Friday, May 27, 2022

A New Meteor shower? Maybe

On the night of May 30-31 there may be a new meteor shower - and it might be a big one! Meteor showers occur when the earth passes through the dust of comets when it intersects the orbit of a comet. There are a number of well known annual showers, the Perseids in August being the most recognized.

Back in 1995 comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3) fractured into several large pieces and left a trail of smaller fragments behind. It turns out that the special conditions needed for these particles to produce a shower may have come to fruition. If that is true, and there is a lot of uncertainty, then we may be gifted with an amazing event. For the specific details of this potential major shower, see the article in Sky&Telescope.

If you want to stay up and see what happens, here are the details.

The meteors will appear to come from a point, called the radiant, very near the brilliant orange star Arcturus with the peak occurring at 1:00AM EDT on the 31st. This point will be in the W-SW, about 50 degrees above the horizon. The altitude is high, there is no moon, and right now the weather folks are forecasting clear skies with cool temperatures - the three top ingredients for any meteor shower observer!
S&T Diagram / Gregg Dinderman

But don't be late, or too early. This shower, if it occurs, will only last a few hours at best. I would suggest starting at midnight.

How good could it be? Good question - hard to answer. If all goes well we may be in for up to 600 bright meteors per hour! Or, maybe nothing at all. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Don't miss the May Lunar Eclipse

Late Sunday evening, May 15, 2022, the Moon will slip into the earth's shadow for one of the best total lunar eclipses in a long time.  Conditions are favorable for a dark, ruddy red moon, as the path takes our satellite deep within the umbra of the earth's shadow.

Details below are from Sky and Telescope

On Sunday night–Monday morning May 15–16, the Moon will undergo a total eclipse widely visible across the Americas, Europe, and Africa as seen in the diagram below:

As the moon moves through the earth's shadow, it first encounters the penumbra or outer shadow. Here the globe of the Earth partially blocks the solar disk, resulting in a faint shading visible across half the Moon about half an hour before the start of partial eclipse. The first dark "bite" occurs as the Moon enters the umbra, where the Earth completely blocks the Sun's glaring disk — save for reddened sunlight that filters through the atmosphere and into the umbra to color the Moon red.

Starry Night with additions by Bob King

The following diagram shows the key phases of the May 15–16 eclipse as the Moon passes through Earth's shadow. Times are Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). 

Gregg Dinderman / Sky & Telescope; Source: USNO

You need nothing but your own eyes to see this wonderful event, but binoculars will enhance the view.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Comet C/2021 O3 has disintegrated - too bad :(

Back in March I posted about a new comet discovered on 26 July 2021 by the Pan-STARRS sky survey that looked likely to be a naked-eye object in early May. Unfortunately, C/2021 O3 did not survive it's close pass to the sun. The Astronomer’s Telegram reported on Monday: “Twilight observations conducted with the Lowell Discovery Telescope on April 29 indicate [the comet] has disintegrated. Read more.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Solar Eclipse on Mars

It's amazing how the relative size of our sun and our moon are almost exactly the same, and because of that eclipses of the sun are very exciting - rare, but exciting. No where else in out solar system do moons of planets produce the same awesome site. But, nonetheless, eclipses of the sun do occur on other planets. However, no one (that we know of) is there to witness them. 

Well, not exactly ...
Earlier this month operators of NASA's Perseverance rover turned its powerful Mastcam-Z camera toward the sky to capture Mars' potato-shaped moon Phobos transiting across the surface of the Sun. And the result was amazing. 
Mars' moon Phobos transiting across the surface of the Sun
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Check out the video at ARS Technica.

Friday, April 15, 2022

What's with the W Boson?

The Collider Detector at Fermilab

Something is just not right with the mass of the W boson - it's just a bit heavier than expected. How much? Well, in terms of atomic measurements, it was expected to be 80,357 mega electron volts, or MeV, plus or minus 6 MeV. But the value as measured by the Collider Detector at Fermilab, or CDF, during the period between 1985 and 2011, is 80,433 MeV, plus or minus 9 MeV. That's significant and is a problem. It's critical to know the precise weight of the W boson because that value is factored into the finely tuned equations that are woven into the Standard Model of subatomic physics, one of the most successful theories in science. For the complete story head on over to UniverseToday.

Monday, March 14, 2022

IC 417 and NGC 1931 - The Spider and the Fly (SHORGB)

Working off my backlog of imaged deep space objects, I present the Spider and the Fly in narrowband and broadband combined.  Well, if you pay attention to the dates of acquisition it really wasn't part of my backlog :)

This image was a bear to process as there were some high clouds present while I captured the Oiii and Sii data.  This caused significant background noise in the image and I had to really push the noise reduction in my post-processing. Not too happy with the result, but here it is anyway.

The Spider and the Fly
Feb 27, 28 and Mar 3
GT102 and ASI2600mm Camera f/5.5 10 hours

Taken over three nights (Feb 27, 28 and Mar 3) for about 10 hours of total integration time. 

