Comet Lovejoy

Early in December I decided to try to find Comet Lovejoy. While all eyes were on ISON, I felt sorry for Lovejoy. Here it was, high in the sky still putting on a show and no one seemed to be paying attention! I checked first to see if Lovejoy was going to be visible at a reasonable hour. This is an important criteria for me. I struggle with the whole ‘should I sleep or should I get out of bed and go observing’ thing.  I really hate  being cold, so usually sleep wins out!  Good news! I should be able to see it around 5am.

Before I went to bed I checked the star charts again in an attempt to burn into my memory the exact position of the comet. This almost never works by the way.  I checked my 10×50 binoculars and made sure I had warm clothes. It’s December in Wisconsin and I really hate being cold.

What I was really hoping for was to be able to see Lovejoy through my patio doors, avoiding the whole subzero thing. I told you I hate the cold.  Sadly, that was not to be. Lovejoy was going to be too far north and in the tree of my backyard. Oh – but wait – I could stand in my driveway and see Lovejoy over my house! Well that was better than not seeing it at all, so I was happy.

The next morning I rolled out of bed at 4:30.  I threw on some warm clothes, grabbed my jacket and binoculars and went out front.  I was pretty sure I knew where to look but once again my memory failed me. I told you that never works. Back into the house to check my star charts.  After scrutinizing a star chart I went back out and sure enough, there she was! A faint fuzz ball. The moon was a bit bright, so I was unable to discern any tail, but I could see the star like center of the comet.  It was truly amazing!

The best part was that I was able to get up, find Lovejoy and make it back to bed before my hubby left the house. Who says you can’t do astronomy in your jammies?

Amy

Comet Caucus

20131108-4-Comet-Montage2
Left to right: Comets Linear, ISON, Lovejoy and Encke. Click on the image to see a larger image.

Comet ISON is getting a lot of attention in the news these days, but lately there were four comets visible, and it has been a great time to find some dark skies and go comet hunting.

Last week, our good friend Tony took these amazing shots of four comets that were hovering in the sky over his Quantum Skies Observatory in Pulaski. Thanks for sharing, Tony!

This comet montage includes:

  • Encke – 5 shots of 60 sec each
  • LINEAR – 5 shots of 120 sec each
  • ISON – 6 shots of 120 sec each
  • Lovejoy – 25 shots of 300 sec each tracking the comet itself

All shots were taken by Anthony J. Kroes on 11/8/2013 with a Canon T1i DSLR at ISO 1600 through a Tele Vue 127mm Refractor on a German Equatorial Mount. Images captured with BackyardEOS software, stacked and calibrated with DeepSkyStacker, processed with ImagesPlus and Photoshop CS6.

Lynn

Herschel 400 – One Step at a Time

Yeah! Woot Woot! We did it!! We found our first Herschel object!

As you know, Lynn and I have decided to tackle one of the most challenging observing programs the Astronomical League has to offer – the Herschel 400. (See Lynn’s blog entry called Herschel Space Observatory Goes Dark)

Last week we had the perfect combination, dark skies and a Saturday night.  After wrestling with the tri-pod of the club loaner scope, and hoisting the heavy trunk that contained the rest of the scope into the trunk of my car we fired up the trusty GPS and headed out to the observatory.

A side note regarding the GPS – it may be a good idea to actually update the maps once in a while, we ended up on a dead end road and had to turn around.

The observatory stood quiet on the hill like a lonely willow in the middle of a field, no lights, no people, nothing! Another side note, always call ahead to make sure people will be out there.

Determined to find our first Herschel, we went back to Lynn’s house and set up in the back yard. While not the ideal spot, what with light pollution and trees and such, we still thought we could find at least one object.

Peaking through the low lying branches, we watched the stars pop out one by one.  Finally the random dots turned into a constellation we were familiar with – Aquila! Now we could finally pick our target!  We picked the one that was the brightest since we had such horrible transparency (see our chart under Links and Resources), NGC 6577 with a magnitude of about 7.5.

