in Alaska just over a week ago), dreaming about getting to Antarctica for the next total eclipse in 2021 (yes, I know the 2024 eclipse will last longer and cover upstate NY and my home town- I'll be there!), or just going down the black hole of articles, videos and documentaries, I've really been enjoying trying to wrap my head around such out-of-this-world phenomena. Pun intended, sorry. With the recent Geminid and Ursid meteor showers, and of course the worldwide attention on the "grand conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn on the Winter Solstice, experimenting with photography and just generally enjoying being out in darkness has been entertaining and grounding.

For those curious, for the photo of the planets above, I used my Sony A7RIII with a 100-400mm GM lens with 1.4x teleconverter. I shot on APS-C mode, which adds another 1.5x crop factor, so I essentially shot this at 840mm. The shutter was open for .4sec with an aperture of f8, ISO320. Since I'm really still just experimenting with astrophotography (stars and the moon are easier, but planets are tough!), the best image I got was still a bit over-exposed on the planets. Normally you would underexpose and bring up the brightness as necessary, but I would have had to layer at least 3 different images (if not more) to get the correct exposure for Jupiter, its moons, and Saturn. Instead, I found that by allowing Jupiter to be overexposed (the closest and brightest object in the image), I was able to get good visibility of Jupiters four moons, and good focus on Saturn (over a billion miles away... what?!). I then took a second photo with a more correctly exposed (darker) Jupiter, and layered only the improved Jupiter on top of the first. This is basically a variation on a very common technique in photography, using multi-image exposure bracketing to get the best light on both a subject and background. I adapted it here with just two images, and am pretty pleased with how it came out, for my first attempt at photographing two planets in a celestial kiss. I suppose I'll have to wait until 2040 to try again. ;) Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy the images, and the mind-blowing perspective this occurrence brings!

Here are a few more images from this past week- the lead up to the closest my two planetary friends will be for a very, very long time.

The paring of Jupiter and Saturn just over the moon on 12.16.20. Taken from Palos Verdes, with Catalina Island in the distance.

Planetary Reflection. Not the moon, but the "Christmas Star" of Jupiter and Saturn reflecting on the Pacific Ocean, on the Winter Solstice, 12.21.20.

Winter Solstice Moon 12.21.20

The original, un-cropped version of my final planet image above... not very impressive, is it? But then again, it is... how tiny we are, on this pale blue dot.

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