The Spider is about 10,000 light-years distant while the Fly is a bit closer to us at 7,000 light-years. They reside in the constellation Auriga.  Composed of clouds of gas and dust, this region is the site of new stellar birth.  The glowing nebula is caused by the excitation of the gas by clusters of massive, relatively newly formed, stars located near the centers of the nebulosity.  The large nebula on the right side of the image is the Spider and the small nebula is the Fly.

Full details at:

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Comet C/2021 O3 PANSTARRS - A Possible Bright Comet

C/2021 O3 (PanSTARRS) is an Oort cloud comet, discovered on 26 July 2021 by the Pan-STARRS sky survey. It will come to perihelion (closest approach to the sun) on 21 April 2022 at 0.287 AU (26.6 million miles) from the Sun. 

As far as calculations go right now it appears that it might reach apparent magnitude 5 by late April 2022, but will only be 15 degrees from the Sun, low in the western sky. Binoculars will be needed to see it in the bright dusk sky. C/2021 O3 will make its closest approach to Earth on 8 May 2022 at a distance of 0.60 AU (56 million miles). As a dynamically new comet from the Oort cloud there is a high risk that this comet may disintegrate after passing perihelion as comet ISON did back in November 2013. 

Gideon van Buitenen has a web page with some really detailed information (as well as a great animated orbit plot) of C/2021 O3. Worth a look. I'll be keeping a close account of this comet in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula - redux

One of my favorite images that I captured back in 2020 was the Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula, NGC 2264. Back then I used my ASI1600mm camera and WO GT102 telescope. The result was pretty awesome with lots of color and good detail.

Well, it was time to try again, this time with my new ASI2600mm, a more sensitive camera sensor, deeper full well and wider field of view. Below is a redo using the ASI2600, capturing 24 hours of NB and 30 minutes of RGB stars. I've learned a lot more about the techniques in post-processing, so that has come to bear here as well.  The 'extra' challenge this time was the 31mm filters in my image train. With a nebula that fills the entire sensor the vignetting was very prominent and it took some extra processing to minimize the effects. I didn't have this issue with the 1600 as it has a narrower FOV. It's time to buy larger filters!

NGC 2264 - Feb 5,9,10,19 and 20, 2022
WO GT102 f/5.5; ASI2600mm Camera
8 hours each Ha, Oiii, Sii

Friday, January 21, 2022

Fly by of asteroid 1994 PC1

I'm sure many of you heard of the passage of asteroid 1994 PC1 on January 18, 2022.  Well, if not, here are the details.

On January 18, 2022 a large, stony asteroid, passed relatively close to Earth. Astronomers believe it's size was around 3,280 feet, or, to put it another way, about 2 1/2 times the height of the Empire State Building (as many news outlets commented). Based on the designation of '1994' we’ve known about it since 1994. But based upon it's size and the fact that it's orbit allows it to pass Earth periodically at a close distance it is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid.

Closest approach occurred on January 18, 2022, at 4:51 p.m. EST, as the speeding asteroid passed 1.2 million miles (1.93 million km) from Earth, or about 5.15 times the Earth-moon distance. 

With a clear night that evening I was able to capture it's movement across the sky in the constellation of Pisces to the W-SW at 8:30 p.m. 

The video below is a composite of 24 images, each 5 sec long, taken one minute apart showing the asteroid movement over a period of about 23 minutes (from 8:14 to 8:37). You can see it move from the bottom left toward upper right in the frame. 

Equipment: WO GT102 f/5.5 and ASI533MC OSC Camera


Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Seagull Nebula

Working off my backlog of images to process,  I finally got around to completing the Seagull Nebula.

The Seagull Nebula, IC 2177, is a large cloud of dust and gas that spreads across a distance of over 100 light years. It gets its name from the appearance of a seagull in flight.  IC 2177 is located about 3700 light-years away from Earth on the border between the constellations of Monoceros (The Unicorn) and Canis Major (The Great Dog).

IC 2177 - The Seagull Nebula in SHO
WO GT102 f/5.6 with ASI1600 Pro
25 hours integration time over the period 1/11/21 to 2/20/21

As typical of nebulae like the Seagull, the complex array of gas and dust that forms the head of the seagull glows brightly in the sky due to the strong ultraviolet radiation coming mostly from one brilliant young star — HD 53367 — taken to be the seagull’s eye. The radiation from the young stars causes the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow with a rich red color (Ha). Additional radiation from numerous hot blue-white stars is also being scattered off the dust particles in the nebula to create a contrasting blue haze in some parts of the picture which is picked up as ionized oxygen (O3).

This image, although completed in January and February of 2021, was only just now processed (for the fourth time) before I was able to get it just right. I learned a heck of a lot more about PixInsight during this 'adventure in processing', which I guess is a good side effect of the time spent.  RGB stars were planned to be included but those flat sets were corrupted somehow and couldn't be used. So the 'slightly modified' NB stars were used. Colors are not correct, but the image is satisfying.

With my new WO ZS61 waiting for clear skies, I'm sure to take this object for at least one more spin to see what a wider field can do.