Victor Rogus

Astrophotographs displayed in this section are taken and composed by members of the Gibraltar Astronomical Society and are displayed with the consent of the artists concerned. 

January 2000 Total Lunar Eclipse

by Victor Rogus

January 20, 2000

The first winter storm, of a seemingly mild season, had struck the Midwest. It had deposited only about six inches of snow to cover the gray landscape in a blanket of crisp white. But the storm brought with it a burst of polar air that would send the air temperatures in North - East Wisconsin into the –10 to –15 degree below zero categories. Including a wind chill off of Lake Michigan dropped the mercury into the –34 degree zone. These are the conditions I would have to endure in my attempt to capture the totally eclipsed Moon on film.

Today is Thursday and I was needed at work, but with a fresh batch of vacation days under my belt my intention was to set out to my dark sky site in Algoma, Wisconsin, photograph the eclipse and then take Friday off as a holiday. My Jeep was loaded with everything I needed to create a multiple piece composite image of the Moon’s complete umbral display as well as the moment of totality. I would also attempt a wide-angle piggyback shot of the eclipsed Moon against its heavenly background of winter stars. This would be my first astro photo outing of the New Year and the new millennium; I hopped for a memorable night and a fine photograph or two.

This was going to be a very cold night but the sky was predicted to be clear. This event will be visible over most of the United States. Many fine photographers will try to capture it. With this cold spell we are experiencing many will be tempted to set up telescopes in the backyard and run out at the moment just before totality and snap off a roll of film. Because it is a work night many more may not try at all, even if their skies are clear. In the last couple of days I had been trying to conceive a plan for creating a photographic image that is somehow different from the rest, this gives one a definite advantage in the strength of their portfolio. This is why I chose to drive the 200 miles of slippery roads to the dark skies of Algoma, Wisconsin. This is why I chose to endure the inhuman cold and biting wind of that icy shore.

Although I managed to leave work an hour early I did not arrive at my destination until after dark. Guiding the Jeep through the snowdrifts I found the place where I would make my stand. The drive had taken over five hours and I was tired already. Partly cloudy skies greeted me as exited my car. Instantly the cold night air bit the exposed skin on my face and hands and for the first time I felt a sting of doubt. Back in the Jeep I called my wife to let her know I had arrived safely. “I’m not sure I can even do this.” I said. “It’s so cold and there are clouds here!” “Oh no!” She replied. “Come home, it’s clear here.” There was no way, as the umbral phase of the eclipse begins at 9:01 P.M. local time and there was just no time for a change of plans. I had made my bed, now it was time to sleep in it.

Wisconsin Weather Radio was predicting clear (and very cold) skies except for extreme Northwest Wisconsin along Lake Superior where partly cloudy skies would prevail. The bright full Moon played hide and seek behind the fast moving, but clearing clouds while I made plans to work in five-minute shifts to unload my Jeep and set up the equipment. It was currently ten degrees below zero and the temperature was still dropping. First changing into my cold weather clothes, then steadily working and warming myself in the Jeep I began to make progress. My telescope was assembled and my gear was organized. It was now about 7:00 o’clock I would relax for an hour and then polar align the telescope mount at 8:00 o’clock.

The Moon was climbing higher and I could no longer see it through my windshield. My wristwatch hung over the rear view mirror ready to time segments between exposures and I felt as ready as I could be. With a little time to kill I placed a call to my teacher, friend, Mark who was at the time teaching a class. Leaving a message on his answering machine, I told him what he was missing and how cold it was. “It’s like Hell on ice.” I said.

9:00 o’clock, I begin to make my first battery of exposures, it is nearly impossible to touch the metal parts of the telescope with bare hands. Because of the strong wind gusts I have set my tripod low to the ground and already realize that I will be crawling on the snow just to look through the camera back. Now the eclipse has begun and I continue making exposures every ten minutes right on schedule. The dark shadow of the Earth swiftly shrouds crater after crater. Totality is predicted to be at 10:44 P.M. CST and I feel as comfortable as possible as I proceed towards that milestone.

The Jeep continually idols with the heater on high as I attend to the business of bracketing photographs through the five-inch refractor at ten minute intervals. Then without warning, with about ten minutes before lunar totality the camera at the prime focus setting of the telescope refused to work. It is frozen and the shutter will not operate. Thinking it must be broken I remove the camera from the wide-angle “piggyback” station and reassign it to prime focus duty. It works well for the next battery of photographs and then it too fails to function. With my two frozen cameras in hand I re-enter the warm Jeep to recompose myself and try to get at least one camera working again. My fingers are numb as I manipulate the camera bodies in an attempt to warm them enough to finish the job. Suddenly one of them springs to life and I am out the door reattaching it to the focuser of the telescope. Looking up to gauge the progress of the eclipsing Moon I see a very bright meteor seem to pass right underneath the reddening lunar face. The sky is now quite dark with the exception of millions of stars filtering into view with very little Moonlight to overpower their presence. When I had first arrived although the Sun had set, the bright Moon light on the snow made it easy to see. But now with the Moon in nearly full eclipse it was nearly as dark as a night of a new Moon.

This may be hard to believe but the next thing to happen was, as I was reaching for the camera body it dropped right out of the telescope’s focuser into my hand. The small screws in the “T”- ring adapter had loosened and the adapter fell apart. Back in the Jeep a pocketknife served as a screwdriver to repair the unit with about two minutes remaining before totality. By now I was low on film and decided to reload for the moment of totality. As I carefully rewound the exposed film inside the camera at times I could feel it tearing and cracking. It was so cold that the film was actually beginning to freeze and crack inside the cameras! The leaders on the film rolls would actually snap off as they went from being tightly wound around the take up spool to a flattened position. Despite this difficulty no images were lost and only minimal damage to the exposed film was sustained.

The cold night dragged on and the Moon steadily brightened the landscape as it slipped from behind the Earth’s shadow. When the event was over and the Moon was again full I hurried back into my Jeep where I remained warming myself for about twenty minutes. Then, deciding that there was no more reason for me to stay, I began working again in five-minute shifts disassembling my equipment and repackaging it for the long ride home. Hopefully I would have gathered enough images to create a composite photograph that would tell the entire story of the first total lunar eclipse over North America of the new century.

94% Solar Eclipseby Victor Rogus 

May 10, 1994

A perfect, perfect day for solar astronomy! It would seem that my prayers have been answered! Last night's clouds cleared out by 2:00 A.M. giving me the time I needed to polar align my telescope's mount before the rising of the Sun. While rainfalls to the West and more rain and clouds obscure the Eastern sky, a huge, lazy dome of high pressure rests squarely atop the central United States. Today is of special interest to the astronomical community and the timing of this clear Spring day seems heaven sent. This afternoon, at 12:04 P.M. the Sun will be darkened by a near total eclipse. Farther down state, some observers will enjoy a perfect annular eclipse event, highlighted by a concentric ring of light around the dark lunar disk. Due to the apparent size of the Moon, at this time, the solar face will not be completely covered making this a partial eclipse any way you look at it. My backyard is located at the extreme northern edge, of the limit of annularity. This condition though not conducive to a perfectly centered lunar disk upon the solar face, will provide a better chance for me to see and photograph the famous Baily's beads phenomenon. (Baily's beads are bright areas of sunlight that sometimes appear momentarily around the edge of the Lunar disk shortly before and after a Solar eclipse. The beads of light are caused by Sunlight pouring through the lunar valleys near the limb or edge of the circumference of the Moon. They are named after the 18th century British astronomer, Francis Baily.) This fact has influenced my decision to stay here on the chance of experiencing the rare event of Baily's beads. Also many friends and neighbors have asked me about this well advertised eclipse, I have decided to share this grand adventure with them. My wife and I have thought to make something of a "day star" party for anyone who is interested in joining us. We will provide aluminum coated milar solar filter glasses and views through a filtered telescope throughout the entire solar spectacle. This is a fine opportunity to educate the public about astronomy in general and the uphill battle we astronomers wage against the effects of light pollution. This is an obligation that every amateur and professional astronomer must be willing to embrace. If we are to preserve the majesty the night sky holds for ourselves and for the generations to follow. I also want someone to monitor the drop in the air temperature, and other subtle environmental changes at the moment of totality. I will be busy at the camera throughout the entire event, as I have decided to try to document the entire eclipse event from start to finish. The entire eclipse is predicted to last three to three and one half-hours. If I make a series of bracketed exposures (based upon my exposure tests from previous Solar photography outings) every ten minutes. The best exposure of each set can then be combined with the others into one composite image that will show the Moon’s progressive path across the Solar face. I should end up with between eighteen and twenty-one exposures that should provide a fair representation of the entire event. This may give me an advantage over other astrophotographers who plan only to make photos during the moment of maximum eclipse.

