Changing Planet

Here Comes Jupiter

It takes Jupiter about twelve years to orbit the Sun just once. We, here on Earth, are of course closer to the Sun and go around much faster—once per year. So, every 13 months we “lap” Jupiter. The next lapping event, which astronomers call “opposition”, will be on October 29th of this year. On that night, Jupiter will be in prime viewing position high in the sky around midnight. Between now and then, Jupiter is best viewed after midnight. In fact, it is currently in good position for viewing just before sunrise. If you are a morning person like me, this is perfect.

In fact, early morning observation of planets is often better than evening observing because there is usually turbulence in the atmosphere for a few hours just after sunset as the ambient temperature drops rapidly. But, in the early morning, before sunrise, the air is often at its most stable.  Having stable air is critical for observing Jupiter, and the other showcase planets, since these objects, while bright, are very small and require plenty of magnification.

To help me plan for observing, I subscribe to an email service provided by Mark Casazza called the Clear Sky Alarm Clock. This service accesses the Clear Sky Charts produced by Attilla Danko based on forecasts from the Canadian Meteorological Center. Marc’s server knows my geographical location and whenever the forecast looks good for astronomy in my neighborhood I get an email alerting me to that fact. These forecasts, available to amateur astronomers throughout North and Central America, have proven over the years to be amazingly accurate and are widely used.

Anyway, I received an email alert on August 23 that the observing conditions where I live in New Jersey were expected to be “good” all night from sunset on the 23rd to sunrise on the 24th. I decided to use this opportunity to take a picture of Jupiter with my 10 inch reflector telescope (from RC Optical Systems). I got up about 3am. My telescope is permanently attached to a German equatorial mount, which sits on a tripod that in turn sits on a set of wheels allowing me to quickly and easily roll the whole contraption out of my garage and onto my driveway. I was dressed and everything was rolled out by about 3:30am.


Rolling out the equipment (in the daytime)
Rolling out the equipment (in the daytime)

After the roll-out, the next important thing to do is to make sure that my telescope is cooled down to the same temperate as the air. If not, then the telescope itself will generate air turbulence that will mess up the view. My telescope has fans that draw air over the mirror to facilitate a quick cool down. I set these fans at maximum power for about 30 minutes after which the telescope was basically the same temperature as the surrounding air.

While the telescope was cooling down, I worked to get my camera set up. I decided to use my Canon XSi DSLR camera because there is a third-party software program, EOS Camera Movie Record, that allows me to grab full-resolution real-time video from my camera directly to my computer.

Between the camera and the telescope I inserted a special lens, called a Barlow lens, that further magnifies the image. Barlow lenses are pretty important when imaging Jupiter and the other planets as these are small objects that require as much magnification as possible.

All together, I took 15 separate short videos most of them one or two minutes in duration. After putting everything away and grabbing another hour or two of sleep, I reviewed the videos and selected what appeared to be the best one for further processing. Here’s a short segment from the one I chose…

Short video of Jupiter taken with DSLR on 10″ reflecting telescope.

I used a program called Registax to assemble the video frames into a single picture of Jupiter. Here’s the stacked image…

Jupiter before sharpening
Jupiter before sharpening

To get from this blurry image to the nice sharp final image shown at the top, I used something in Registax called “wavelet sharpening”. This sharpening tool is really amazing as you can see.

Anyway, note that the Great Red Spot, which is not red anymore, is rolling into view in the lower left part of Jupiter. The Great Red Spot is a storm on Jupiter that is about the size of Earth itself. This storm makes Hurricane Irene seem small by comparison. But, of course, not many people live in the path of the Great Red Spot.

Robert J. Vanderbei is chair of the Operations Research and Financial Engineering department at Princeton University and co-author of the National Geographic book Sizing Up the Universe. Vanderbei has been an astrophotographer since 1999, and he regularly posts new images on his astro gallery website.
  • Ima Ryma

    Here comes Earth, that little oddball.
    I am called Jupiter thereon,
    Head god of Rome before its fall.
    I prefer being called Big John.
    Those Earthlings have evolved quite far,
    And now take good pictures of me.
    I am more than just a bright star,
    Being my own celebrity.
    So I give them a varied mix.
    This time a storm the size of Earth
    Is posing on me for their pics.
    I try to give them money’s worth.

