Hmmmm, is it me or has our summer gone by way too fast?. Seems like it was just last week I was minding the garden. Now,between working and trying to get some home chores taken care of. Not much time has been dedicated to astronomy. It isn’t to say I haven’t gotten to the eye piece. It just means cloudy skies have thwarted my efforts.
A cold front will be sweeping through late tonight,and skies are suppose to clear for tomorrow. Maybe some scope time tomorrow night?!.
The night sky has a visitor that I am quite sure many of my fellow astronomers are aware of. That visitor is C/2014 E2 (Jacques). My first sighting was about a month ago. The comet was quite bright,but lacking the usual long tail. I would put the visual mag at +7.5,which is out of naked eye sight,but bright through a scope. As of this moment,it is located in the constellation Cygnus. Here is the live update for those of you with clear skies,and wanting to see this comet. http://www.livecometdata.com/comets/c2014-e2-jacques/
After seeing all the beautiful images of Sundays (Super moon),and getting some shots myself. I started thinking to myself (as I was sitting in my observatory listening to some Crosby Stills and Nash),about how the Full moon reminded me of a giant Sentinel in the sky. Watching over us as we gazed back.
This past year have brought us some exciting celestial wonders,and great science knowledge have been achieved. I am talking about comets. Their have many opportunities for all of us to explore,and grow. Some comets have been just quiet wanderers.,never getting their chance in the media lime light. They come into the inner solar system, seemingly “guns blazing” ,and then quietly return to the outer reaches,never to be seen again in our life time. Others, get noticed right away,and a media frenzy begins. People speculating (mainly media) ,about how bright or how big of a show it will be. Comet ISON was a prime example of the over hype from the media. ISON put on a good show for it’s final journey. The sad part of the over hype ( IMHO ) is,most people get excited to see a amazing sky show,but when the event ends, people just go back to their daily (or nightly) routines,like a arm chair quarterback. Never giving thought that,just because one event has ended. doesn’t mean the arena has been shut down. Their are still wonderful objects in the night sky that are putting on their own show.
Yes, their are some comets in the Northern sky that are visible. Two comets are on display in the Northern sky,and located near the constellation Ursa Major a.k.a… the Big Dipper. Both comets are within reach of small telescopes. Although, one of them, Comet Linear is a dim mag + 11.61,and might be difficult to see in a small scope,depending on sky transparency. The other one, Comet Panstarrs is much brighter at mag + 8.4 . Comet C/2012 K1 (Panstarrs) can be seen as a faint,but distinguishable gray smudge. This smudge gets brighter as your eyes adjust to the darkness. I had known about these comets for some time,but time,and cloud cover had put them on the back burner. Leaving me with only small windows of opportunity to observe the other wonders of our solar system and beyond.
With the forecast of clear skies last night. I decided now was the time to check out one of the comets. I chose comet Panstarrs as my target,as I felt it would be a good time to check my mounts goto accuracy. By the way….. it performed flawlessly!!. I entered my observatory at around 9PM last night. The sky was a tad bit light to the west due to sun setting 45 minutes earlier,and the stars were just beginning to show themselves. It took a while to actually see the “gray smudge”,but when I did see it. I knew I had a comet in the eye piece. It took a short while later before I decided to connect the CCD to the scope. This turned out to be a fiasco…LMAO!. The stars were nice and round ,but as each image was acquired,and stacked. The comets nucleus on the stacked image became stretched,showing multiple heads. I haven’t down loaded the final images yet,but will when I have a few extra minutes to spare.
After a couple hours of trying,I went to my backup camera. The DSLR for some prime focus imaging. This worked out quite well I must say!!. I snapped a couple test images to check my focus,and nailed it the first time!. The temp in the observatory was getting getting cold,so I opted for only a couple shots before shutting down. I managed a 4 and a half minute unguided exposure without star trails.Since the screen on my dslr is small. I didn’t get a full look at my work until I loaded the images onto my laptop. I must say “WOW”!. The comet was green as I expected. What I didn’t expect was to get the galaxy NGC 3877 in the same shot!. NGC 3877 appears dim,but in my defense. It is after all, 50 million light years away!!!.
Comet C/2012 K1 (Panstarrs) is expected to brighten in the next few months,making it almost a naked eye comet. I really doubt that, as it is quite small,but one can hope!.