Finally – after using our tag team star hopping technique, we found it! There it was –  a faint wisp which I could only see with averted vision, but that didn’t matter. We saw it! And it counted!

Only 399 to go!

Amy

 

Super Moon – Super Kid

As you well know – on Sunday June 23rd,  we had the appearance of the ‘supermoon’. This time it happened to coincide with the appearance of a ‘superkid’.   I stood in the yard, bathed in the beautiful moonbeams, trying to soak in the moment.  While it’s not an extremely rare event, it doesn’t happen every day. Then just when I thought I’d go inside, my daughter peeked outside and said, “hey mom, put up your telescope so I can take a picture!”

Supermoon2

Well, talk about your rare events! No need to ask twice! I went inside and grabbed my 90mm Meade that sits as a permanent fixture in our family room. I set it up quickly on the back patio. The moon hung just over the neighbors house, a perfect spot. She carefully put her smart phone up to the eyepiece and within seconds had snapped off about four great photos.  Side note – I was a bit jealous that it was so easy for her. I’ve tried to get a good through the eyepiece picture and it’s NOT easy!

Then almost as quickly as it began, it was over. Off she went into the house to share her photo with the world, well, her world anyway.

I’ve been to star parties, seen rare transits, watched eclipses, watched an asteroid tumble by the earth and even met an Apollo astronaut. Of all the rare astronomical events I’ve seen, the most cherished moments are the ones like this, when my children step into my world for a moment and see it the way I do.

Amy

Analemma – Activity #1

Activity 1 So – here is the drawing I made from the dimensions of my apparatus, and the distances to both the equinoxes and the solstices.  The side marked “Gnomon” is the measurement from the ground to the height of the stick (gnomon).

I then measured the distance from the gnomon to the dots corresponding to the equinoxes and the solstices.

The drawing I used was full size. This drawing is just representative of my drawing. It’s not the actual drawing. It’s important for you to make the drawing full size in order to measure the angles for activity 1.

You will also need a protractor

For the first part of the activity – “measure the tilt of the earth’s axis using only your analemma and apparatus measurements.”

Take your protractor and measure angle a, then angle b. Then subtract b from a. This will be approximately 23 degrees which is the tilt of the earth’s axis.

Next – using your protractor measure the angle marked ‘latitude’. This is – you guessed it – your latitude!

Yea! One down  – three to go! Up next – Activity #2: with reference only to your analemma and measured dimensions of your observing apparatus, calculate the Sun’s path in the sky and produce a sketch or plot to depict that path.

Hmmmm – getting tougher!!

Amy

Iridium Flares – Not UFO’s!

iridiumHave you see those weird lights in the sky? Chances are their not UFO’s. Some of them may be Iridium flares! In November I posted about some fun ways to add a quick observing session to a family gathering. One thing I mentioned were Iridium flares. I thought I’d talk a little more about them and what they are.

A satellite flare is sunlight bouncing off the reflective surface of a satellite and sending it directly back to earth. The satellite will appear to flare, or brighten suddenly then disappear. Here’s a link to an animation that shows what a flare looks like.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flare_Simulation.gif

Iridium satellites are a group of communication satellites that orbit the earth in low earth orbit at about 485 miles above the earth. The ‘constellation’ as it’s called, consists of 66 satellites. They orbit the earth from pole to pole every 100 minutes.

The satellite’s unique shape of three polished door sized panels focuses sunlight directly down to earth, causing what we call ‘Iridium Flares’.

While you may see one of these by chance, you’re more likely to spot one with some outside help. One of our favorite sites is Heavens-above. Once you set it to your location you can click on the link to Iridium Flares. You’ll get a list of visible flares for your location, the brightness, altitude and other pertinent information.

Some of these flares are so bright they are visible in the daytime! I have yet to see one of those, the trouble is that they are dangerously close to the sun (from our perspective) and very difficult to see.

These are always fun to see, and fun to impress your family with.  Find out when a bright flare will happen, then plan to be outside when it does! Make your ‘prediction’ and amaze your friends and family! It’s no rabbit out of a hat, but still fun.

Ta da!

Amy