People begin to arrive, making themselves at home in lawn chairs. It is warm, (nearly 70 degrees F.), clear and comfortable. One can feel the excitement in the air as curious friends gather on this Tuesday morning in hopes of seeing a truly awe inspiring sight. Being a Tuesday, bosses and job obligations had to be dealt with. This is something any budding astronomer should be aware of. The workings of the cosmic clock wait for no man and we are little more than spectators in the great Coliseum of the universe. Either you are there for the show or you are not. I have set up a video camera on a tripod to make a record of our party as watching the peoples’ reactions to the solar eclipse is often nearly as much fun as the eclipse itself. The television tells of how more than a thousand people have converged upon the Adler planetarium in Chicago. It also tells of how cameras across the country are recording this event.

The time is now 10:24 A.M. and the Sun begins to lose its familiar round shape. This is the first indicator that the eclipse has begun. Chinese legend tells of how a great evil dragon that lives in the sky is sometimes prone to try to eat the Sun. When the dragon does this, the Sun's great heat causes indigestion and the dragon must spit it out. This happens every time and that is lucky for us. Another interesting side note is that while we are watching this eclipse, one of Illinois most notorious mass murderers, John Wayne Gacy, is being put to death. Though I generally do not believe in capitol punishment I suppose this is also lucky for us, as he killed people from my home town: another dragon slain!

11:40 A.M., Three quarters of the Sun is hidden from our view. Milar glasses are passed from hand to hand and it begins to feel cooler. Between exposures my guests take their turn at the eyepiece of my filtered finder scope and sneak a peak through my camera back. Wow! Amazing! My guests do not seem to be disappointed and there is no reason they should be. The eclipse is beautiful and dramatic. Some people even brought their cats. One lady brought two and another brought one. We too have cats and so the yard was full of them. This enhanced the already surreal atmosphere and we were able to see the animals’ reactions to the darkening of the Sun. (They did not seem to take notice.)

11:58 A.M., My wife shouts out, "Look at the shadows under the trees." Indeed the leaves in the trees were transformed into thousands of pinhole cameras displaying countless images of the crescent Sun upon the ground and the sidewalk. "Try to get a photo and check the air temperature." I reply, for I do not have the time now and must reload for the next battery of solar photos. Indeed the air temperature had dropped a full 10 degrees F. since we had started this adventure and the chirping birds of Spring are beginning to quiet themselves as though for the evening.

12:04 P.M. The moment of maximum eclipse is upon us and I can almost feel the camera shutters around the country clicking away. Mine is no exception. Making extra exposures for "insurance" I feel confident the eclipsed Sun has been captured in my film cans. As I turn the telescope over to the observers I think how I am only half way through with my project and I must do my best to record the Moon’s departure from the solar disk. No Baily's beads, only three sunspots too small to be recorded at prime focus, but overall breath taking all the same. Now that my guests have had their fill of solar science they begin to gather up their feline friends, thank me and bid farewell. Now that I am alone I can concentrate on finishing my task. Staying with my camera and telescope I am bewildered by the idea that I am witnessing a celestial act that will not be played out over the Chicagoland area in this magnitude until the year 2099.

The Chinese sky dragon has again lost his appetite for this solar banquet and the familiar face of old Sol is returned to us. I bask in its glory and give thanks for the clear weather. My weather radio is now predicting increasing clouds and a 30% chance for thunderstorms by tomorrow morning and indeed it did rain. With all the excitement I did not notice the exact moment the eclipse ended. I promise myself that I will be more careful with record keeping next time. Now I am off to have my film developed.

May 11,1994 - With my film developed and my photos before me, I begin to paste up my best images onto a large art board. Arranging them into four rows of five photos each I stand back to admire my work. The whole story of the May 10, 1994 94% partial solar eclipse is told here through my photographs and I am pleased. Now it is my intention to have the art board re-photographed on a copystand with a 4x5 large format camera. From that 4x5 negative the final print will be made. To drop out the false color blue of the Sun, created by the solar filter, I have decided to make the final print a black and white version. Upon seeing this final black and white version I Knew I had a very good image.

I was very anxious to submit it to my favorite publication "Astronomy" magazine. However, knowing that the competition was going to be extraordinarily tough concerning this event facetiously I wrote:

Dear Sirs,

Please find enclosed my submission of the May 10, 1994 partial solar eclipse. Please add it to the heap you are sure to receive for consideration for publication.

Thank you,

Victor C. Rogus

As the weeks passed I heard somewhere that Astronomy magazine received more submissions from this event than from any other event in its history. The "heap" was huge and it was growing. Then one day in September I received The October issue of Astronomy magazine and in it was a feature article called: "Golden Eclipse Memories" and there was my composite photograph! It would seem my plan had worked. I had beaten the odds. My work had been published again!

Occultation of the Planet Venusby Victor RogusApril 25, 1987

One of the most impressive events I have had the good fortune to document was a lunar occultation of the planet Venus. Venus, now shining at magnitude -3.4 will be covered by a waning crescent Moon just before sunrise this morning.

Local weather is predicting clear skies for this event and these objects are, by far, bright enough to photograph without traveling to a dark sky site. Another piece of good luck is that the occultation will take place on Saturday morning. This is good because I don't have to work.

It would seem that now all I require is an eastern horizon free from obstruction. My plan was to locate an observing site after work on Friday so I would be prepared well in advance. Driving around I saw a small stand of trees on the Western side of a cornfield. This looked good to me. The trees would shield me from the stray headlights of passing cars and perhaps hide me from curious onlookers. After all I would be trespassing in a suburban area of Chicago, Des Plaines, Illinois to be exact.

Now that I knew where I was going all that remained was to go home and load up my equipment. Returning around midnight would allow me plenty of time to sneak my telescope on to the farmer's land and to set it up. Although I do not condone trespassing sometimes there is simply no one around to ask permission.

Midnight arrived and I set my plan in motion. Parking my truck in a vacant lot I began to unload my 8-inch f 6 Newtonian and its German equatorial mount. The cool air greeted me with a chill. Vega, Arcturus, and Spica shimmered in the sleepy suburban sky keeping me company while I balanced my scope and Polar aligned its mount. Now there was not much to do but go talk to that policeman who was signaling me with his flashlight.

"Hello, hello!" I called holding my hands out in a friendly non-hostile manner. " So what are you up to?" he asked just a bit sarcastically. "I'm here to try to photograph an occultation of the planet Venus. It should.... " “Oh you are just here to look at the stars." He interrupted. "Yes, yes I have my telescope set up over there by those trees." "OK no problem. I saw your van parked in that lot and wanted to make sure there were no knuckle heads out here causing trouble." "No sir, no knuckle heads, no trouble, but thanks for checking on me." I retorted with a smile. "Have fun." He said and closed the door of his squad car. He sat there for a little while and then drove off.

