Pleiades Preview And How To Get Great Moon Shots With A Smart Phone

Cynthia Lapp of Duluth photographed this scene on March 31st that includes the moon (top) along with Orion (left, below), the Hyades star cluster and the Pleiades and Venus. Simply beautiful! Details: 22mm focal length lens at f/3.5, 15 seconds at ISO 400. Cynthia Lapp

Clouds have threatened the past couple day but each night a starry window opens, and Venus returns in pursuit of the Pleiades. What fun to see the two draw closer and closer until Venus literally invades the cluster’s space on Friday night. I wanted to share these photos with you to whet your appetite a little. Crossing my fingers for clear skies.

Venus and the Pleiades ride together down the western sky on April 1st. Details: 100mm telephoto at f/2.8, 2 seconds at ISO 2000. Bob King

I’ve also had fun the past couple nights photographing the moon with my smart phone (an older iPhone 5E) taken through my 10-inch telescope. I use low magnification (76x) and carefully hold the phone over the eyepiece — moving up and down and from side to side — until the camera is in position and the moon appears on the screen. The detail you can capture with a hand-held phone coupled with a telescope is simply incredible. The phone automatically focuses and for the most part does a good job exposing the scene correctly. To correct for over- or underexposure tap the screen image and slide an icon (the sun on my phone) up or down.

Amateur astronomer Piqui Díaz of Buenos Aires, Argentina (latitude 34.6° South), who is confined to her home because of coronavirus “stay in place” restrictions, managed to capture a view of the Pleiades and Venus tonight (April 2) through her 7×50 binoculars with a cell phone. She had to tie the binoculars to a tall spout to catch sight of the the pair through the trees. Details: ISO 1250, 8-second exposure. From the southern hemisphere the scene is reversed compared to the north.  Piqui Díaz

Lest you think you need a 10-inch telescope put the thought out of your head. A little 3-inch instrument is fully capable of delivering crater-packed images (see below). Here’s a selection of scenes from the past two nights. The wide fields showing the entire moon were made at 76x; the tighter views at 174x. At high power, getting the camera in the right spot takes concentration, but if you persist you will succeed. I follow the ancient rule of every photographer: keep pressing the button until you get something you’re happy with.

The half moon exposes a riot of craters along the terminator, the boundary marking day and night on the moon. Taken with a cheap iPhone and 10-inch telescope on March 31. Bob King

Over the next few nights the terminator, the line dividing lunar day and night, will swing to the east, exposing hundreds of new craters each night. If you have a telescope or spotting scope, center the moon in the field of view and carefully hold your phone over the eyepiece end to capture photos that will really surprise you.

Close up, smart phone view of two of the moon’s most iconic craters — Tycho, the sharp round crater with the sunlit central peak (right, center) and giant Clavius (top). Tycho, one of the moon’s youngest large craters, is 53 miles (85 km) across. The central peak rises 5,200 feet (1,600 meters) above the crater’s floor. Clavius is 140 miles (225 km) in diameter and one of the most ancient craters with an age around 4 billion years. It’s also the 3rd largest crater on the lunar nearside. Bob King
The spectacular trio of Arzachel, Alphonsus and Ptolemaeus (top right to lower left) straddles the lunar terminator on March 31st. The rising sun illuminates the central peaks in the first two craters. The floor of Ptolemaeus displays both sharp-rimmed and partially lava-flooded, “softer” craters. Details: mobile phone and 10-inch telescope. Bob King


Plato crater, located in the moon’s northern hemisphere, looks like a 63-mile-wide (101 km) hot tub. Mountainous walls cast peaked shadows on its relatively flat floor. Details: iPhone 5E and 10-inch telescope. Bob King
The moon on April 1st through a 3-inch (80mm) telescope with a cell phone. Bob King

2 Responses

    1. astrobob

      I agree, Brad. I’ve been watching those since I was a teenager. Plato is my favorite because its relatively smooth floor serves as the perfect backdrop.

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