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Welcome to!

offering local "hands-on" observing
(visual and imaging) sessions and instruction
viewing and imaging from Rabbit Valley Observatory
a dark sky location on the mesa just west of Taos, NM


Introduction and Concept -- click to read

New! -- Video "viewing" (click this text for more details) now available from Rabbit Valley Observatory.
Click this text to be introduced to Rabbit Valley Observatory and the visual and photographic opportunities available to you!

Observing Log -- deep-sky video session June 03, 2024

After much preparation and some additional review of procedures, I took part in a video session on the above date, employing the Atik Infinity camera and the superb Explore Scientific .7 reducer/corrector. I set-up an observing/video session using an updated version of the AstroPlanner software. In order to photograph such objects, I had to rise at about 12 midnight on June 02/03. Below are the results . . .

Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules -- note dim galaxy bottom left
M8 Emission Nebula and Star Cluster in Sagittarius
M16 Emission Nebula in Sagittarius
M17 Emission Nebula in Sagittarius


Overall I'm quite happy with the results, although in order to coax out some of the details and to reduce noise and sharpen the images, I worked a bit with Photoshop and the magical Topaz Photo AI. Colors were barely modified as, to my eye, are rather accurate. All photographic screen grabs are then shot at ~f/5.25 and consist of ~15 stacked images; exposure times are 10-15 seconds per exposure. Note transit (highest in the sky) times for various subject photographs. I did not photograph M20 or M11 this time around. I have linked to larger versions of these images on the video page.

Observing Log -- Larry’s Aurora -- May 11, 2024

My younger son Larry, armed with his Nikon D3500 and a tripod, woke up very early on May 11, 2024 (after receiving a call from a photo buddy), and traveled from the Highlands Ranch area of metro Denver east out to Deer Trail (see map below, just west of where his friend and he typically set up in Last Chance), and where Larry then exposed several dozen photographs. Data is below; one of which is just a straight-ahead conversion from Camera Raw/Lightroom-Photoshop. Main adjustments were Clarity and DeHaze in Camera Raw/Lightroom, and then, moving over to Photoshop CS6, applying a bit on Level adjustment and amping up the Saturation a bit. I ended up backing off of that initial saturation effort, which involved too much intensity. The Clarity sharpened everything up a bit and revealed more than a few stars -- the DeHaze remarkably enhanced quite a bit the rays of the Aurora Borealis. Below is the result of just this frame. Many were as good as this one.

Colorado aurora

Nikon D3500 (cropped sensor) shot with a 10-20 mm lens @ 17mm f/4, 20 second exposure @ ISO800.

annotated Aurora from Colorado

(both images ©Lawrence Greiner 2024)

Above is a cropped and annotated version of the same photograph.  Constellations of Cepheus and Cassiopeia are marked and visible.

Larry noted that with the naked eye, very little of the Aurora was visible, and none of the red coloring or curtains could be seen. And these exposures are “only” 20 seconds shot at a rather conservative ISO800. With film, and even with extreme “pushing,” nowhere near as much Aurora would show, and intervening skylight and “fog” due to much longer exposures would undoubtedly be present.

Aurora map

(from Google Maps)

Observing the Total Solar Eclipse of April 8, 2024

Recently a group of family, recent friends, old friends, even older high school friends and families, rafting and adventure buddies, and generally a group of aging beatniks, mischief-makers, and ex-thrill-seekers gathered at an AirBnB in Fredericksville/Luckenbach, Texas to observe, in my case a sixth (!) Total Solar Eclipse. I am now in the process of creating an observing log, gathering up people and places images, communicating with the participants (32 of us!!!), and even assisting my younger son Larry with the images he collected with his Nikon 3500 and telephoto lens mounted upon the below-described tracking unit. But since that will take some time, I thought that I would at least present his initial composite image. This project will eventually take up several pages on the website, but for now behold . . .

Total solar Eclipse composite 2024

©Lawrence Greiner 2024

(All images here f/6.1, 1/40 second, ISO 400 with Nikon zoom 270mm telephoto lens.) Of course, all of the pertinent details and many other images he managed to obtain (between the challenging cloud cover) appears by link here! Larry is allowing me to take part in some of the post-processing! Click here or on the composite above to link to the detailed individual photographs.

Texas Bluebonnets

©Seth Greiner 2024

Texas Bluebonnets Spring bloom -- "the two predominant species of bluebonnets are found growing naturally only in Texas and at no other location in the world."

Larry's initial efforts with positron's original tracker system

Below is my youngest son Larry's initial effort using an iOptron tracker with his Nikon 3500 mounted and balanced on the unit. The data and image of the Orion Nebula (M41/M42) is below. I helped a little with the post-processing using DeepSkyStacker, GradientXTerminator, and adjustment layers in PSCS6.

Orion Nebula

©Lawrence Greiner 2023

iOpton Pro Guider

Nikon D3500 - Camera
AF-P Nikkor 70-300mm Lens mounted on camera ball head on top of and driven by iOptron original SkyGuider (as pictured)

2 min exposures
11 Light frames
9 Dark frames

Bortle Class 6 skies bright suburban

Total exposure time -- 22 minutes

Comments: Could use a faster lens so more nebula is seen, although there is significant detail; guiding very good as stars are generally round and small.