This scene I would live out many times in the years to follow. The police have shown up at quite a few of my stargazing sessions, and never once have they made me move on or given me a hard time in any way. In fact, after they see what I'm doing we sometimes share a couple of laughs and I sometimes offer them a look at Jupiter or Saturn through my telescope. From my experience, I have seen that law enforcement out there at all hours of the night when most of us are home snug in bed. They work keeping us safe from knuckleheads while we often take them for granted and they have my highest respect.

The evening wears on. It is starting to feel late and there is no sign of Venus or the Moon. The predawn sky is starting to show just a hint of blue. Could I be in error? Was this not the morning of the occultation? Knowing the event would not be visible from the entire United States, my doubts began to grow. As the Eastern sky gradually brightened, suddenly, the slender crescent of the Moon and the brilliant beacon of Venus rose nearly simultaneous. There in majestic conjunction, with less than 1/2 degree of separation the splendid objects drew closer in cosmic attraction with a grace that only nature could provide. Now I must go to work. It is said that photographers miss something during events like this one. While the observer can savor every moment of such a spectacle, the photographer has the responsibility (if only to himself) of documenting it. He often fiddles with cameras or other equipment instead of enjoying the event.

My camera was loaded with 400-asa Kodak Ektachrome slide film. My telescope's primary mirror is set for F 6 prime focus astrophotography. As I begin to bracket exposures I stand in awe as the Moon and the brightest planet in our solar system climb higher and still nearer to one another.

The beauty of the scene before me is so dramatic and so fleeting that I want to wake up the people who doze in the little suburban houses all around the empty cornfield and alert them to this wondrous sight. There would be no time for this, so I stand-alone.

Now Venus is only arc seconds from the Moon. The speed at which the event is proceeding surprises me. I continue to bracket exposures: 1/4 second, 1/2 second, 1 second, 3 seconds, 5 seconds and repeat. The sky is becoming quite bright and I can see the white optical tube of my telescope quite easily. Objects on the ground once obscured by the darkness of night start to come into plain view and birds begin to sing. Now the moment I have waited for has arrived. Venus, the planet named for the goddess of love, appears to touch Luna, our Moon. Repeatedly I make exposures, praying that I have captured the moment. Then Venus instantly vanishes from view. I gasp, “My God!”

A moment later the Sun rises, joining the Moon and its hidden companion. It will be sometime before Venus re-emerges from behind the lunar dark limb and the Sun is climbing rapidly. There is no option but to call it a night and pack it in.

Year’s later, two of the images I made on that springtime morning would be published on the CD ROM "EYES TO THE STARS" from Wolf 359 publishing. This event remains to this day one of the most memorable I have had the good fortune to have witnessed.

Occultation of the Planet Saturn by Victor Rogus 

September 18, 1997

Tonight a special effort must be made to try and document the occultation of the planet: Saturn. This event is a rather rare one, one that I have looked forward to with great anticipation. Saturn’s disappearance behind the lunar disk is an event that occurs once in an approximately an eighteen-year cycle. It can be seen from somewhere on the Earth once or twice in a year then not again for about eighteen years. Over the years I had seen pictures in books depicting this event and admired them greatly. Tonight I would have a chance to add a similar photograph to my own portfolio.

Of course, as luck would have it, tonight is a work night and we are very busy at the shop. My absence would be sorely felt and my conscience would not allow my fellow workers to carry my burden. This is one of the downfalls of working in a business owned by your own family. This work issue is a problem faced by many amateur astronomers and one that should be considered before investing a lot of money in pursuit of this hobby. After all a hobby is supposed to be relaxing. Actually I resist using the word “hobby” to describe this activity as it is truly much more than a way to pass the time. It is a way of life and when it is lived to its fullest extreme, an art form, the kind that requires sacrifice, hard work and devotion. Sometimes going into work bone tired is just a part of it.

Tonight’s occultation is to occur at 5:56 A.M. (I am supposed to be at work at 6:00 A.M.) Fortunately the planet: Saturn is quite bright (magnitude: 0.2 at this time) and the Moon is only one day past the full phase, so a trip to the dark countryside will not be necessary for photography of this event. What will be needed is an open Western horizon and of course clear skies. The weather looks promising as a high-pressure system has a firm hold on the central states. Considering my options for a Western horizon free of obstruction I realize my brother’s backyard is a good candidate. A brief inspection of his premises on the previous night confirms my opinion. His backyard adjoins a school’s sports field and offers a fair view to the West. He lives in Wheeling, Illinois only a few miles from my home and it is close to our job as we work together. If I set up my equipment in his yard or on the sports field I could photograph the occultation, disassemble everything and be at work no more than an hour late. (My conscience could live with that.) I tell him I will be at his house at around 2:30 A.M. to select the perfect spot and to erect my telescope and to polar align its mount. Planetary imaging can be a tricky business and there will be little time to capture Saturn and the Moon in close conjunction. With the nearly full Moon’s overpowering brightness in the field, the exposure time estimate will be critical. My intention is to photograph through my five-inch apochromatic refractor at 114x power using the eyepiece projection method. My choice of film for this event is fine grain 100-asa Kodak Ektachrome slide film.

2:30 A.M. sharp I arrive at my brother’s house. Like the good host, he is awake with coffee brewing and even has his own telescope set up in anticipation of the event that is to come. The neighbor’s dog, Sterling, barks constantly as I ready my equipment in the cool, autumn air. The landscape is awash in glowing Moonlight as Luna and Saturn pair off in the heavens above. We drink coffee and track the beautiful ringed planet as its apparent distance from the Moon ever decreases as they creep across the dark sky. Sterling never grows weary of warning the neighborhood of the astronomers at work in their study of this celestial ballet.

In the few minutes proceeding the moment when the Moon overtakes the great ringed planet, temporarily hiding it from view, I furiously make exposures bracketing them widely. Now the celestial pair is in very close conjunction and through our stinging eyes we marvel at the amazingly beautiful sight visible in our telescope eyepieces and through my camera back. The alarm on my wristwatch sounds one minute until occultation. The glare of Moonlight begins to erode the saturnine image and then the planet is gone hidden from our view obscured by the lunar surface. From our latitude Saturn would not reappear until 6:29 A.M. It would be light and the objects of our desire would be, by then, hidden in the branches of the trees. One last gulp of cold coffee and we began to carefully disassemble our equipment my brother stashed his in his garage and I loaded mine in my truck. For us the event was history and we drove off to work. A couple of days later the custom lab that does my slide processing returned my images to me and I was pleased to find that the four-second exposure time yielded fine results although the Moon was, by necessity, a bit overexposed. Overall though, not bad for a work night, thought I.

Comet Hyakutake by Victor Rogus March 21, 1996 This is truly a surprise blessing from the heavens! This is the sort of event that may happen only once or twice in an astronomer’s lifetime! A truly bright comet, a comet with a long graceful tail and bright coma has emerged from the icy depths of space. This is what astronomers call a “thirty year comet” for obvious reasons. Its very long, slow elliptical orbit has brought it very close to the Earth (a snowball’s throw in astronomical terms: of only about nine million miles), surprising and exciting us all with its beauty and majesty! This comet is called: Hyakutake (1996 B 2). It is the amazing discovery of amateur astronomer Yuji Hyakutake. He has become to me an inspiration; the very idea of discovering a new comet for the world strikes me as a very noble and unselfish pursuit. This idea reminds me of an old Joseph De Stafano’s “Outer Limits” episode, one I have watched many, many times called “The Galaxy Being” It stars Cliff Robertson as a radio astronomer whose wife does not really understand his passion for trying to contact other life forms in the universe. When he tries to explain this love for science adventure and discovery to her, she asks him, “Who are you to discover anything?” He replies. “Nobody, nobody at all but the secrets of the universe don’t mind. They reveal themselves to nobody’s who care.”

