John L's Comet and Eclipse Photos
plus the Transits of Venus and Mercury
and some good astronomy links

Click on images for larger view in separate window.


A Few Comets


Comet Halley was one of those sky objects I could not see with the naked eye unless I looked slightly to the side of it. And that's not really seeing it – is it? This pre-dawn time exposure was taken on March 22, 1986 with a 210 mm telephoto lens set at f4, Ektachrome 400 film (pushed to 800), and an exposure time of about one minute. Here the comet appears below and to the left of the constellation Sagittarius.


Here's my lucky shot of Comet Hyakutake on March 26, 1996. On this evening, one could actually sense the comet's movement to the left – relative to the stars – even with the naked eye. Photo was taken around 8:30 PM at Warner Park in Madison, WI in the midst of city and car lights – with 210 mm telephoto lens set at f4, Kodacolor Royal Gold 400 film, and an exposure time of approx. 2 minutes.  Due to the proximity to Polaris, the bright star at the bottom, star drift was minimal, allowing for extended exposures without much, if any, streaking. This will probably be my favorite comet of all time, and what luck for an amateur astronomer to discover it in the first place!


Having clear skies near Hayward, WI on the night of March 26, 1997 (exactly a year after the above photo), I got these shots of Comet Hale-Bopp after slogging through 2-3 feet of snow. Until the snowy season got generally shorter, warmer and drier – starting in the later 1990s – the larger snowdrifts would become "petrified" and hang around till May in the Hayward area. Both photos were taken with Kodacolor Royal Gold 1000 film and an exposure time of around 15 seconds at f4. Top photo taken with 70 mm lens, bottom with 210 mm.

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A parting shot of Hale-Bopp as it sets behind the trees near Hayward. Taken about 9PM on April 11, 1997 with the 70 mm lens set at f4, Kodacolor Royal Gold 1000, and an exposure time of about 10 seconds.


(Like Columbo, he's back with just one more thing.) Here is my final shot of Hale-Bopp, taken on May 9, 1997 at the UW-Madison campus with the 70 mm telephoto lens set at f4, Kodacolor Royal Gold 1000, and an exposure time of about 5 seconds. Anticipating some tail disruptions which were expected around this time, it appeared there were some momentary periods of brightening which I reported as such, but corroboration was not forthcoming. Hyakutake was a lot more fun for me anyway.


This time-exposure of Comet Ikeya-Zhang was taken April 5, 2002. Three problems: (1) the camera tripod sank a little into the snow during the exposure (hence the curved streaks), (2) the comet itself did not show up clearly anyway, and (3) the print was mistakenly made on matte-finish paper, causing a grainy image with my present scanner. I thought for some time that this photo (linked from the top image at left) was nothing more than a cheap souvenier of an otherwise-productive evening of star-gazing. However, upon closer inspection, it appeared that the tail (pointing up and to the right) did not smear out evenly as the comet's apparent image moved during the time exposure. There are localized bright streaks which could have been the result of tail rotation – i.e., as the earth's rotation caused the images of the comet and stars to appear to move laterally, a brighter part of the comet's rotating tail was in a relatively "fixed" position for several short time periods during the time exposure. (Click on bottom image at left for an enhanced-contrast "close-up.") Another one of my theories. At any rate, the erratic activity of this comet's tail can be seen graphically in this image from NASA's "Astronomy Picture of the Day."

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I was happy to get a fleeting glimpse and shot of at least one of the three comets visible in May, 2004. Here is a rough time exposure (approx. 30 seconds) of Comet NEAT taken on May 14, 2004 near Hayward where it was positioned just below (and to the right) of a cluster of stars called the "Beehive Nebula" in the western sky soon after sunset.

The Great American Eclipse of 2017

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The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was upon us on Monday, August 21 and many folks had made travel plans and lodging reservations well in advance (and as close as practicable) to the predicted narrow path of totality. My particular vantage point was in Rexburg, Idaho where the Kennedy Elementary School opened up its playground for a very modest fee – and no reservations. For safe observation of the sun as totality approached, I found that the pinhole projection method (as recommended by the Planetary Society) worked well such that a reasonable image could be photographed close-up. A hole made by a large safety pin through Lana and Dick Dale's sturdy business card gave the image shown in the top photo.

Only when totality prevailed was it safe for the sensitive eyes (and cameras) to observe the sun directly (middle photo). From a bit of prior experimentation, I decided to let the camera flash do its thing when photographing the sun during totality. My camera is like many whose flash functions automatically when the surroundings get sufficiently dark. Folks would probably find it odd that someone would let his flash go off at an eclipse event, but deactivating this flash feature would have made the camera react to the darkness by increasing the aperature which would then spoil the photo by making the sky appear less dark. That was my theory, and I wound up with a few high-contrast images like the one shown here. (And I performed no subsequent photoshopping!)