Recent "adventures" with the Atik Infinity camera -- November, 2023

I have for several years had the Atik Infinity (video) camera. There is even a section of this website embracing its imaging advantages, as linked here. Below I have posted some new images, and will eventually post them on the page linked above. It's always a learning experience to reacquaint yourself with some of the cameras, software and other equipment recently acquired. In this case (and after a relatively long "re-acquaintance") I have decided on some new equipment and software issues to improve the images. But for now, here are the resultant photographs.

NGC253 -- 20 stacked 10 second exposures
NGC891 -- 20 stacked 10 second exposures
M33 -- 7 stacked 30 second exposures
NGC6960 -- 7 stacked 60 second exposures
There are some evident optical problems with the above images (the obvious coma, which is created primarily by a budget .5 reduction lens within the optical train -- I have replaced it with a very high-quality .7 reduction lens); also some unwanted IR light leakage (I have ordered the preferred IR cut filter and mount for the optical train). With these improvements I believe I will be able to obtain higher-quality images. The joy of this apparatus is that one can obtain the images with ease -- just focus on a bright star, then aim up at the desired object (nebula, galaxy, whatever) and open up the software. You begin the video process, and before your very eyes such images appear. The software automatically stacks the images for a better, clearer, mostly devoid-of-noise-on-the-fly image. The system is great for public outreach (visitors to the observatory).
Atik Infinity

Annular Eclipse -- October 14, 2023

After a cold and uneventful winter, my floating friends and I were fortunate enough to obtain several river permits.  We typically are lucky enough to secure permits on several western rivers, including the San Juan, Smith, and Salmon rivers.  The plan that after the floating included visiting western PA and the Cherry Springs State Park to experience eastern United States dark skies (impressive!) and also traveling to western NM to observe the annular solar eclipse, whose centerline tracked through remote Nevada, NM, Texas, etc.  See graph below:

annular eclipse map


Our group camped at Ghost Ranch, a spectacular nefarious cowboy and former dude ranch that was more recently made famous by the habitation for many years by well-known artist Georgia O’Keefe.  We camped there at a nicely equipped campground, and then drove over to the centerline which essentially bifurcated the spectacular Chaco Culture NHP.  I urge readers to follow the links in this text to explore Ghost Ranch and Chaco Canyon. I brought only a visually-equipped vintage Celestron C5 -- everyone got a good view of the stages of the eclipse.

Notable during the eclipse was the surprising temperature drop during the stages near annular totality. This phenomenon is normal during a total solar eclipse -- it was also very noticeable during annularity. Also, the "thickness" of the "ring of fire" was surprising. I was expecting a thinner ring -- but actually the thickness was significant. On a more down-to-earth issue, a tarantula strolled across the large parking area during and after the eclipse, and was not to be deterred. One Native American man took him back to the side of the clearing, only for the arachnid to push across the area again. This time of year young males are "lookin' for love."

still photo by Willis Greiner
movie by MaryAnne Meyer
(click image/button to watch movie)


Below are photographs taken by good friends Beth Nelson and Amy Grant and others, who with their 'phones photographically recorded the eclipse event and a side trip down the rough dirt road backstreet to Chaco.


partial annular
annularity totality

annularity partial --
taken using Solar Snap -- photo by Jerry Miller

annularity closing in on totality --
photo taken by MaryAnne Meyer
annularity totality --
taken again using Solar Snap -- photo by Amy Grant
waiting for the Sun
pre-eclipse "instructional" conversation -- these and below photographs by Beth Nelson and others, map courtesy NPS -- observing point just off map on top right, Pueblo Pintado just below map
map of Chaco Canyon
friends observing the eclipse
celebrating totality
friends observing the eclipse --
Willis, Beth, Gary, Amy, Will, MaryAnne, Jerry (photographer unknown)
Beth and MaryAnne celebrating annular totality -- "Stoke was high" [an excellent new phrase I learned just this morning, 10/22/23 -- alcohol (champagne) may have been involved]
Pueblo Pintado
Pueblo Bonito
Chaco Canyon
Pueblo Pintado -- just south of Chaco Canyon -- photo by MaryAnne Meyer
Pueblo Bonito / Chaco
Chaco walls
walls closeup
chaco corner
Chaco Canyon landscape
Chaco walls closeup
Chaco corner -- Mary Anne Meyer
Chaco Canyon landscape


Needless to say is that both on the river floats and especially at Ghost Ranch and Chaco we experienced some of the darkest skies in the United States.  Chaco is a designated International Dark Sky Park as well.

Green Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

I did finally locate and view the green comet in late January and again in early February. Due to the extreme cold I was unable to acquire a decent in-focus image of the comet through my telescope -- frankly, that was the preferred method, as viewing it with the naked eye was not possible (magnitude estimate ~6.5 -- too dim for naked eye viewing here), although it was fairly easily visible with 10X50 binoculars. Using my photographic 127mm APO refracting telescope, I DID locate it and attempt a photograph, but it was so cold that my electric focuser (and my hands operating the on-site computer) did not function. So, just a few days ago I attempted an undriven photograph using a tripod-mounted Nikon D5500 with a 85mm f/2.0 lens. Below are the details and the photograph obtained.

Green Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
 Notes / photographed 02-08-2022 / after dark but before the
~8:00 P.M. rise of gibbous waning Moon

Stacking notes on green comet -- 10-15 images were considered, and after registration the best 8 (using star count) were used and combined in DeepSkyStacker.

