Jerry and Kathy Oltion's Astronomy Page

updated 11/3/17 (Photo of total eclipse)


This is us with all but one of our telescopes. The one in the upper left is a replica that Jerry made of the scope that Galileo built and used 400 years ago. Jerry is holding a commercial "Galileo Scope" that was made and distributed world wide to help promote the International Year of Astronomy (2009). The three big round-bottomed scopes are trackballs that Jerry made (more on them below), and the little red round one is an Astroscan. The big black one in back is a 9.25" schmidt-cassegrain, the white one on the right is a Short-Tube 80, and the long black one standing on end in front of Kathy is an 8" Newtonian.  Do we have too many scopes?  Of course not!  We also have another we bought after this picture was taken: a 20" Dobsonian built by  master telescope maker Mel Bartels.  (It gathers almost as much light as all the scopes in this photo combined.)

The little colored dots you see on some of the scopes are stick-on stars that we put on when we see something particularly cool through the scope. We label them and date them so we can remember what each star signifies.The green trackball doesn't have many stars yet because the photo was taken not long after Jerry made it (as a gift to Kathy), but we look forward to many good observing nights with it in the years to come.

The "trackball" is a design that Jerry came up with in 2005. It's a Newtonian scope built into a spherical base, and it has a completely new type of tracking system. We couldn't find mention of anything like it anywhere, so Jerry wrote an article about it for Sky & Telescope magazine. That was in the August, 2006 issue, and there's more about the scope right here on a separate trackball page.

In addition to building telescopes and observing through them, we enjoy taking pictures of what we see. Here are some photos we've taken through our telescopes over the last few years. Enjoy!

Venus transitOn June 5, 2012, Venus crossed in front of the Sun. It started on the left and worked its way across to the right. This was taken several hours into the transit. We won't get another chance until 2117, so I'm really glad the clouds parted long enough for us to see this.

Check out how much bigger Venus is than Mercury (below).
Total eclipseOn August 21, 2017, we watched the total eclipse of the Sun from a site in the Coast Range west of Corvallis, Oregon. It was incredible! One of the most moving things we've ever witnessed. The corona was a beautiful three-lobed field of gossamer light surrounding the most inky blackness imaginable. This photo doesn't do it justice, but we didn't want to spend our minute and forty seconds fiddling with camera gear, so we just took this snapshot and spent the rest of the time staring at it with our mouths open.
On the morning of April 22, 2009, the Moon occulted (crossed in front of) Venus. Here's a picture of Venus just disappearing behind the Moon. Notice how much brighter Venus is. The Moon is really quite dark (about as dark as asphalt).

You can click on the photo for a larger version. Note the chromatic abberation on Venus's image. That's not from the telescope; that's from the atmosphere bending the light on its way to the scope, since Venus was close to the horizon at the time.
This is a shot of Venus emerging from behind the Moon 58 minutes later. The Sun was just rising about 15 degrees below them, so the sky is pretty washed out, but you can see Venus pretty clearly. Click on the photo for a larger version that will let you see the two "horns" of the crescent and the curve of the Moon's edge cutting across below them. This was definitely worth getting up before dawn to see!


Here's a picture of the total lunar eclipse on 8/28/07. This is a 15-second exposure, which reveals its red color and even a few background stars. The red color is from light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere during totality, essetially a ring of sunsets around the Earth. (You can click on this photo for a larger image.)

 Eclipse Montage 2

Here's a montage of the 8/28/07 total Lunar eclipse. We took a photo during ingress, one during totality, and one during egress and arranged them in the relative positions that they were in when the shots were taken. The result shows the size and shape of Earth's shadow, and the Moon's path through it. (The Moon moved from lower right to upper left.) Notice that the Moon moved through the lower part of Earth's shadow this time (as opposed to 10/27/04, to the right). I used a darker image of totality this time to give a more accurate representation of how it looked to the naked eye. (You can click on this photo for a larger image.)