Comet Hyakutake is a surprise to all of us who watch the skies. We all had been anticipating the arrival of comet: Hale-Bopp (formerly C/1995 01) that had been discovered independently by amateur astronomers Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp on July 23,1995. Astronomers around the world cautiously began heralding it as the greatest comet of the next twenty-five years, if not the century. This comet would not be at its predicted peak until March of 1996, a full year away. We all had great hopes and waited patiently. No one would have guessed a comet of equal stature was waiting in the wings to try and upstage the mighty Comet: Hale-Bopp. No one would have guessed, but here it was!

The night before, I had made a quick sketch of the area of the sky that the mysterious comet Hyakutake was said to inhabit. It was to be found near the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. That would be easy enough to find. Even better this comet had become circumpolar in its northern trajectory and would be visible all night long. This being the case I would have all night to search for it if it was difficult to find.

The first thing I noticed was a cold, clear sky as I climbed out of my truck at my dark sky site in Algoma, Wisconsin. As usual, my legs ached from the long drive north. The air temperature was about 15 degrees above zero and would soon be colder. The air is dry and there is no wind, so other than the cold everything seems to be working in my favor. For this event I have set up my 5-camera tracking device using a variety of films and lenses, including one medium format 120 black and white camera. Now it is time for a little dinner of coffee and sandwiches inside the cab of the truck while I wait for darkness to fall. A little while passes and I begin to see the first evening stars shine through the windshield. In a moment I will be back outside in the night air ready for my first glimpse of comet: Hyakutake. Opening the door I leave my warm cocoon with my star map in hand. Gazing skyward I gasp, “My God!” The great comet blazed across the heavens in a blue-white light that matched the brightness of the nearby star, Arcturus, it displaying an ion tail that I can only estimate to be approximately 100 degrees in length! Laughing to myself I throw my “How to find comet: Hyakutake” star chart into my briefcase. No, I won’t need this tonight. This new comet is the most conspicuous object in the sky, and it was impossible to miss! Sharp with crisp detail it actually feels near by and it is not difficult to imagine it actually passing the Earth. The coma surrounding the nucleus appeared a bit fuzzy but the tail was full of detailed striations I prayed would record well on film. Shaking with excitement I felt like the old fisherman who has finally hooked “ the big one”. Now I just have to land this fish into the boat. Aiming my cameras I begin making my exposures, ignoring the cold night air and filled with indescribable awe I can not help feel a little sorry for those people who have not ventured outside on this chilly night to see this marvel in the darkness. In fact I know that I am really not alone, the eyes of the world’s astronomical community are with me, making every sort of study, measurement, and photograph within their power before comet: Hyakutake bids mankind farewell on its long, slow journey through the solar system.

Without stopping to rest, I work until the glow of the morning Sun begins to brighten the horizon over Lake Michigan, fading the comet’s glow. The majestic Sun has returned to its throne in the sky. Exhausted and cold I know there is nothing more I can do except carefully disassemble my equipment and head for home. Even now after spending many hours with this marvelous specter I am having a hard time believing what I had seen. My plan is to return to this frozen field as soon as conditions allow furthering my study of this ghostly vision. The following night is predicted to be mostly clear but I am too tired and cold to continue. I have made nearly one hundred and twenty exposures of comet: Hyakutake at this leg of its journey through the heavens and I feel that this would be enough for now.

When I return to make more exposures, my new set of photographs should reveal a dramatic change in the appearance of the comet and its location in the sky.

Comet Hyakutake, Second Viewing by Victor Rogus April 21, 1996 It has been three weeks since I have seen comet: Hyakutake from a dark sky site. Nightly views from my own light polluted backyard have been less than spectacular. Although the great comet is still visible to the naked eye, the glowing of Chicago’s lights have greatly reduced its visual impact. Despite this handicap my wife found comet: Hyakutake on her own and proudly told me of her accomplishment upon my return from my last photographic adventure. Before I left, I told her to follow the “arc” formed by the handle of the Big Dipper to the bright star Arcturus and if she were lucky she would see nearby a wonderful new “fuzzy star”. Inspired by the excited news reports on television she set out into the cold night air, followed my advice and from our own backyard she became one more witness to the miracle called Hyakutake.

I have again driven to my Algoma, Wisconsin dark sky site. Tonight has been predicted to be clear and cold. The Southwestern sky is awash with the colors of the setting Sun and it is not as cold as it was last time I was here. I work happily setting up equipment in anticipation of the wonders that await my gaze. I have nicknamed my camera tracker “Medusa “ because the many lenses look like eyes and the many wires and cable releases look like a mane of hair made of snakes, as did the gorgon from Greek mythology. It occurs to me that the object I seek, comet: Hyakutake will this time be found in the constellation Perseus and that the tool I am using to capture it is called, Medusa. In the Greek myth, the brave, young hero, Perseus destroyed the evil Medusa, whose image was so horrible a vision that no man could view her and survive. With the help of his magic sword and shield Perseus beheaded Medusa and used her head as a weapon to slay the Kraken, an invincible sea monster, so that he might save his beloved princess, Andromeda.

With the Sun now gone the planets, Venus and Mercury vie for my attention in the West while comet: Hyakutake makes its grand entrance. The once mighty, circumpolar comet seems so small now. It has traveled so far in a few short nights, and changed so much it appears a ghost of its former self. To make matters worse it is very low on the horizon and I know it will soon set like the Sun.

Make haste! Make haste! I polar align my mount and clear the dew from Medusa’s eyes and try to make as many exposures as possible. A great horned owl hoots his call from a low branch as he watches my every move. Suddenly a great meteoric fireball flashes across the meridian ending its silent journey in the constellation of Cassiopeia, momentarily distracting my attention as it seems to nearly reach the ground. Slow moving and deliberate this meteor impressed me as one of the brightest I had ever seen. Sadly it was, of course, nowhere near the view of any of my cameras, all of which were pointed directly at the waning comet. This would be the only meteor I would see the entire night except for one very small streak near the zenith shortly after midnight.

Comet: Hyakutake’s still long and beautiful tail stood straight up from the horizon at almost the exact spot where the Sun had set a short time before. This reminded me of how the solar wind produced by our Sun had created the comet’s tail and influenced its direction in space. Now the familiar sky began to look different. A pillar of white light began to climb towards the zenith from the northern horizon. Who is this? I asked aloud and what are they doing? That must be a spotlight shining for some grand opening of a nightclub or a car wash in Sturgeon Bay, I thought. Very considerate! Someone should tell them all about light pollution. Then another light pillar appeared, this time in the north-northwest. Now yet another in the west near the setting comet. Then it struck me! These are not spotlights they are columns of the aurora borealis, the northern lights!

Quivering with excitement I realize I may be on the verge of making a photograph of comet: Hyakutake and an auroral display. Just then I happen to glance down at the camera tracker’s battery level indicator light and I am horrified to see that it is reading stone cold dead. Shock runs through my veins, as I stand helpless in the cold night air. Pulling myself together I try to run a 12-volt extension cord to my truck’s battery but it is too late. The northern lights are gone and so is comet: Hyakutake. Even my friend the owl flies away into the night. My heart sinks. What has happened? Are all my photos ruined? The battery was charged fully when I left home and the battery indicator lights were reading full power. Sadly I connect the extension cord to my trucks power supply. Maybe I can still salvage some part of this night’s work and if I have ample power I can brave the cold and stay another night and try again to capture this comet before it is forever gone from my sight. With the power cord connected I re-start the equatorial mount. Only it does not start. The mount is broken and there is nothing I can do. Had Perseus again slain the Medusa?