By checking weather forecasting sites on the internet that also record historical data for any given day, one may see how the total solar eclipse cooled things off in certain areas. Case in point: The temperature drop shows up in the weather history for nearby Idaho Falls (bottom photo) where the eclipse starts at 10:15 A.M., and the temperature is on the way up again by noon. The vertical line depicting the start of the third quarter of the day (which starts at noon) is marked by the arrow. (However, it would seem that those lines and the arrow should be very slightly shifted to the right such that the recorded "Hi" and "Lo" points for each quarter day fit more accurately.)
This graph is excerpted from this page where you can scroll sideways to August 21 and also note the general trend during the day for other dates.

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A Few More Eclipses

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Here are a couple moon shots from March 23, 1997, the night of the partial eclipse. Photo at left was taken about an hour before the start of the eclipse, showing Mars* below the clouded moon. Right photo was taken about a half-hour before the eclipse reached its maximum. Not the clearest possible conditions for eclipse-watching, but apparently good enough. Both photos were taken near Hayward, WI with Kodacolor Royal Gold 1000 film and an exposure time of probably less than a second (I tend to forget) at f4. Left photo taken with 70 mm lens, right photo with 210 mm.
*Cruise around a map of Mars here and see if you can locate the notorious "face."  (Hint: It is very near N lat. 41,W long. 9.5 and is situated at a NW-SE diagonal.)

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This is the solar eclipse of May 10, 1994 viewed outside the now-demolished E. B. Fred Hall at UW-Madison. I don't know from where I learned about this technique for the indirect viewing of solar eclipses, but it works best when the binocular image is projected into a shadow such as in the photo at left. (A neater setup is shown below.) The photo on the right illustrates the natural method: letting the leaves of a tree project the sun's image – filling the sidewalk with crescents!


Here are three views of the Jan. 20, 2000 lunar eclipse as observed in Monona, WI.

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The solar eclipse of December 25, 2000 viewed near Hayward. Here the last eclipse of the second millennium was visualized by utilizing the same techniques employed in the May 10, 1994 eclipse above.

A Couple Historical Transits
(And remember that eclipses are transits too!)


The Venus Transit of June 5, 2012 is shown here, projected with reversed binoculars (as for the two solar eclipses just above) onto a hand-held, orange note card. More photos of this event can be found on my Facebook page here.


The Mercury Transit of May 9, 2016 is shown here, utilizing the same observation method as above, but projection was made onto a dark, non-reflective surface (the back of my old Amazon Kindle). I was surprised to detect any image at all, but one can see the faint dot (on the enlarged images) which is showing movement over a short period of time.

For convenience and consistency, these links all (hopefully) open up in a separate window.

  • The Planetary Society.  I joined, and so can you! Check them out on Facebook! Their March, 2018 newsletter includes an article on the Outer Solar System (beyond Neptune) in which 840 Minor Planets have been revealed so far (Pluto having been the first), and a visualization of their relative position in the Solar System is shown in this animation.
  • Planetary Landscapes is another fascinating site on Facebook where you can interact daily with the wonders of the universe.
  • Planetary Nomenclature.  This is the first site that caught my interest when I initially got into the web circa 1995 with the Mosaic browser which rendered their tables perfectly, and the site remains user-friendly. It is refreshing to see a website with such attention to detail.
  • Hubble Space Telescope.
  • European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile.
  • United States Naval Observatory.
  • National Space Science Data Center.
  • StarDate Online.

  • Here are some popular educational sites that have been suggested to me over the years. Please check them out:
    • Are you without binoculars or telescope? Many thanks to Cindy and her Senior Girl Scouts who sent along this link to a great guide to naked-eye astronomy.
    • Thank you to Katie and her daughter Peyton for recommending this beginner's guide to astronomy which should be very handy for kids.
    • Thank you to Sandra who found this informative page while doing astronomy research. Kids, teens and adults will find it of great interest with such features as famous satellites and telescopes, astronomy-related games and activities, and a lot more.
    • Thank you to Amy and her students at Kingston Schools for suggesting this article with space lessons for kids.
    • An extensive collection of astronomy prints and posters from artists, photographers and designers around the world can be found at Astronomy Prints at Free Art.
    • A jet charter company has put up a great resource – Jets Observing the Skies – which is filled with links concerning many aspects of astronomy. It's great for kids of all ages (which includes me)! Thank you to the kids and their mentor Kelly at Morrow Community Center for recommending this page.
    • A Guide to the Galaxy Right from our Bedroom Window was suggested by a school science club in Seattle!
    • "The Hubble Telescope: Shedding Light on the Universe." Thanks to The W. B. Goodwin Community Center in Springfield, Pennsylvania for this link!
    • A highly educational web page filled with links to more information is "A Guide to Outer Space Surveillance." Thanks for letting me know about it, Pedro!
    • Click here for an on-line space and science study guide for kids!
    • Glassescrafter.com's views of the solar system.
    • In their extensive photographic archives, the following online resources offer thousands of astronomy-related images: Astronomy Stock Photography at Go Graph, Barewalls, Fotosearch and CanStockPhoto. One can also use the search features of these websites to check out the maps and other images.

