Comet Neowise and Venus

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imaging sessions
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"The Imperative of Night" narrative
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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!

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 Nichols. I will be contacting Mr. Nichols 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

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.)

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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





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."





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 are scheduled to begin in the autumn of 2015, perhaps late September or early October. Rates are yet to be determined, but once they are, this information will be available 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."





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 yo

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










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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 2015-2021 Willis Greiner Photography, all rights reserved)