Bitter and disappointed I hold out a small glimmer of hope that some of the exposures were saved and the mount had tracked true for even some of the time, but I would not know until I was home and my film had been processed. It was now well after midnight and I decided to try and get some sleep and break camp in the morning.

The long drive home seemed endless and the taste of defeat was in my mouth. But upon examining my images I thankfully discovered one set of exposures was perfectly tracked! By the mercy of the Gods my efforts had not been in vain! The aurora display photos had trailed star images but at least a very few of the precious comet images had been spared. My mount had to be returned to the manufacturer and was diagnosed with intermittent drive failure of the right ascension axis. In a few weeks it was returned to me in perfect working order ready for my next fascinating science adventure under the stars!

Comet Hale Bopp by Victor Rogus February 8, 1997 At long last my time has come to meet the comet called Hale-Bopp but it would take considerable effort in doing so. With the usual four-hour drive behind me I arrived at my dark sky site in Algoma, Wisconsin. There, just outside Algoma, an impenetrable wall of ice and snow that blocked the entrance to my family’s property greeted me. Even with my four-wheel drive pick up truck I dared not attempt to climb this huge, frozen mound. Having prepared for this type of problem I seized the aluminum snow shovel I had placed in the truck at the last minute and assaulted the icy barrier. In just a few moments I found this tool to be useless. I stood there trying to decide if I should try and carry everything in by hand via many long hikes back and forth and leave my truck abandoned on the busy highway. (This would also leave me with no shelter in the minus 2 degree temperatures.) Or should I try to find another place to set up the multiple camera trackers that I would be using tonight. Choosing the latter I started driving down the road back to a wayside rest area I had passed a couple of miles back. The parking area was open but the facilities such as the wash rooms were locked. It was almost sunset and I thought it best not to set anything up until I saw if any outdoor lighting was going to be turned on or if someone would come around in the evening to lock the parking area. A small sign stated NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING and CLOSED AT SUNSET. Also, worse yet, a layer of thick clouds hung low in the sky ever since I left my home five hours ago and they showed no sign of lifting. On this trip I made my very first cellular telephone call and learned from my father who could see the Weather Channel radar image that clear skies were just to my West and I should keep waiting for them to arrive. Encouraged by this news I began to set up my cameras and their mounts. A stiff wind blew in off Lake Michigan and very large waves pounded the frozen shore as slowly the sky indeed, began to clear.

Comet: Hale-Bopp was due to rise in the East around 3:30 A.M. Central Standard Time. I had hours to kill before then so I sat in the truck and tried to keep warm. Behind me cars sped by with headlights glaring so I improvised light shields using a card table and the truck itself. A particularly harsh light from a public restroom provided an all night irritation. Twice during the night local police wanting to see what I was up to stopped to talk to me. After my explanation they reminded me that the rest area was actually closed but since I had good reason to be there I could stay. A nice young couple also stopped in to see if I was having car trouble and if they could be of some help. I told everyone I met that night about comet: Hale-Bopp and how in about a month or so it would be big news. I said they would see stories about it on the evening news and in the papers. Everyone I spoke to had never heard of this comet or knew it was coming to these skies.

As the night wears on I find myself frozen and tired but now it is close to 3:00 A.M. Soon I must start searching the now clear skies for the fuzzy star that was the Hale-Bopp comet. An empty hour passes then I see it! My energy is renewed until suddenly I realize the beautiful comet resting in the Milky Way star clouds is heading directly into the limbs of a tree where it would surely remain until sunrise. There was a small axe behind the seat of the pickup and the tree was only about six inches in diameter at the base but it was obviously planted to beautify the rest area and was probably protected by law. There was nothing I could do but move all the frozen equipment, and light shields a few feet to the South and re-polar align the mount, de-ice the cameras and re-do the entire set up. Cold and aching I set about my work with comet: Hale-Bopp climbing high, beckoning me to take its picture. In my haste to move the complex camera tracker I lost my flashlight and my power cord became hopelessly tangled on something under or near the truck. I could not see without my flashlight and turning on the truck headlights did not help. I began feeling myself lose control of the situation. In fact it seemed the more I tried to make things work the worse things got. Then I remembered a flashlight my Mom had given me. She had bought some at a garage sale and had given me one for a spare. It was somewhere in the truck. Slowly rummaging through my boxes of lenses and adapters my frozen fingers joyfully found the garage sale flashlight. A numb digit pressed the icy switch and there was light and it was good!

Now all problems were easily solved and I started to make my exposures. My neck ached and my head began to hurt from fatigue and the glare of the irritating street lamp near the public washroom that catches my eye every time I step from behind my card table light shield. The cold here is so bitter I truly feel as though I can not go on. I feel sick from the cold and fatigue. Forcing myself to keep working is necessary as dawn is only a short two hours away and I want to make as many exposures as I can. Very soon I can take it all down and drive home! When the dawn’s early light came I carefully packed my gear, stripped off my snow-covered coveralls, shoes, shirt and coat and for a moment stood there almost naked in the cold morning air before climbing into a sweat suit that had been warmed by the truck’s defroster. Pausing just long enough to snap a picture of the lakefront, I head for home happy to have met comet: Hale-Bopp. I was also glad this star trip is over. From the midnight hour until dawn I saw twelve meteors trails under very clear skies. They were beautiful and I felt that maybe they were just for me because I was sure no one else was out in this cold to see them. Until now this was the most difficult astronomy outing I had ever experienced. It took me two days in bed to recover, and I felt chilled all week long.

It was hard to tell my wife that I was going back in just a couple of weeks to document comet: Hale-Bopp’s progress and to try and capture its image near peak brilliancy. “No! You’re not going. This is enough. Besides, you’ve got its picture already,” She said. She said it and she meant it, but she was wrong and I was going to meet with this wonderful comet again this time to photograph it in all its glory!

Comet Hale Bopp, Second Viewing by Victor Rogus March 31, 1997 After many days of monitoring the weather I have come to the conclusion that Monday night would be ideal to photograph the now famous comet: Hale-Bopp in all its glory. Much of the snow has melted here at my favorite dark sky site in Algoma, Wisconsin. The air temperature is in the cool twenties but comet: Hale-Bopp is now an early evening object setting a few hours after the Sun making comet photography possible as soon as it is dark. Unbelievably, as the sun began to set, the great comet became visible to the naked eye long before Polaris or any other celestial object. Even on a blue-sky background comet Hale-Bopp shone with shocking brilliance. At this date, the planet Mars is brilliant and just passed opposition. It shares the sky with the visiting comet whose intensity of light easily outshines its ruddy glow. I had seen comet magnitude predictions for this date to go as high as –1.7 magnitude and I must say, they could very well be accurate. One of the first things to enter my mind was how different this comet looked visually when compared to comet Hyakutake of last year. It seems to me that each great comet must truly be an individual, each displaying its own set of characteristics. On this date comet: Hale–Bopp sported a second tail that was bluish in color and jutted off some 30 degrees into space. The main tail generated by the solar wind had grown stubby and thick since I had last seen it in early February. The comet had passed closest to Earth on the night of March 22, 1997 and made its closest approach of the Sun on April first of the same year.