       Visualizing and understanding descriptions of the various groups of objects associated with our solar system (classified according to size and/or region) can be difficult to keep up with. It is becoming generally agreed that just beyond the eight recognized planets of the solar system lies the Kuiper Belt – home of the large number of Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) with which we are becoming more familiar. Out farther is the more spherical Oort Cloud, probable home of the comets. And you sometimes hear of an intermediate area called the Scattered Disc which contains some far-out TNOs.

       What often gets in the way of some real education is concern over the renumbering of planets from nine to eight with the demotion of Pluto to "dwarf planet" status. As mentioned in a following paragraph, it can help to consider those eight planets as two distinctly-different groups of four. And what is coming as a consolation prize is increased knowledge of the Trans-Neptunian Objects in the Kuiper Belt in which Pluto is the crown jewel!

       The official definition of "Planet" may still need some work. Having "clearing its neighborhood" as part of a planet's definition seems a specious requirement. Consider that Earth's neighborhood is hardly clear, and who knows the nature of the vast distances between the dwarf planets and other bodies out in the Kuiper Belt? Also recall the ease with which the New Horizons probe sailed through the Pluto system. As an aside, how can we confidently consider the "extrasolar planets" to be just that?

       In an article about the New Horizons probe approaching Pluto (published here on March 5, 2015), a sensible classification is being applied to our traditional "nine planets" – namely, terrestrial (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars), gas giant (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) and icy dwarf (Pluto). Perhaps with "rocky dwarfs" like Ceres in mind, the Definition of Planet can simply become this: A self-rounded object which revolves around a star and is capable of having satellites. Then, there can be further classification according to superficial appearance (rocky, gaseous or icy) and region of the solar system.

  • Comets and Eclipses:
  • How far away is that, and how big is it?
    • Good questions. Click here for an answer from the RASC Calgary Centre.
    • The Scale of the Universe from Astronomy Picture of the Day. After clicking "start," click on the music notes and move the scroll bar.

  • Pluto with its moons Charon (aka Pluto I), Nix (Pluto II), Hydra (Pluto III), Kerberos (Pluto IV) and Styx (Pluto V):
    • The highlight of 2015 has been the Flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons Mission whose websites are found here and here. These sites include press conferences and a growing compendium of blogs, tweets, stories and other features as more becomes known of the data collected in the summer of 2015. The downloadable press conferences include the three which occurred during the week of flyby on July 14, 15 and 17, 2015 during which the excitement did not let up.
    • The Planetary Society's coverage includes Pluto and Charon-related blogs and press room.
    • You can always do a web search using the words Pluto News (without quotation marks) for links to updates and archives.

  • Besides Pluto, there are more Trans-Neptunian Objects out in the Kuiper Belt and beyond. These far-out objects seem to have personalities that we are beginning to appreciate, and one can easily do web searches for such items as the following:
    • The Pluto-sized Eris (2003 UB313) with its moon Dysnomia. They were formerly nicknamed "Xena" and "Gabrielle."
    • New Horizons' next target is 2014 MU69. Check out the story here. Of course, Hubble has a photo of it!
    • The rapidly-spinning, football-shaped Haumea (2003 EL61, "Santa") with its moons Hi'iaka ("Rudolf") and Namaka ("Blitzen"). The discovery of a ring around Haumea is detailed here.
    • Makemake (2005 FY9, "Easterbunny"). An interesting article about its newly-discovered moon is here.
    • The anti-Pluto, Orcus (2004 DW) with its moon Vanth.
    • Quaoar (2002 LM60).
    • Sedna (2003 VB12).
    • Ixion (2001 KX76).
    • Varuna (2000 WR106).
    • And then there's 2007 OR10 ("Snow White"). Click here for that.

  • Asteroid 433 Eros:
  • Some more objects:
  • Some more projects:



This page originally featured just the Comet Hyakutake photo and was uploaded to the web
in mid-1997 with subsequent additions as deemed reasonably educational and interesting. It
may be best viewed at 640X480 resolution which was more in vogue back in the 1990s, but
your browser can satisfactorily magnify images that may appear on the small side.

This page was last modified on July 5, 2018 at
1:30 PM, CDT. Hopefully the links are up to date.
John Lindquist:  homepage, complete site outline.
E-mail me at  jlindquist 001 @ gmail.com
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