All employed exposures were 8 seconds (beyond maximum unguided for this focal length unless you wish excessive star trails) at f 2.8 with the Nikon 5500 and manual focus 85mm f/2 lens -- ISO setting was 12800, resulting in very much noise (chrominance and shot), but this generally was “magically” removed by Topaz DeNoise AI routine on the Windows 10 machine, after which I moved the adjusted .tif file over to the main Mac and adjusted in PSCS6. Some unfortunate cropping was necessary as a result of the stacking.

Green Comet

That's Mars to the right; the comet is adjacent to the star iota Auriga -- the constellation sitting sideways in the sky. See chart below and especially notice the beautiful star fields pictured above and indicated in the constellation map.

Auriga star field map

Overall, I'm OK with this resultant final pic, although I sure wish I could have taken a higher-magnification shot through the telescope.

New anti-noise digital tool

A theme discussed rather frequently within these pages is the bane of astrophotographers everywhere -- the subject of digital noise. Think of it as new-fangled grain, occurring on all digital images and especially prevalent in low-light situations. Astrophotographers typically take many "light frames" (those that contain the actual subject nebula or galaxy) and combine them with dark, bias, and flat frames using the same camera setup. These digital-noise-eliminating actions are described more thoroughly (but honestly, very minimally here compared to the many books, on-line classes, etc., that discuss such activity) in the post-processing section of this website. But, contained within all of the hand-wringing remains the elephant in the room, digital noise. This noise occurs in all digital images and is especially prevalent in long-exposure low-light situations or ones that are exposed at high ISO settings, the exact situation that occurs in astrophotography. So, noise is a bane (and a pain!) and needs to be minimized.

Specific programs combine and align all the subject and calibration images, as noted above. After that somewhat magical set of generally non-understood routines, the astrophotographer is left with a nice but incomplete image that needs to be post-processed. Again, entire writing and photographic careers as well as a plethora of not-altogether exciting YouTube videos are based on these highly-complex processes. Luckily, modern astrophotographers can employ any and all methodologies that have been discovered and used in the past, including not just carefully adjusting the brightness, color balance, contrast, levels, histogram, etc., but also manipulating (and often virtually eliminating) the digital noise created by both the acquisition and the post-processing manipulation of said precious image.

In the past, I have used various programs and routines to help with the noise-elimination issue. All present compromises; hence such practices must be applied judiciously and with great care. This process is often overdone, rendering the final photograph "just a bit" too sharp and often synthetic-looking. No More! With the assistance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a groundbreaking leader in this territory, Topaz Labs created a fantastic group of programs. Typical results applied to an otherwise good image are pictured below.

Rosette Nebula -- 100% enlargement of area detail -- note chromatic noise
Rosette Nebula -- 100% enlargement of area detail -- note far less chromatic noise and resultant sharpening of image

"Image enhancement with deep learning

Regular image processing filters run your photo or video through complex math operations, which will often remove details and boost noise/artifacts. AI is fundamentally different: when used correctly it can actually enhance photo quality while keeping your image natural." -- from Topaz Labs' website, linked here.

The above image manipulation employs Topaz Labs' DeNoise AI-assisted program -- easy to use and fabulous!

For more, here's a great introductory video, linked to this text.

Now that all the ranting and rambling is done, I will run this verbiage through the AI-powered Grammarly Premium program!

Important astronomer obit

"Jay M. Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College who spent more than 50 years traveling the world to observe solar eclipses and, with 74 sightings under his belt, probably witnessed more of them than any other human in history, died on Sunday at his home in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He was 79." His Williams College personal obit is attached.

Jay Pasachoff

(I've witnessed five total solar eclipses, often with specific location and equipment suggestions gleaned from articles, books, and essays by Mr. Pasachoff.)

Total Lunar Eclipse visible from the entire United States on the morning of November 8, 2022

As noted in the title, a Total Lunar Eclipse will be visible from the U.S. on the morning of Tuesday, November 8, 2022. I'll speak briefly to it here, but the link below will be very usable, especially in regards to where you live / what time zone you are in. Please note that times listed in the linked graphic are noted in (Mountain) Standard Time, not the foolish and outmoded Daylight Time.


Click on this text for a more detailed description of this special event, the last until 2025.

What is particularly striking to me about a Total lunar Eclipse is that as the full Moon moves into the Earth's primary shadow (umbra) as shown above, more and more stars "come out." The event is slow and almost purposeful. At totality the sky appears as it is during a moonless night. Further, during totality, it seems as though the Moon is hovering in 3-D over the landscape. Sometimes the Moon even disappears in the ethereal dust of the Earth's shadow. Stunning!

Here on this website I have included a rendition of another Total Lunar Eclipse as seen and photographed from Conifer, CO on the night of 12/21/2010, linked here. I'm hoping to get as good a group of images this time around. I have seen and photographed lunar eclipses for many years, and have been fortunate enough to actually get two of my images featured in Sky and Telescope magazine, linked here. In a way, those accepted photos gave me confidence and started me off on this astrophotographic adventure, which has now spanned parts of seven decades!

I'll be attempting to photograph the event through RVO's 127mm APO refractor. By using the superior AstroPlanner astronomy program, I have determined that there will be enough "space" around the Moon to capture some of those dimmer stars (and perhaps even a planet!) that will come out as the Moon becomes eclipsed. All I have to do is take those shots, now with an advanced astronomical digital camera! Wish me luck. Click this text for a link to advise as to how to photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse.

Informal visit to "darkest sky" location in the eastern U.S.

Recently, during an annual get-together with three of my college friends, I visited the well-known designated dark-sky site in northwestern Pennsylvania, Cherry Springs State Park. Because the weather was generally atrocious during our stay, we toured the park during the day, links above.