The news media has been ablaze with comet-related stories and events. Just a couple of days ago, a news story came across about how a group of people in a cult named, The Heavens Gate committed suicide believing that comet: Hale-Bopp’s tail was hiding a mothership of alien origin that they could board only by dying. Once there, they believed they would attain a level of consciousness far above that of mortal men. There was even a story about how these “Heaven’s Gate” cultists bought a telescope to use to see the “companion” ship as they called it, but later, disappointed, they returned it to the store claiming that it did not show them what they wanted to see. Their leader was a man named, “Doe” who was a former mental patient. He died with thirty-eight of his followers, in their bunks after ingesting a deadly concoction of drugs and alcohol. This story, sad as it is, reminds me of how some people killed themselves in 1911 rather than face the unknown effects of the cyanogen gas found in comet: Haley’s tail.

This night I saw three meteors as I was observing and photographing until 10:30 p.m. Most of all I have to say this was one of my most memorable Astrophoto sessions of my life as the brightest comet in 4,000 years passed the Earth and I was here to watch and document its passing.

Comet Halleyby Victor Rogus 

April 8, 1986

Today is my father's birthday. I am not with him, instead of the usual family get-together with his favorite cheesecake; coffee and gifts, my wife and I are nearly 1400 miles away. Standing on a beach of crushed coral we use a public pay phone to wish him many happy returns. With sincerity he wished us the best of luck on our adventure. Our goal was to photograph the historic Comet: Halley from one of the best locations in the United States: the Florida Keys. At latitude of 23 degrees north we would enjoy a distinct advantage over other astrophotographers.

During the past few days as our 1978 Dodge van cruised along on its southern trajectory, we knew that every degree of latitude we moved south the historic interloper known as "Halley" moved one degree higher in the sky. Comet: Halley would be among the stars of the constellation: Centaurus. Centaurs, a constellation so far south we never see it from our home in Illinois and certainly not from our dark sky sight in Algoma, Wisconsin.

With the promise of new stars to see in the dark skies over the Straits of Florida we pressed on. As mile blurred into mile and hour blurred into hour it seemed nothing could detour us from our grand undertaking.

After a brief tour of Key West we decided to find a comfortable campground where we would set up our equipment and try to get some rest. Retreating a few miles north we settled on LAZY LAKES CAMP on Sugarloaf Key. After checking in we slowly drove to our campsite. We passed a huge 12 inch Newtonian telescope on a massive mount staring at the azure sky, its owner no where in sight. In the campsite across from ours, our next door neighbor tinkered with his 8 inch Schmidtt-Cassegrain. It would seem we were in the right place!

With our camp made, tent erected, van organized and telescope set up we settled in for dinner. Our next move would be to Polar align our telescope's mount, locate the great comet and perhaps begin photography.

As darkness fell we waited in hushed anticipation for the most famous snowball in history to appear. Then a moment after the great orange globe of the Sun slipped below the Western horizon a loud BUZZ-CLICK! Was heard and we were bathed in a sickening yellow light from an unnoticed street lamp directly across from our campsite. Photography was out of the question for tonight. Bugs danced and played around and around the street lamp, each a micro comet onto itself, in orbit around its quartz-halogen Sun.

We had driven nearly 1400 miles to see and photograph history's most famous comet. The same one that William the Conqueror was said to have seen and took as a sign to invade England in 1066 AD. We would not be stopped by a light bulb.

What were we to do? I had a slingshot and was good with it. Maybe no one would notice the sound of the glass breaking. We talked about using the van as a makeshift lightstop but the light was too high above us and too close. Before us lay a salt marsh, behind us a small bay, so moving did not seem a very appealing prospect. Besides we were all set up and ready to Polar align and it was getting dark fast. We decided to do the right thing and speak to the caretaker of this facility and offer him a bribe.

The next day I walked up to the front office where I explained our predicament. At first the campground manager could not belief that one little light bulb was going to ruin my Florida vacation. Taking out my wallet I laid a $20.00 bill on the counter. He looked at me and said, "You are serious aren't you?" "Yes sir I am." I replied. "OK" he said, “I’ll see what I can do."

I hurried back to our campsite not sure what to expect next. A few moments later I saw a small bulldozer making it's way towards us. The machine rumbled and belched oily smoke as it approached. My wife asked, "What did you do? Call out the Army Corps of Engineers?”

Climbing into the bucket of the bulldozer the camp manager raised himself up and unscrewed the offensive light bulb. With the job well done the camp manager walked over and handed me my $20.00 bill. He said “You can keep your money but if you don't mind, I sure would like a look at that comet everybody is talking about." Pointing to my telescope I said, "I can give you a great view!" Then I told him to come back at about 2:00 a.m. and we would treat him to the show of a lifetime. “2:00 a.m.!” He gasped. "I don't want to see it that bad!” He then climbed back onto his machine and drove off. "Thanks a lot!” We called after him.

April 9, 1986

With the problem of the glaring light finally settled and the radio predicting clear skies we felt that tonight we would do what we came here to do. Tonight held an extra special bonus. It was the night of Comet: Halley's closest approach to Earth. It would be about 39 million miles away from Earth at its predicted peak brightness. Most experts felt it would be 2nd magnitude or brighter and could be sporting a tail as long as two dozen degrees long. The experts were right about the magnitude estimate but wrong about the tail length. The shortness of the tail did not matter to me. We were here and we had our work cut out for us. We were going to try to document this historic moment to the best of our ability and now everything was beginning to fall into place.

We had glimpsed the comet the night before but I was too preoccupied with the glaring light bulb to enjoy it. Now, the hour was upon us and we had Sir Edmund Halley's comet in our finder scope. Soon we had begun to make wide-angle images with a piggybacked camera. Over the course of the night we made a series of photographs using a 50-millimeter f 1.8 lens on KODAK VR 1000 asa color print film. Exposure time ranged from 10 to 20 minutes.

The Florida heat and humidity was oppressive and sleeping during the day was difficult at best. Small, fast lizards sprinted past the door of my tent and for this reason, my wife preferred to sleep in the van. I found the van akin to some type of large pressure cooker and tried to find comfort outside with the lizards as slight buffs of hot, humid air teased the flaps of my tent. We were sunburned, even the tops of our feet. Fatigue was beginning to eat away at us and we still had the long drive home. Worst of all, the radio’s weather report was beginning to tell of approaching storms. After some discussion we decided to dismantle the camp and weather the storm in the van. A night my wife and I will never forget. Huddled together we watched as the driving rain and wind of this springtime storm slashed at our campsite. While the storm raged, we tried to rest in our crowded vehicle. Weather reports were not looking favorable for the next couple of days so we decided to head back to the mainland. Once there, we would find a custom photo lab, have our film developed, and if we were satisfied with our images we would be on our way to Disneyland!

April 11, 1986

Back on the mainland, we checked into a nice hotel. Consulting the phone book, we found a local photo lab that would process our film. We explained to the lab's proprietor that the film contained star images. (This is always a good practice since sometimes the lab technician will not print film of this nature thinking there is nothing on it but faint specks.)

We drove around town looking for brunch; just killing time while our film was being developed. Soon it would be ready and we could inspect the quality of our work. Back at the hotel we cleared an end table and laid out our image. There it was, centered neatly in each frame was the object of our desire, Halley's Comet. One of the frames even contained a bright meteor trail! We didn't know it at the time but this photograph was to win ASTRONOMY magazine's "Best Astrophoto Award" for the August, 1986 issue. The same photo was later published on the Wolf 359 CD. ROM: "Eyes to the Stars".

In 1986, I was 26 years old. I had been interested in science and nature my whole life. Art and photography were also of keen interest to me. I was currently working in a graphic arts department as an artist. Having also worked professionally as a photographer, astrophotography seemed like a natural choice for me.

My family owned a small machine shop, a trade that would punctuate my career time and again in ways too many to list. The biggest help my machine shop skills were to me were they allowed me to design and build my own photographic systems such as telescopes and camera trackers.