    Reaching into the universe.
    For Earth is it blessing or curse?

  • Joe Kennedy

    I pleasant surprise, your adventures in getting pictures of Jupiter are inspiring. Your dedication is clear, seeking the right moment and conditions to take these incredible videos. Keep up the good work.

  • Abdul

    Can we see the Jupiter clearly in Indonesia?
    “I have to make my telescope faster”

    • Yes. It is currently in the constellation Aries, which is adjacent to the constellation Taurus.

  • nah-nah

    it’s a little blurry but its coll i not too much of a science gfan but it’s preety cool to seee our moons

  • Christina

    Ima Ryma,
    I liked your poem.

  • Ramal kundra

    amazing man …. I cn Understand Ur Dedication Even I 2 hv spent Sleepless Nights ….keep up the Gud Work 🙂

  • mayri

    whoa, that’s really cool but do you need a microscope to see Jupiter?

    • In a way yes, at least in the sense that a telescope is similar to a microscope. Both make objects appear larger (in angular size). A telescope does this for things that are in actuality large but that appear small because they are so far away. A microscope does this for things that are close by and in fact very small.

  • lorraine hepburn

    wow amazing!!!im a big lover of astronomy,it all started when i was a kid,i realised that 1 star was brighter than the others,i started to pray every night to “my” special star and believe it or not,all my wishes came true!im 25 yrs and i still dont know if it was Sirius or Venus (i called my newborn daughter Venera ^.^) keep up the good work 😀

  • Cinta Higgins

    I’m in love with this article, this is truly amazing. Excellent work.

    • Thanks. Glad you like it. It is a lot of fun observing and photography Jupiter.

  • Alberto Castnaeda

    i love your artical im a big fan about juspiter and always wantedt to know if you could step on jupiter because all i see is gas and clouds thanks for the articl well got to get back to work im at school thanks god bless

    • It might have a rocky core—it’s not known with certainty. But, even if it does, we humans would not be able to walk around on it. The atmospheric pressure would be crushing beyond anything we experience here on earth.

  • Mortimer

    I remember seeing mars as big as the moon back in the day.

    Will Jupiter be that big?

    • As with Mars, through a telescope, Jupiter can look as big as the naked-eye view of the Moon. But, that common comparison is a bit misleading. VIewing the Moon, Mars, and Jupiter in the same manner, the Moon will always appear huge compared to the other two. For example, at its biggest, Jupiter appears only about 1/40 the diameter of the Moon. And, Mars always appears smaller than that—about 1/90-th the diameter of the Moon.

  • anusha

    whoa! what an article !
    thanks a lot for this 🙂
    cant wait for the 29th 🙂

  • anusha

    whoa! awesome article 🙂
    waiting for the 29th !

  • mayya

    awsome artical.i just cant wait 4 the 29th……..i am really really intrested in the universe and the solar system…thankx 4 posting this artical.i will remember to come here to read more.could u tell me how to get highlights for the articals posted here???thankx……v.v. intresting and usefull info.:)had fun:D

  • marlon tanig

    I don’t have any idea that there will come the time that jupiter can be seen early morning on oct 29. I was so amazed regarding what I have learned from this article. Cool! 🙂

  • Conrado Serodio

    Dear rjvanderbei,
    First of all, congratulations for your post and your Jupiter picture, impressive indeed.
    I´m a amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. I got reasonable planetary pics with an SPC880NC (movies and Registax 6) but I dont know why, I´m not able to get similar or better pics with my Canon T3i. (if you like, please visit my webpage :
    The DSLR should deliver similar or better qualiity HD movies but I can´t get it. I understood that you use a non-modified Canon (and our telescopes are quite similar) so I would like to know further details about the setup that you apply to obtain such nice pictures with the Canon.
    Thanks in advance for your reply !

    • Your pics with the Philips SPC880 are very nice. I couldn’t find any pictures taken with your T3i. Perhaps you have refrained from posting pictures you aren’t happy with. Anyway, I’m not sure what the magic bullet is. I had had some unsuccessful attempts prior to the picture I posted. I tell myself that the difference was just the “seeing” (i.e., the steadiness of the air) but I could be wrong.