We did experience one nice clear evening at our nearby accommodation ("Windows in the Woods" VRBO) and I took that opportunity to point out some of the major constellations. The Milky Way was obvious, a rare treat for most of my friends. Our visit was during a time of no evening moonlight. I'd estimate the dark-sky seeing as Bortle 2 or 3 -- explanation linked here, illustration from below. That number corresponds favorably to the seeing here at the Rabbit Valley Observatory. I have witnessed darker skies on remote islands in the Indo-Pacific and occasionally while camping on river trips in the southwestern U.S. But not often. See Zodiacal Light photo within this blog.

Bortle scale

I brought out my vintage orange made-in-America (Celestron-Pacific) C5, remounted on an older modified iOptron SkyGuider camera mount. It turned out that such a mounting arrangement is fine for wide-angle shots of the sky; not so much for narrow telescopic views. Everyone did observe Jupiter and several of its moons, however. I have decided to remount the C5 (mine is in far, far better shape than this linked vintage model) on its original fork mount with slow motion controls. This arrangement with original tripod will be a bit more difficult to bring along on an airplane, but it will be far easier to use and aim up at sky objects. (As an aside, the TSA operatives did look quite carefully at my carry-on (the C5 and eyepieces) but did approve. I let them know it was a telescope.)

Repair to existing domed observatory after "the" big flood

"Multiple roads and properties flooded along Tafoya Road in El Prado Monday evening (Aug. 22) following heavy monsoon rains." -- from The Taos News


To be frank, we escaped with minimal damage, but the rain and resultant wind and falling trees were so severe that it was dangerous even going outside. Our home was spared, although small waves lapped against our stucco dwelling, garage, and studio space. To the north of these buildings, a large lake (~5 feet deep) emerged in an adjacent arroyo. The arroyo did not drain, so the resultant lake was present for at least a week.

After the vortex, I went out to inspect the premises, and to my horror, the domed Rabbit Valley Observatory was under ~three feet of muddy water! I did what I could to the outside but didn't want to open the door, as there was indeed quite a bit of water within. Essentially, I did not wish to disturb the surroundings further.

I entered when the water finally receded (perhaps ten days or so). To my dismay, all the electric outlets and plugs were still underwater (they are located in the floor, see below), mud residue was present everywhere, and most depressing, several expensive CCD cameras that were stored in their sort-of waterproof plastic ammo boxes were floating around in the building!

When the water finally fully receded, I got to work with the power supplies and plugs. Most of the AC outlets, once dried, survived. Many of the external power supplies (110AC to 12 volts DC), having been underwater for more than a week, needed to be replaced (not a big deal) -- I have waited for more than a month to plug in and retool the sensitive camera and expensive electronic equipment.

The good news is, once retooled, the cameras, mount, computer, electric focuser, and other devices appear to be properly up and running!

One lesson from this event is to at least unplug everything when done observing. Further, as I had done during the initial construction of Rabbit Valley Observatory, is to install an exterior elevated circuit-breaker switch for the observatory outside of it and always switch the breaker off after use. That procedure likely saved virtually all the electronic equipment, which would undoubtedly have shorted out if flooded while plugged into a live electrical circuit.

Linked here is the news article. Honestly, our yard and property looked very similar to the pictures. The newer roll-off-building observatory unit is on higher ground and hence not flooded.

Classes offered at UNM / Taos

Recently I received this e-mail (copied below) from Scott Gerdes of the University of New Mexico -- the branch right here in Taos. He is referring to classes offered locally starting on August 22 and taught by Colin Nicholls. I will be contacting Mr. Nicholls after I return on August 13 to see if I can assist the class in any way; perhaps a field trip to the Rabbit Valley Observatory! Please contact the University at (575) 737-6288 for more details.

"Good morning,

My name is Scott Gerdes and I work in marketing and public relations for UNM-Taos. This is rare, but we're finding our astronomy courses are low on enrollment for this fall. Beyond advertising, I'm hoping you might be willing to help us spread the word about our astronomy program to your readers and fellow gazers.

These are the two courses being offered:

Pre- or corequisites: None.
This course surveys observations, theories, and methods of modern astronomy. The course is predominantly for non-science majors, aiming to provide a conceptual understanding of the universe and the basic physics that govern it. Due to the broad coverage of this course, the specific topics and concepts treated may vary. Commonly presented subjects include the general movements of the sky and the history of astronomy, followed by an introduction to basic physics concepts like Newton’s and Kepler’s laws of motion. The course may also provide modern details and facts about celestial bodies in our solar system, as well as differentiation between them: Terrestrial and Jovian planets, exoplanets, the practical meaning of “dwarf planets”, asteroids, comets, and Kuiper Belt and Trans-Neptunian Objects. Beyond this, we may study stars and galaxies, star clusters, nebulae, black holes, clusters of galaxies, and dark matter. Finally, we may study cosmology, the structure, and history of the universe. Meets New Mexico General Education Curriculum Area 3: Physical and Natural Sciences.

ASTR 1115L.
Pre- or corequisites: ASTR 1115.
Includes hands-on exercises that work to reinforce concepts covered in the lecture, and may include additional components that introduce students to the night sky. Two hours lab.  Meets New Mexico General Education Curriculum Area 3: Physical and Natural Sciences.