Just two years before I had purchased my first telescope and was really just learning my way around the sky. This trip was my first expedition to photograph a major astronomical event. This excursion was going to put my limited experience to the test. The outcome could not have pleased me more!

Now there would be no turning back. This early success would fuel me for years to come. I would have many adventures in outer space traveling by way of my scientific equipment, bounded only by the limitations of the imagination and the border of the visible universe. On these pages I wish to share my adventures with you!

Transits of the Planet Venus by Victor Rogus

Twice in my lifetime would I have the opportunity to photograph the Planet, Venus transiting the face of the Sun. Every effort must be made to capture these rare images. My first chance would be on June 8, 2004. I would use a 5 inch apochromatic telescope at f9 in conjunction with an over the aperture solar filter. A film camera using Kodak Ektachrome slide film would capture the event. I would make the image from Prospect Heights, Illinois and it would further impress on me the importance of being in the right place at the right time. In later years, this idea of precise timing would become my keenest interest in photographing the cosmic clockwork of the heavens. I would build my portfolio on this concept, and I found that these events would have a curious public eager to see what was happening in the Universe around them.

I have heard it said that the man on the street knows little more of astronomy than the Sun, the Moon, and the rings of Saturn. I do not believe this to be true at all; in fact it is my belief that the Sky touches us all every day in ways that have developed as we humans evolved through time. Moreover those of us who take the time to share cosmic events with the general public have an audience that greatly welcomes their effort.

My second encounter with Venus transiting the Sun would happen several years later, on June 5, 2012 when I was again blessed with clear skies. This time I would use the same 5 inch apochromatic refractor again at f9 but this time I would make a black and white video of the event with a digital camera from my home in Jadwin, Missouri. This time I would use a Baader, Herschel solar prism safety wedge in place of the over the aperture solar filter. A solar continuum and a ND 1.8 filter were selected for this image.

Awe inspiring spectacle it was indeed, but what was most impressive to me was that the planet, Venus, being just a bit smaller than the Earth appeared so small and insignificant when compared to the Sun. If we traded places in our orbits and I might see the Earth in place of Venus as it slowly crossed the solar disk, I would see everything I knew, all the animals, the billions of human inhabitants of the Earth, their problems, their joys, their hopes, their dreams, the great cities, the forests, the deserts the oceans all on this tiny dot passing across the face of the star, we call, Sol.

This idea gives me chills, it also gives me hope that we humans as a species can understand how sacred our planet is and how blessed we are to have a chance to live, expand and survive on this tiny island home we call, Earth. The next time this event will be visible will be December 2117 and after that December of 2125. Perhaps none of us alive today will live to see this event again. Let these images serve as a reminder, of how fragile, and inconsequential our world is, when compared to the rest of the Universe. We Humans have much work to do…

Lunar Phasesby Victor Rogus

In an attempt to demonstrate the importance of well-timed photographs, I made these images.

First Quarter Moon (Left)


01/18/2013 @ 17:45:02 CST


It was a cold, windy evening as I waited for the exact moment of the first quarter Moon. I used an f9 apochromatic refractor, a Losmandy G-8 mount, a Cannon 60Da camera at ISO 100 and an exposure of 1/15 sec. A Baader Polarizing filter was also used.


This is an exact First Quarter Moon plus two seconds.

First Quarter Moon (Centre)


02/03/2013 05:56:05 AM CST


5 inch apochromatic refractor at f9, A Cannon 60Da astro camera, on Losmandy G8 mount. A Baader polarizing filter was used, and an atomic clock was used for timing. An ISO of 100 and an exposure of 1/15 seconds were used to make the exposure.

Description: This is the Last Quarter Moon less two hours; image was made 02/03/2013 at 05:56:05 AM CST two hours before the exact last quarter Moon.

Full Moon (Right)


08/20/2013 @ 20:45:03 CDT


5 inch apochromatic refractor, Losmandy GEM Cannon 60Da astro Camera, atomic clock. A Baader polarizing filter was used


This evening I battled hordes of mosquitoes to capture as perfectly timed "Blue Moon" Full Moon as I possibly could. I used an atomic clock to be as precise as possible in this endeavor. My exposure was of 1/200 second through a 5 inch apochromatic refractor, at f 9, my ISO setting was of 320. A Losmandy G-8 mount was used. The Moon rose right on time according to the US Naval Observatory and was well placed for photography at the moment of the "Full Phase", that would be 20:45:00, my image was made three seconds later.

A beautiful, romantic sight, despite the invading hordes of insects, but I caught a nice image and now my hands are feeling much better as the "AFTA-BITE" product takes effect!

Thanksgiving Day Meteorby Victor Rogus

Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1995

Tonight, Thanksgiving night, (November 23, 1995) is the 110-year anniversary, of the night that the first photograph was ever made of a meteor trail. One of my sky calendars noted in the box around the date. So now it is my intention to try and remember that historic evening in 1885 by trying to capture a meteor trail with my own cameras.

My mother, ever ready to prepare a turkey dinner, was easy to convince into serving the Thanksgiving feast at 10:30 a.m. in the morning. Quite early for everyone else involved but hopefully they would forgive me! This early meal would then give me ample time to drive to my dark sky site in Algoma, Wisconsin where I could set up my equipment before nightfall. It takes over four hours to drive to Algoma and today is the most busy travel days of the year, I feel that at this hour most travelers have already reached their destinations and traffic could be light. You could tell it was a holiday, whole families in their Sunday best, some balancing side dishes of cranberry sauce and baked apples on their laps. All of them driving somewhere that to them whispers welcome home!

On the other hand, my destination is a vacant piece of land on the rugged shore of Northern Lake Michigan. The air temperature tonight is predicted to be well below normal for this time of year, and I soon find myself working in 2 to 5 degrees above zero ferenheight cold. The ground is free of snow and it was easy to drive “off road” in four wheel drive to a place on a dark hill where no stray lights would be encountered. Over the years I would make this exact same trip many times, almost always in four wheel drive vehicles as they allow great access to terrain that passenger cars could never negotiate. Today I have driven my 1988 Ford Ranger 4x4 pick up. This vehicle has served me well on many a journey up North. Its only real drawback was its tiny cab and non-reclining seat made it impossible to stretch out and be comfortable and the bench seat was too short to lie down on except in the tightest off all fetal positions. Brief naps while the cameras were exposing were impossible but the truck’s cab contained the only few cubic feet of heated air for miles around. The cameras had to be tended to every 10 minutes as frost tried to gain a chilly foothold on the glass of the stargazing camera lenses. Portable hair dryers were put into use to warm my optical glass making it as clear as tonight’s sky. It is so cold in the dark of night that every movement becomes agonizing. My one-gallon water jug froze solid, as did a banana left over from dinner.

The skies remained crystal clear all the night and around midnight an owl began hooting to keep me company. I made exposures of the sky until I ran out of film. Seven cameras were shooting twenty-four exposures each. As morning arrived I found myself shivering under a pile of moving blankets in my sleeping bag some how crammed into the cab of my truck. My heavy boots discarded along with my overcoat and mittens in an attempt to find some measure of comfort in a defroster toasted jogging suit and pair of running shoes.

Outside, a thick coating of white snow-like frost covered my cameras, their mounts, my truck, other equipment as well as the surrounding fields of grass and scrub brush between the pastures. Carefully, I disassemble the camera tracking devices and repackage the frozen pieces for the journey home. Before I depart the frozen field, I see the bright Sun climb higher in the east while I change into yet another windshield defroster toaster jogging suit and pair of thick socks for the ride home. The front seat is empty except for what is left of the coffee. There is very little traffic to contend with as it is still very early in the morning, the day after Thanksgiving. All the way home I wonder if a meteor had flown past my camera’s eye on this chilly Thanksgiving night? And if only one had left its fiery image upon my film, would it be there to thrill me in the same way it had those early astrophotographers of over a century ago? Good Thanksgiving! For a single meteor trail will have made my efforts worth while.

