I did the First Magnitude Star Challenge on the evening of December 24-25, 2020. This star challenge actually begins way back in December 2019 when Club President Steve Maas mentioned it at our December club meeting (You might remember those days, when people got together for meetings). Anyway, on December 20, 2020, an email went out to the Club reminding everyone about the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. At the bottom of the email was a link to the video showing the star challenge. And so I was inspired to give it a try this year. It was actually a lot of fun doing the challenge. I watched Steve’s video, made a written list of stars, times and directions, and then planned accordingly. I needed to decide which night to do the viewing. My best options would be Christmas Eve into early Christmas Morning as it would be a four-day weekend for me and I knew I would be able to get lots of rest after doing this all-night challenge.
I also wanted to document my viewing with images, so I needed to be sure my camera batteries were charged. I used my Canon Eos Rebel Xsi, with the 18mm-55mm wide-field lens, using my lowest f-stop, around 3.5-5.0. I took mostly 5 second to 8 second exposures as all of the images were from in town. I have my camera set up on a Sunpak Platinum Plus Tripod for stability. It is just heavy enough to support the camera in a light breeze yet light enough for me to transport it with ease.
I began at 6:45 pm in the Tech Terrace neighborhood, at my 3-1/2 year old grandson’s house. He wanted to look at the stars and planets too. I got the first nine stars from there. The skies were very clear, and the winds were light. Temperatures were quite nice to begin the evening. The family joined us outside to look at the Great Conjunction setting in the trees in the SW. You could make out Jupiter and Saturn very clearly.
The second image I shot was Fomaluhaut, looking due south. In the photo, it is the lone star by itself just over the house in the lower center of the image.
The third image was of the Summer Triangle setting in the west: Vega in the upper right, Deneb below and Altair to the lower left, also in the trees. You can see that there was some glare from the local street lights. Turning to face East, we could see Capella (yellowish) and Aldeberan (golden) up high, Betelgeuse (orange) and Rigel in Orion, and Pollux low in the East, also kind of in the trees. We had issues with glare from a near by street light, so my stepson stood in front of it so I could capture the image. All of these stars I was able to get between 6:45 and 9 pm or so.
I then took a break until about 12-12:45 am on December 25 when we headed south on Milwaukee Avenue to the Sports Complex at FM 1585. I knew I would need a clear southern horizon to find Canopus and that location has a nice open horizon. I set up my tripod and camera and started taking pictures. The winds had picked up a bit and some clouds had formed. Although we had to contend with some street lights, I was able to get the best shot of the night— a lucky shot of the star Canopus. By this time, some clouds had moved in— they covered most of the southern sky, with just a tiny break where Canopus was showing very low on the southern horizon. In the next shot just a few moments later, Canopus was covered by clouds. Then I got a great shot of Sirius (blue-white) in Canis Major.
I looked high in the Southern sky for Procyon (blue-white), and also took another image of Pollux. There were some wispy clouds and winds were light. The temperatures were getting very cold by this time.
Moving on to the East, I found Regulus in Leo the Lion, and the clouds did not hide it at all. By this time I had 13 of the 16 stars in the Challenge, so we decided to head home at the north end of Milwaukee and take a nap and wait for the the other stars to rise. I set my alarm for around 6:30 am.
When 6:30 came, I headed to my back yard with camera and tripod. The skies had cleared and the temperatures were still very cold. I found Arcturus and Spica easily looking high to the east. They were nearly overhead by this time. The sky seemed a darker black then earlier in the evening. Arcturus seemed more yellow and Spica seemed more white to my eye.
Everyone sees color a little differently, so if you do this challenge, make a note of what colors the stars appear to your eyes. I noticed that the sky color seemed to change slightly depending on what part of town I was in, and what time of night I was taking the picture. Not sure if this is dependent on the area street lights or the position of the sun and amount of sky darkness.
Things were getting very exciting now. I headed out front and across the street with my tripod and camera to catch my last star of the Challenge, the rising of Antares over the row of duplexes on my street. The star appeared golden-white to my eyes. I could make out the claws of the the Scorpion quite clearly. I took several shots as it was rising over the houses. I did increase the f-stop and reduce the exposure time during my two morning stars to cut down on the sky glow, and to allow the stars to become more pin-point in the images.
After watching Steve’s video, I was inspired to turn around and capture a final image of Vega rising in the NE at dawn and so my final image made the Star Challenge complete.
I’ve attached a selfie of your photographer and her camera taking the image of Antares rising— ha ha. In this image the camera has a dark screen because it is taking the shot— note the tiny red light on the lower right of the camera body. The red light on the upper left of the camera is reflection from the red flashlight I’m using to illuminate my face for this image taken with my cell phone
Special thanks to my husband Rick for his driving me to the southern viewing location, photography advice, and moral support.