Many thanks,

Scott Gerdes


Marketing Representative

Second Observatory Building

Before the summer starts, I have been busy modifying and completing the second observatory building -- necessary because I have several other nice telescopes, including the GSO 10-inch f/4 reflector and the ES152mm Explore Scientific refractor that I wish to use atop the impressive Celestron CGX automated mount. Eventually I wish to attempt to shoot astrophotographs or real-time videos with it, perhaps remotely from inside the house, and maybe while dozing off or while watching another season of Star Trek Picard! But for now, I just wish to have an operating second observatory that is weatherproof and especially windproof.

I had previously constructed the Keter 4X6 garden shed and had mounted it on a rolling platform/sled. Unfortunately, the ground that I was rolling it onto was not level, and it was virtually impossible to line up with the pier while re-covering the mounted 'scope. I even damaged a finder 'scope while attempting to re-cover the 10-inch reflector with the heavy and cumbersome building. A friend noted that I really ought to mount the cart/sled atop level metal rails (just like the rails employed on roll-off-roof The Sawin Observatory I used as a child).

Below is the successful result -- adding the iron 4-inch "C" rails coated with rust-proof primer; the rails then mounted on a stained wood platform after leveling. Additionally, I changed out the rotating-base inflatable tires and wheels on the cart/sled with fixed-base solid thermoplastic wheels from ServiceCaster, so the building rolls unencumbered and easily along the somewhat elevated level rails. I also added a winch on the front business end just in case it was difficult to roll, perhaps in the winter with snow present. Further, I added two side chained-hold-downs -- we often have winds here that gust into the high double figures!

Note: the building rolls to the east and away from the mounted telescope. That way, if the preferred astronomical object is behind the building, just wait an hour and it will rise above the offending structure. Actually, the roll-off building turns out to be far enough from the telescope that this should not present a problem at all!

rolling observatory shed
shed holddown

observatory winch

Summer scheduling update

This summer I have a busy non-astronomical schedule. As such then, I will be postponing any/all viewing and imaging sessions for the time-being. In June I visit Yellowstone with one of my sons, and in July a long float down the Green River is scheduled. (I must note that both of these places DO exude very dark skies, so I might very well be found wandering around at night, peering skyward.)

August is for the most-part open, but then in September and October I have other scheduling responsibilities.

If you wish to schedule an observing session, let me know -- and we'll try to either fit it in, or perhaps suggest a later-in-the-fall evening to observe. The fall is generally very clear and dark, the smoke-creating forest fires are often on the wane, and life is perhaps more relaxed.

I wish everyone clear and dark skies! Do e-mail me, as I will check in from time to time, especially when and if there is connectivity!

Lunar Eclipse May 15-16, 2022

Although it was cloudy (and horribly smoky) in the Taos, NM area on eclipse night, it was clear in the Denver area, where one of my sons makes his residence. As a result, I obtained no photographs, but Larry and his family, blessed by clear skies, obtained this beautiful shot; below it the EXIF data (Exchangeable Image File Format) for the photograph.

2022 Lunar Eclipse

©Lawrence Greiner 2022

EXIF lunar eclipse

Reviewing the highlights, he shot it for 1/8th of a second at f/6/3 at a f/l of 300mm (standard telephoto kit lens at full extension and wide open). He employed a normal (undriven) field tripod with no guiding. Gain (ISO number) was a remarkable 9000! He only did minimal post-processing of the RAW image in Adobe Lightroom, perhaps enhancing the color a bit and sharpening the image slightly. I have done nothing but copy his .png output photograph. The shot was taken at 10:59:09 P.M. MDT. Looking it up, that indicates that the picture was obtained just AFTER totality ended locally at ~10:53 P.M. MDT. Eclipse details linked here. The fact that the image is virtually during the totality (just after, actually) is why the moon still displays its ruddy color, and the stars are (still) prevalent.

Some amazing subjective details I would note include the spectacular background star field that appears once the bright full moon is virtually/fully eclipsed. Also, even though the camera was undriven. the shot does not appear to have much drift at all. That is because of the short exposure time. Any longer would have trailed the stars and blurred the moon. Hence, this resultant photograph was a near-perfect mix of mount, focal length, ISO and exposure time. It shows what you can do with a bit of knowledge and patience, especially with the newer higher-ISO enabled cameras -- he use a newish Nikon 3500 DSLR. I didn't ask, but I would guess that he focused manually (note that the EXIF file shows the camera on Manual). Cheers, Larry! I'm proud.

Something new I learned about Total Solar Eclipses -- even though I've witnessed and photographed five of them

In celebration of this year's Earth Day, I thought I would share this singular photo of the Sun's chromosphere, seen only when the eclipsing Moon moves onto or off the Sun, exposing the super-bright-and-must-be-filtered-or-you-will-go-blind-by-viewing-it -- the emerging "perilous photosphere." Entertaining senior editor Bob Berman of Astronomy Magazine put it this way recently . . . "It's a rare celestial wonder viewable for only a mere three seconds or so." Further, "I'd (Berman) never seen it myself in all my totalities" (at least a dozen, I'm sure). He discusses the merits of various filters and specifics and further notes the dangers of this particular phenomenon, which can only be photographed for those few seconds, BEFORE refitting the required filters used before and after totality. During totality, a brief time of <1 to at most 5 minutes generally, you take the filters off and can look at or photograph the Sun filterlessly. Evidently, I did just that for this chromosphere pic, just blindly shooting just before totality (but not looking, thankfully) even though this specific endeavor was ignorantly pursued, and although I would consider myself an established amateur astronomer, having embraced this avocation since I was ten years old, a period of over 60 years. Anyway, so apparently, I was more than a little lucky! Like Berman, I also had never seen or photographed it either. Here's that photograph from the 2017 eclipse as seen from Alliance NE . . . (photo details here) . . .