    • PS. In terms of details, I used eos_movrec to capture the video. I captured about 10 avi files over the course an hour or so. I refocused before each new capture. Most captures were 2 minutes in duration. The seeing really was excellent. I stacked the frames from the video using Registax5. I kept all of the frames (i.e., I did not reject any). For the avi file I eventually used, I stacked the 2700 frames in bunches of 300. Then, I wavelet sharpened each of these stacks separately. I wrote a matlab program to make a 3D model of each image and then rotate them so that they all are as if they were taken at the same moment in time. This elaborate procedure contributed a little bit to the quality of the final image, but it wasn’t a huge improvement. I compared the result to a simple stack of all 2700 frames (sharpened with wavelets) and the two results were fairly similar. This suggests to me that 2 minutes is okay for a video of Jupiter. I wouldn’t go much longer than that as the planet’s rotation starts to become a real issue.

  • jagadish nayak

    hello sir
    i am always watching a big star in right at top east side in night is it jupiter
    would you plz tell me which side it will seen

  • Conrado Serodio

    Dear rjvandebei, thanks for your reply.
    Regarding te quality of my pics with the Canon T3i, in pinciple I disregard the “sseing” factor because I took in the same night pictures with the SPC880 and with the Canon and the results were clearly better with the small CCD camera. As you didn´t find the pics with the Canon in my site, please look at this link :
    Your small sample of the avi film took with the Canon seems quite similar to mines…., so I´m lost again IoI

    I will try capturing the movie with the EOS software directly in the computer , but I guess that something is lost in converting the .mov film generated by the DSLR to .avi file to process it with the Registax 6. (the original video in .mov is around 110 Mb and after converting to .avi it goes to 40 Mb).
    Which software do you use to conver your video ?
    Thanks again and best regards

    • If you took the Canon pictures first and then the SPC880 pictures second, then it could be the “seeing” even from the same night. A telescope can take a long time to cool down to ambient temperature and the “tube seeing” can be terrible until it does. Just a thought. Also, it can be tricky to get the focus exactly right. For the picture I posted, I actually took about ten different two-minute videos. I refocused between each video. I did this not because the focus had necessarily changed but rather just to give some random sampling of the focus. Also, the “tube seeing” did improve over the hour or so that I was grabbing these videos and hence the later ones were noticeably better.

      I capture the video with eos_movrec. It produces an avi directly. So, there is no conversion required.

  • Conrado Serodio

    Dear rjvanderbei,
    Thanks again for your response. I usually let my telescope “cool down” at least 1 1/2 hours, considering that it is a 10″ reflector but in fact as the hours passed , it gets better and better. Usually I take also 10 – 15 videos each night hoping to “grab” the magic moment of the best seeing condition. High atmosphere subtropical jets are quite common also in my area , so I also try to avoid them, planning the best possible night.
    Anyhow, I´ll try to improve the focus with a Hartmann mask and will try the sofware that you recommended, in order to capture directy in .avi format. Possibly this will deliver better raw videos.Let´s see the results…

    • It will be interesting to see if eos_recmov makes a difference. I’m guessing that the local conditions are more likely the main factor but I could be wrong.

  • Conrado Serodio

    Dear rjvanderbei,
    I downloaded the eos_recmov but it says that cannot connect/recognize the camera. I´m linking the camera and the pc with a normal USB/miniUSB cable provided by Canon and it works for all applications, including teh remote control/shooting via pc. I tested the connections in all USB ports in the pc and it was everything ok. Do I have to use the HDMI connection in the camera to connect with the eos_recmov ? Did you faced such problem ? My Canon is a T3i.
    Thanks and regards,

    • My Canon is a 450D (aka XSi) and my computer is a MacBook Pro. So, my stuff is somewhat different from your stuff. I connect the camera to my computer using the USB to camera cable. Nothing fancy. I’m not sure why you can’t connect. You might find it useful to join the “digital_astro” group ( at Yahoo!Groups. The experts there will surely be able to help you.

  • Conrado Serodio

    Ok, rjvanderbei, indeed our stuff is somehow different..I´ll try to get some help from yahoo group that you´ve mentioned. Thanks a lot for your attention and as soon as I improve my DSLRs planetary photos, I´ll tell you !
    Clear skies !

  • nathanwilkerson

    u need to put a pic of jupiter in red so u can see the great red spot

    • Or build a time machine so we can go back in time and see it when it was red. 🙂

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