The film returned from the lab revealed of the 168 exposures made that night; one showed a second magnitude meteor trail crossing the Auriga/Taurus boarder. For me this single meteor trail was a link to a time of photography passed. This night also served as a reminder of the never ending rain of cosmic particles and dust that is forever impacting and usually burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Although no particular meteor storms or showers were associated with this November night and I personally saw only a couple of unremarkable meteor trails I felt I had achieved my goal. The sky was not active but it was dark and clear and it allowed me to capture my Thanksgiving meteor!

My Dark Skyby Victor Rogus My dark sky is a site called, Jadwin, Missouri USA. This is a little known place, with an unknown population. Jadwin is named for the family of loggers who settled the area to make their fortune harvesting the hardwood trees that grow abundantly here. Trees like red and white oak and mighty black walnut, some of the white oak is exported to Europe in the form of barrels inside which fine wines would ferment.

Jadwin is located about 50 miles south of Rolla Missouri, home of the prestigious Missouri University of Science and Technology where some attend classes to study geology and mining practices. Mining is also one of the areas claims to fame, although it is mostly for lead. Jadwin is in southernmost Dent County, Missouri. Here we call a traffic jam two pick trucks behind a tractor. The terrain is ferociously rugged, and mountain lions, bob cats, black bears, turtles and snakes slither, walk and otherwise freely roam the hills and hollows. There are certainly many more black cows that call Jadwin their home than their human counter parts might. I am fond of saying, “That I would not be a bit surprised if Bigfoot himself stepped out of the woods one day to see what we had on the grill.”

Some of the best things about Jadwin are the terrific float trips on the Current River and some of the best trout fishing in the world can be found in Montauk State Park, the home of a pair of huge springs that give birth to the Current River. The Current River is the most spring fed river in the world. Brown and rainbow trout jump and play in the cold waters as an occasional Bald Eagle soars overhead.

These are all wonderful things, if you like nature and solitude. But for me the attraction is the night sky. Its darkness insured by thousands of acres of Mark Twain National Forest, low human population, and rugged Ozark mountain terrain, the sky here, staggers the imagination, showcasing naked eye nebulosity, and stars that shine as low as possible on every horizon. Here the sky appears alive as even the faintest falling star is visible starlight at times casts shadows on the ground. In my opinion Bortle Class 1 to Class 2 darkness exists here, but mostly in a smallish area around Dent and its surrounding counties. This area, though small in size, is a true portal into space, a window back in time that I believe is often overlooked by the stargazing public because it is not well known. Jadwin is no Texas Star Party to be sure, but to me it is the best kept secret in the astronomical community.

The people here are friendly backwoods sort of folk. Tough and wise to the ways of the woods and the sort of people who took me in, a city boy from Chicago with his dreams of seeing and photographing the wonders of the night sky, without the distractions of light polluted skies. These people, many who are gone now, made sure that I would make it here, and sometimes I was able to help them in return. They are gone now and we are more alone here than ever. But as I step out into the darkness of the Dent County night, I know their souls mingle with the twinkling stars. Their Ozark traditions of helping a stranger live on, and their kindness will not soon be forgotten.

Jadwin, is just couple hour drive from St. Louis and about an eight hour drive from Chicago. There is plenty of camping and cabins for rent and lots of daytime activities to do. And I promise the view of the sky on a moonless clear night is one that is well worth the trip to inspire everyone from the newest beginner to the most advanced astro imager and astronomer. All those who come with respect for the land and the people here would heartily welcome, for a day or a lifetime!

Home Built Telescopes

by Victor Rogus

One of my greatest joys in amateur astronomy has been the satisfaction I receive when building my own equipment. My inspiration for this was the great Clyde Tombaugh. 

Clyde was a Kansas farmer’s son whose plans for attending college were frustrated when a hailstorm ruined his family's farm crops. Clyde was devastated, but the family was in survival mode and his plans to study astronomy and mathematics were put on hold indefinitely. 

Clyde was not one to quit and in 1926, he built several telescopes with lenses and mirrors he ground himself on a fence post! He built his own equatorial mount from broken farm equipment! He had no camera but he was able to make highly detailed drawings at the eyepiece. He made drawings of Jupiter and Mars and sent them to the Lowell Observatory. The observatory was so impressed with his work they offered him a job. Tombaugh was employed at the Lowell Observatory from 1929 to 1945.

While working at the Lowell Observatory, Clyde became involved in the search for Planet, X; what we know today as the minor Planet, PLUTO. Tombaugh used a blink comparator with his own photographic plates to make the discovery.

I feel it is a wonderful thing to free oneself from the “store bought” world and to use your own imagination and skills to develop your own personal way of viewing the sky. Common objects around the house or the neighborhood hardware store can suddenly become tools to study the heavens. It is then one realizes there is no formula to follow no “cookie cutter” method, there is just the sky, your skills and imagination and countless mysteries to solve. I have found this concept to be liberating.

People often ask if I grind my own lenses and mirrors. I do not.  This is an art in itself and time well spent, however I prefer to purchase lenses or mirrors because with modern production techniques I feel I can cheaply obtain a better quality piece than if I hand figured my own. I have great respect for those who wish to create their own lens or mirror and consider this a worthwhile endeavor but I feel my time is better spent elsewhere.

Amazing deals on lenses or mirrors can be found on e-bay or surplus stores on line. One such on line shop is called, Surplus Shed.  Once a lens is obtained, you can start to plan out your design. Since you are saving some money on this do it yourself project, I like to splurge a bit on a nice focuser. There are plans out there to make your own focuser and this to can be very rewarding but many styles of focusers are available at varying costs.

While we are on the subject of homemade equipment building your own equatorial mounts or modifying mounts to fit your needs can be a fascinating project as well. Throughout time many methods have been implemented to compensate for the rotation of the Earth so that our view through the eyepiece remains centered on our desired target. I once heard of a fellow long ago who devised a method using sand slowly being released from a container (something like an hour glass) to slowly move his telescope in conjunction with celestial objects…and it worked!

I have built mounts using rack and pinion gears that made wonderful images of the sky by themselves at low power. These worked great for capturing meteors and for large objects like comets. Also see the “Barn Door” or “Trap Door” design for camera trackers they are simple and work amazingly well. As I am a fan of photographing meteor showers I found that making modifications to existing equatorial mounts can be made so they can carry several cameras at once. The cameras can be aimed at different areas of the sky or the same area using different filters; or back in the day, different films.

Lastly I will recommend an old book written by Sam Brown and published by Edmund Scientific. It is called simply, All About Telescopes. This deceptively thin paperback holds an enormous wealth of information, designs and ideas that will inspire and amaze the reader. It even shows how a telescope can be made from a common length of 2” x 4” pine board. How to make light baffles how to space them, finding focal lengths, optical testing and so much more!

Remember the perseverance of Clyde Tombaugh and also remember Tycho Brahe who made accurate measurements of the sky using simple tools. And who in 1572 discovered a supernova in Cassiopeia some 30 years before the telescope was even invented!

Store bought equipment can be great and may be the way to go for some people. But I say we do not need to buy the sky from anyone, it is free for us all to take and study in our own way. Building your own equipment can separate you from this formulated prepackaged concept of what we as amateur astronomers and astro photographers “should be using”. Be proud of your PVC masterpiece and you will be amazed what you can do!