For much more on that eclipse, please click here . . .

Another fact that some view as a happy coincidence and others see as a religious proof -- terrestrially, only on the Earth in this planetary system can one experience a total (but not beyond total, where the apparent size of the/a Moon is either too large or too small to entirely eclipse the Sun). Only here on Earth can we witness such an incredible spectacle, our star showing off, if you will, its impressive, fantastic (and highly photogenic) atmosphere. In contrast, its brightness can be fully eclipsed for mere moments by our only natural satellite. That, to me, is the principle concept! Happy Earth Day!

In additional related astro news, here's a link to a Martian-style total solar eclipse . . .

Martian solar eclips

Mars' moon Phobos is obviously not round. (It's thought to be a member of the "Flat-Mars Society.") In reality, Mars' moons are contemplated to be "captured" asteroids. And not round. Really.

Super-cool "new" (to me) internet astronomical resource

I have been receiving Sky and Telescope Magazine since the late 1960s, and Astronomy Magazine virtually since its inception. I've even been fortunate enough to have a few of my astrophotographs published in these publications. This long relationship is generally chronicled in the history section of this website. Mostly, though, I've learned virtually everything I know about astronomy from these mags; at least until the internet exploded.

The most recent issue of Astronomy includes a very cool article entitled "How to Identify Objects in your Astrophotos." You'd think this would be simple; that is, if you are going to take a picture of a particular galaxy or whatever, wouldn't you know its designation? Yes, but almost always there are "companion" objects (other galaxies, extra star clusters, and of course an entire field of stars.) If you refer to my recent M45 shot, it shows a curious little "companion" galaxy adjacent to the main image, linked here.

The process is as follows: go to the website Then, upload your image. You don't even need to identify the base image (say the Rosette Nebula, as below). It "plate solves" the image (yet another modern-day convenience that essentially figures out where your telescope is pointing even if you have no clue!), and then overlays its data base onto your image, with annotation if you wish. Amazing! For a lively conversation explaining the nuances of plate-solving, also click here. Below check out the annotated Rosette image recently obtained.

Roette annotated

This particular annotation is not all that complicated, but for some groups of objects, like clusters of galaxies, this resource is fantastic. It can be used alongside detailed online star charts, like Aladin Star Atlas and ID database Simbad (for additional detail on noted objects).

Close Encounter with a Packrat

In the southwest, there exist giant cute-looking rodents called packrats. They are far larger than mice (more like a large cat or small dog), although they have the same innocent look. And they are quite comfortable "nesting" (living full-time) under the hood of your car, or, as I discovered just yesterday, under an astronomical observatory! And they have a peculiar habit of chewing on plastic-covered wiring, among other things.


Packrat -- click on the © internet image to read a story from Arizona Sonora News Service

I knew something was up when I went out to prepare my domed observatory (pictured throughout this website) for an evening of astrophotography. It's spring, and that means imaging galaxies! When I approached the entrance, I noted extensive "excavation" under the deck, likely by local free-roaming dogs perhaps chasing a packrat. When I clicked on the power from the adjacent post (it is imperative that you always click OFF the main power after a session, as electrical storms and power outages could easily fry plugged-in sensitive cameras and equipment -- at least I did that properly!), nothing worked. But there was power to the plugs on the pole, just not beyond. Upon investigation, I found several chewed-up wires leading under the observatory's deck. I buried and shielded all the exterior Romex out to the observatory, but neglected to do so with the wiring under the deck. The main is GFCI protected at the breaker box, also a must.

So, yesterday (and today), I'm rewiring the faulty 110 mains, adding some protective sheathing, and also introducing some botanical rodent repellent (apparently smells awful to the packrats, but the local Tractor Supply lady says that some brands of dryer sheets work just as well)! I bought some anyway.

Pics below . . .

power pole
exterior wiring
interior wiring
110 mains pole -- note red switch to observatory is off
new replacement wiring
interior plugs and junction box -- I will now install "doors" over the new cuts to allow for access and inspection
doors after
Finished(!) -- and the doors are hinged, so I can check things out in the future, as well as replacing the botanic rodent repellent every so often.

As to additional interesting particulars, I found a nice informative piece on these creatures. It turns out that packrats very much enjoy consuming the new wiring in recent model motor vehicles, as the insulation is soy-based; and packrats are vegetarians! Also, packrats in the desert southwest have been doing this sort of thing -- not eating wiring; instead constructing middens containing sticks, vegetation and human "debris" (like pottery chards and tools/utensils) -- for perhaps >20,000 years(!!!) -- there are packrat middens (consisting of centuries of stuck-together compressed vegetation, packrat debris, urine, and feces) in pre-Columbian Native American caves and overhangs! Packrats are among the best archivists of pre-Columbian American culture and climate. We astronomers should be so honored!

packrat midden
packrat midden
Paleo packrat midden in Joshua Tree National Park -- click image for an interesting article.
Enormous midden near Las Vegas is on a wall inside a cave.

Shooting the Rosette Nebulae and associated Star Clusters

On March 2nd, I "obtained data" (a fancy way for astrophotographers to say "shot some pics") of the Rosette Nebulae and some adjacent star clusters associated with them (more than one nebula). I combined all the data and the resultant "finished" image(s) are presented below. Once I conclude preparing the detailed, laborious observing log, I'll link on this website over to a scientific and more complete discussion of this object on the main image page. But for now, here are the two images -- I'm not sure which is best -- again, just like M45 below, the post-processing is subjective; maybe it's an art! But also again, I digress . . .