Sometimes I like to share images depicting exactly what I see through my telescope. I am always inviting people stop once in a while,and well, look up at the sky. I have posted many times on Facebook,about the sights/events most of my friends are missing. About how they need to take a moment out of their “busy lives”,and see what I see. I like to think of myself as a time traveler. I am a subscriber to the best reality show ever made: Space . With a never ending episodes,and the occasional dramatic Super nova. Aside from the cost of my equipment, it is a free show!. I like free things ;) . It is almost overwhelming to see light coming from the sky above can be 1.25 seconds old or 125 million years old, or even 2.5 billion years old!!.
The point is, spread the word :)
Below is a image of Jupiter and 4 of it’s moons. As I mentioned, this is exactly what I saw through my scope on March 18,2014.
Note: Most all is exact,except for the color. Most of us can’t see color through our scopes ,unless we are viewing a bright star.
I had another evening with the scope last night. Actually, I had gone to bed ,but through my window I could see how clear it was. So,I got dressed and spent about a hour in the observatory.
The sky was clear ,but waves of high altitude turbulence kept distorting the images.Turbulence is bad for imaging. One moment you can have a crisp image on the monitor,and then nothing but a nasty,distorted fuzzy blob the next moment.
I did get a few decent shots though. The image below shows Mars polar cap.
Now that Spring has sprung, which is up for debate. Our temps here in Vermont have been up and down this week. On Monday, we had sunny skies,and high temps near 80 degrees F. By Wednesday,those temps were seemingly a long ago memory,with high temps of 32 Degrees F. Might I also add that we had received 1″ of fresh snow,and a low Wednesday morning of 16 degrees. Note: Our temps have rebounded and is now a balmy 48 degrees. Sorry, that was just a little bit of venting!.
Ok,back to the post.
As everyone knows, Mars is putting on quite a show in the early evenings,and with clear skies is not disappointing. I have imaged every planet in our solar system over the years,and most have been easy imaging except for one. That’s right…… Mars!. It seems that the Roman God of war doesn’t like it photo taken!. I have made attempts many times,with the same results. The fuzzy blob blues!. Being in a climate that is transitioning from Winter to Spring, having clear,clean skies is a novelty. Last night was just that novelty,even for a short period of time.
I stepped out early last night,and noticed clearing skies. The stars twinkled due to a upper air disturbance, and radiational cooling from the days warmth. Remembering last weeks fiasco of trying to image Mars. I gave the planet more time to rise higher in the sky. Rule of thumb for astrophotography is to let the desired object rise as high as possible before imaging.The reason for this is, light coming from a object has less atmosphere to go through as apposed to the same object just rising in the East. This is why stars twinkle more at the horizon than they do when they are over head.
Last night,as I focused on Mars via my Pc monitor. the first thing that jumped out at me was seeing occasional detail from the red planet. Something I haven’t seen at this level!. I immediately, started imaging. Giving short image stacking a go as I tweaked the settings. The more I tweaked the better it looked. Until finally, I was stacking 300 AVI formatted images in Registax6. The results were not the greatest,but the best I have ever gotten before.
Below is the outcome of last nights session. I will continue trying until I get the desired results I am looking for.
Now that Spring arrives tomorrow…. (rolls eyes) . I cleaned the snow away from my observatory,which was no easy task. Our latest snow storm dumped almost 2 feet of the white miserable stuff,adding to the already 2 feet that we already had on the ground.Not including the 5 foot drift piled up against the obs. I used a tractor with a bucket attachment,and it only took 45 minutes.
My other excuse for not getting eye piece time in was/is….THE COLD!!. Most every night the temp has been well below zero. A couple nights it had dipped to -30F. My cutoff is -5 below zero.
Our temps warmed to a balmy 37 Degrees yesterday. This gave me a much needed boost in ambition that lasted until 9:30 pm last night.
The sky was quite clear last night,although the transparency turned bad as a new weather system was approaching from the West.
I did get a few shots of Jupiter with the Neximage 5 ,and will post some pix when I get a chance. My main goal was to get some images of the Orion nebula. Last October,I drift aligned my scope in hopes of taking longer exposures. Last night was the first night I was able to really check my alignment. It didn’t disappoint. I was able to pull off a 4 minute,unguided image of my favorite nebula. A feat that I have never achieved before. My usual exposure times were in the 1.0 min-1.5 mins range before seeing star drift. WOOHOO!. I honestly believe I could have gone 5+ mins with minor drift. I had some very slight drift at 4 minutes,and was only noticeable when zooming in really deep. I took care of that in PS 6 .
AS I posted on FB,
This is the Great Orion Nebula, located in the Orion constellation. It is approximately 1,300 light years away. That is,the light that we see today, began it’s journey around 700 AD.
The image is a 240 second ,single shot at ISO 200.
Image credit: Andrew