 Eclipse montage 1

This is a montage of the 10/27/04 total Lunar eclipse. The middle image was taken with only a couple minutes of totality left (because there were too many $#@! clouds in the way during the middle of the eclipse!) which is why the upper limb is so much brighter. It's about to break out into the light again. (The middle image is also a much longer exposure than the others: 15 seconds as opposed to 1/8 sec for the one on the right and 1/200 sec for the one on the left.) The one on the right is yellow because the Moon was close to the horizon when it was taken.

This is a montage of images taken on 10/27/06 of Comet SWAN as it drifted past a star in Hercules. The tail extended all the way to the globular cluster M13, over 3 degrees away, but didn't show up on film. You can really see the comet's movement, though. This sequence shows about an hour's motion.

Here's Orion taken on 1/4/05, using slide film. This was a 5-minute exposure. You can see Barnard's Loop (the semicircle around the belt and sword), plus nebulosity around Orion's head and the belt. The Horsehead Nebula lives just below the left star in the belt; we hope to have a good shot of that soon. Also note the little red spot on the left side of the frame. That's the Rosette Nebula.

Here's a newer photo of the Orion Nebula (the bright red patch in the middle of the sword at left) taken on 3/4/08 through the telescope in "prime focus" mode, in which the camera body is mounted to the telescope without a lens or an eyepiece. The telescope in effect becomes a 1000mm lens. This was a 10-minute exposure. Yes, that's its real color!

This is the Moon rising over a ridgeline about two miles away.

This is a composite of the Moon and Mars during their conjunction on 11/14/05. We took two separate shots--a long one that picked up Mars pretty well but burned out the Moon, and another one that got the Moon right but barely picked up Mars--then combined the two correctly exposed images.


This is Hyginus Crater and the Hyginus Rille. The crater is one of the few non-impact craters on the Moon. It's a volcanic caldera, and the rille is a collapsed lava tube leading away from the caldera. This is where Apollo 19 would have landed if it had flown.

Just to the right of the rille is a feature we call the Lunar Guitarist. It looks like a rock 'n' roll guitarist (Brian May, most likely, since he's heavily into astronomy) with his legs spread wide and the guitar neck sticking off to the right. It gets a little more distinct than this when the Sun rises higher over that region, but it only lasts for a few hours when the light angle is just right.

Here's a close-up of Mare Humorum, Schickard crater, Schiller crater and environs. Schiller is one of our favorite craters because it's one of the few that aren't circular. The asteroid that created it must have hit at a really low angle to gouge that oblong groove in the Moon.

Here are the Pleiades, a beautiful star cluster to the northwest of Orion. I used to think the blue fog in this shot was actual gas and dust around the stars (there is a reflection nebula around them that looks a lot like this), but after comparing this photo to others, I think mine is just high clouds scattering the light. I still like this photo, though!


Here's our best shot of Jupiter so far, taken on 6/3/05. That's the Great Red Spot on the left side of the lower equatorial band. It's not very red these days, but it still shows up in photos.


Here's another shot of Jupiter, taken on 4/11/05. That's Io to the right, and the shadow of Ganymede near the bottom of the planet.

 Mercury in transitThis is the planet Mercury in transit across the Sun on 11/8/06. Mercury is the tiny dot below center. There's a big sunspot over on the right that's probably as big as Earth. Yes, the Sun is really big!

 Saturn on 11/27/04

Here's our best shot of Saturn so far, taken on 11/27/04 through the Celestron. You can see the Cassini Division, and some atmospheric banding as well. Coooooool! This was shot in "afocal" mode, in which the camera lens is left on and the camera is aimed through the eyepiece; in this case a 4mm plossl, giving 250x magnification, plus the camera's 3x zoom, for a total of about 750 power.

Saturn on 3/17/07

Here's Saturn taken on 3/27/07. It's not as sharp as the 11/04 shot, but you can see how the plane of the rings has changed considerably as Saturn has moved on around the Sun in its orbit. In 2009, the rings were edge on to us and disappeared from view for a month or so. Now they're opening up again in the other direction.