Rosette Nebulae

or perhaps this one as below, which reduces the red and features a bit more of the inner "reflection" (bluish) nebula . . .

Rosette Nebulae

To be honest, I almost always have felt that the popular published images of this object are far too bright red/orange (see below) and ignore the subtle inner markings and colors. At a distance of 4900 light-years, those "darken regions of dust, best seen in the upper rim of the nebula, represent Bok Globules. Bok Globules are denser clouds of dust and gas that may be precursors of new solar systems." -- from Ruben Kier's book The 100 Best Astrophotography Targets

Rosette Nebula

This image © -- a fantastic and beautiful website by Herbert Stoerzer dedicated to the constellation of Orion and the Orion Nebula (which this is NOT) -- this rendition is very, very nice, but a bit red, for me at least -- it is all very subjective.

The main reason that this is such a popular astrophotography target is that in time-exposed photographs such as these, you can see much more detail than by visually inspecting the object, even with the largest telescopes in the world. It is the magic of modern-day long-exposure specifically-designed digital cameras.

Zodiacal Light

In late winter/early spring in the evening (as well as in the autumn in the AM) an odd and interesting cosmic phenomenon takes place; the zodiacal light becomes more easily visible from Earth. As I recently failed to adequately describe this to my neighbor, I will instead dispense with that dull struggle and link you here to an actual accurate scientific explanation of the event

For the last several evenings, the local sky devoid of any moonlight and our semi-rural location on the mesa west of Taos, NM relatively absent of artificial light, I have been going outside after sunset and peering west to get a glimpse. It is a visual/wide-angle lens event, and to see it requires dark-adapted eyes (avoid bright indoor white lights and wait a few minutes in the night to become dark-adapted). Understand that before we moved here to these impressive dark skies, I had only seen the zodiacal light twice in my life, once while camping in remote Canyonlands National Park (I wrote about it here), and once on a frightening non-light equipped power boat transfer in Zimbabwe, having arrived far too late to our Spurwing Island Safari Camp in the middle of Lake Kariba, the largest man-made incarceration of water in the world (think a far larger Lake Powell). As an aside, during our stay we witnessed elephants retracing their ancient DNA-imprinted migration patterns by entering the lake and swimming many kilometers to the deep water in the middle -- the place their ancestors once drank from the now-submerged Zambezi River, countless miles downstream from the majestic Victoria Falls. This text links to that essay.

elephant migration

But I digress.

Last night (02-28-2022) I decided to attempt to photograph the ethereal zodiacal light event.  This text links you to a description of how that can be accomplished with typical DSLRs and a common tripod.  The photograph below was taken at 18:48 P.M.  Additional shooting data below:

Camera -- Nikon D5100 on Manfrotto tripod
Lens –- 16mm f/2 Samyang lens
Shot at –- f/2.4, 10-second unguided exposure, ISO 6400
Processed with –- Camera Raw and Photoshop CS6

Zodiacal Light

Seen here is the view west after sunset and dusk -- the Pleiades star cluster is upper left, and Hyades just above it and near the left border of the photograph, a wide angle shot. The cone of zodiacal light is emanating from the horizon (bottom of photograph) upward just about "touching" the Pleiades. The "ray" doesn't move, and generally fades from view about 1 1/2 hours after dusk. It can be as bright as the Milky Way, but is generally a bit dimmer and certainly more amorphous.

Additional Update to the Update below . . .

I reworked the M45 image again, using some additional post-processing techniques -- now I can't decide which one is better, although I do certainly like both/all of them. Click on either image below to be linked to a page to compare larger images side-by-side . . .


or maybe


Update -- early December, 2021

I have just completed the post-processing and upload of the previously-posted individual "test version" image of the Pleiades/M45. This "finished" image consists of 18 combined light frames plus a mathematical algorithmic grouping of calibration frames, as explained both in this website's post-process section and alongside the display of the larger image. Below is a small version of this "finished" (whatever that means) astrophotograph -- click on it to view the larger image and read a conversation about its acquisition and processing. There is (to me) also a fascinating discussion of a photobombing galaxy within (or rather cosmically far behind) the cluster.


Update -- November 29/30, 2021

I have returned to my "regular" observatory, and all is well. I have not previously had a chance to try out my new main imaging camera, the ZWOASI2400MC Pro, as shown here in the equipment section. Although there turned out to be a few software/hardware issues (almost always the case), I did manage to obtain (only) one image -- that is, really only one frame, not stacked or processed in any way (other than some minor "stretching" accomplished momentarily and on-site, Gain =180.) The first-light image with this camera is of M45, the familiar star cluster Pleiades. Here it is:


There are some issues, of course -- but given that usually I obtain 15 or more images, and then combine them with calibration images to remove thermal noise and vignetting (as certainly seen here) -- the image shown here using the outstanding ZWOASI2400MC Pro camera is really satisfying. I'm sure it will be a wonderful tool to work with. (Oh yes, the above image was one frame, 180 seconds and UNGUIDED, a further testament to the great Losmandy G11 non-automated German equatorial mount.)

Please access's blog archive by clicking this text.

Please access's navigation below:

orion and dumbbell nebulae history
orion and dumbbell nebulae equipment used
orion and dumbbell nebulae visual observing sessions
orion and dumbbell nebulae imaging sessions
orion and dumbbell nebulae image post-processing
orion and dumbbell nebulae "The Imperative of Night" narrative


click for more info on the Moon's phases

Hello and welcome to!





This website is a celebration of the clear, dark skies of northern New Mexico and particularly the Taos area. We are blessed to bear witness to such a positive natural wonder -- but we need to also appreciate and frankly defend the unfortunate worldwide destruction and resultant rarity of such dark skies we are blessed with. It is our right. It is "The Imperative of Night."


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Further, invites all of you to personally participate. Toward that end, offers group and personalized visual observing and imaging sessions from an amazing dark-sky location on the mesa just west of Taos, New Mexico.

These sessions from the Rabbit Valley Observatory have been continuing since 2015. Rates are negotiable and this information will be updated here in the contact us section of the website. A map to the observatory is also available on the contact us page.


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All equipment and instruction (including advanced computer post-processing of images the "day after") will be provided by experienced amateur astronomer Lewis W. (Willis) Greiner, Jr., who's been looking to the heavens with proper awe and respect since childhood. 

An incomplete summary of his astronomical and photographic history (including past viewing sessions here in the Taos area) is "presented" here as well, “for your approval." 


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If you have an interest in participating, please do not hesitate to contact us via the link provided. On the contact us page, we plan to include additional instructional links to helpful astronomy and astro-imaging sites and tutorials; to your left on this page we have included charts to review local seeing conditions and phases of the moon -- significant depending on your visual observing or imaging expectations and goals.


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We'd like to think that we'll be able to accommodate your observing needs, whether beginning visual to relatively advanced imaging. We're sure we can learn from you as well. 

We promise you that your experience here under Taos skies will enrich your life and help to fulfill your soul! 


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navigation notes

links are not underlined -- and appear rust/light brown -- once visited, they appear dark brown -- many images are hyper-linked, but do not display an obvious colored border -- if the ubiquitous "link-finger" appears, it's a link -- navigation appears top, bottom and in some cases rollover links appear left of the text

Rabbit Valley Observatory
Rabbit Valley Observatory
Rabbit Valley Observatory --
early 2015
RVO's original telescopes and
mount -- early 2015
RVO's new exterior pier-mounted Explore Scientific ES152 achromatic refractor on Celestron CGX GEM --
early spring 2019
RVO's main photographic Explore Scientific ES127ED apochromatic refractor within SkyShed POD dome and mounted on the precise hyper-tuned Losmandy G-11 GEM -- 2018/2019
video setup

RVO's video-equipped 127mm apochromatic refractor pictured here atop the dome-housed pier-mounted precise hyper-tuned Losmandy G-11 German equatorial mount -- April, 2019
Click this text to see recent video images of deep sky objects.

M81 and M82
"Typical" video view of spiral Whirlpool galaxies M51/ companion NGC 5195 in Canes Venatici -- April, 2019
(click image for link to observing log)
"Typical" video view of galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major -- April, 2019
(click image for link to log)

Orion Nebula -- M42

First finished image obtained through RVO's Megrez 80mm refractor with Orion field-flattener, using a Baader-modified Canon XSi DSLR and BackyardEOS image-acquisition software -- 10 stacked images (5 light and 5 dark) of 60 seconds each, ISO 1600, driven by the Losmandy mount but unguided, processed with DeepSkyStacker and Photoshop. [copyright Rabbit Valley Observatory/Willis Greiner, 2015 -- all rights reserved]

Comet Lovejoy
Second finished image obtained through RVO's Megrez 80mm refractor with Orion field-flattener, using a Baader-modified Canon XSi DSLR and BackyardEOS image-acquisition software -- 10 stacked images (5 light and 5 dark) of 240 seconds each, ISO 1600, driven by the Losmandy mount but unguided, processed with DeepSkyStacker and Photoshop. [copyright Rabbit Valley Observatory/Willis Greiner, 2015 -- all rights reserved]



To correctly and accurately view images such as those seen on this website, it is important to adjust your computer or device's monitor to the neutral gray scale above. First of all, every sector seen above should appear to be shades of a neutral gray -- gradually moving from black to white -- further, each segment should be independently visible, not "oozing into" one another. When your device is correctly calibrated (not so difficult) you will be able to view the images as they were created and intended to be seen.





Special note: I have recently become aware of "amateur" astronomer extraordinaire Rod Mollise of "Possum Swamp, United States." (Hey, I'm an Alabamian too!) I would recommend a review of his highly entertaining and perhaps more highly informative "Uncle Rod's Astro Blog," linked here. Check back often. I do. And I'll link to his site often here when commenting on just about anything, as he's informative, absolutely readable, and "he's one of us!"

Ghosts of Christmas Past
Please click this text or the image to the left to access Willis' second book -- Ghosts of Christmas Past -- a book of photographs and essays. The book chronicles more than thee decades of curiosity, discovery and celebration -- archived through the family's annual Christmas card featuring Willis' evocative images of natural wonders. Included are photographs of magnificent unique and endangered wildlife, spectacular scenics and (most appropriate here!) astronomical phenomena. Most years the holiday cards also featured essays describing these wonders literally. Click and review the book -- I hope you enjoy it!


willis greiner



visual observing sessions
imaging sessions
image post-processing
"The Imperative of Night" narrative
contact us


(all content copyright 2015-2024 Willis Greiner Photography, all rights reserved)