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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

 

The Sky This Week - Thursday October 23 to Thursday October 30

The New Moon is Friday October 24. Saturn is low in the evening sky. The crescent Moon is near Saturn on the 25th. Mars is in the star clouds of Sagittarius and is close to the Lagoon Nebula on the 27th and 28th. The crescent Moon is also near Mars on the 28th. Jupiter is prominent in the morning sky. Comet C/212 K1 PanSTARRS is visible in binoculars.

The New Moon is Friday October 24.

Evening sky on Tuesday October 28 looking west as seen from Adelaide at 20:45 (8:45 pm) ACDST in South Australia. Saturn is under the head of  Scorpius. The crescent Moon is close to Mars. The inset shows the approximate binocular view of Mars and the Lagoon Nebula at this time. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).
 
Mercury  is lost in the twilight.

Mars  is easily seen in the western evening sky, setting around midnight. Mars was at opposition, when it is biggest and brightest, on the 9th of April, and is still  readily distinguishable as the bright red/orange object above the western horizon in the early evening.

Mars is in the constellation of  Sagittarius and is close to the Lagoon Nebula on the 27th and 28th. This will look rather nice in binoculars. The crescent Moon is also near Mars on the 28th amking for a rather attractive sky to explore with binoculars.

Saturn is low in the early western evening sky, and was at opposition on June 11th. Saturn is visible  in the early evening, setting a bit over two hours after sunset. Saturn is edging closer to the twilight..

Saturn is near the crescent Moon on the 25th.

Morning sky on Saturday October 26 looking north-east as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 am ACDST.  Jupiter is above the north-east horizon. (click to embiggen).

Venus is lost in the glare of the Sun.

 Jupiter  rises higher in the morning twilight, and now is easy to see above the horizon before twilight. Jupiter is now easy to see as the brightest object above the north-eastern horizon.

Evening sky on Saturday October 26 looking up towards the zenith  as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 (5:00 am) ACDST in South Australia. Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS is between the tail of Canis Major and Canopus. The inset shows the comet as seen in binoculars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Comet C/2012 K1 Panstarrs is rising higher in the morning sky. It  should be easily visible in 10x50 binoculars as a fuzzy dot with a stubby tail. At magnitude 7 you will need to let your eyes adapt to darkness to see the comet clearly. It doesn't have any spectacular encounters, but will look nice amongst the stars.

More detailed charts and a printable binocular map  are here.

There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. Especially with Mars and  Saturn  prominent in the early evening sky.  If you don't have a telescope, now is a good time to visit one of your local astronomical societies open nights or the local planetariums.

Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm AEST, Western sky at 10 pm AEST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.

Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

 

Relive the Comet Siding Spring - Mars Encounter

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring captured 6-7 hours before its closest approach to Mars (big object down the bottom) on October 19. Image by Peter Lake at iTelescope, colours inverted to make the comet easier to see.

Here's the YouTube video he made
http://youtu.be/ehufS2GcWO0

Here's the link to the recording of the live hangout form the encounter that night.
https://plus.google.com/events/c37ac7ps3n0va5j6tibeblnkpfc

The NASA Siding Spring site has links to Flika albums of the encounter
http://mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring/

Terry Lovejoy's Animation
http://vimeo.com/109365734

Via Dan Fischer, all five recorded webcasts, if you have a spare 5 hours!

ESA blog, the spacecraft are all okay. Mars Express images not expected until Thursday.
http://blogs.esa.int/mex/

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An Image of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring - Taken from the Martian Surface!

This is comet Siding Spring, imaged from the surface of Mars, by a robot (Opportunity, the Energiser Bunny of Mars robots). Image credit NASA

https://twitter.com/nivnac/status/524111689399406592/photo/1

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My Image of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring just before closest approach.

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring at 9:00 pm ACDST, when it was approximately 18' from Mars (bright glow bottom right-hand side).

Stack of 3x30 second luminance images taken with iTelescope T9.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

 

Live Webcasts of the comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring Encounter with Mars October 19.

Simulated in Celestia: Mars and comet C/2013 Siding Spring on October 19, at 18:51 UT when the comet is 138,800 Km from Mars. From Earth they will be a mere 1' 51" apart (that's one arc minute 53 arc seconds, about the width of a human hair).

If you are clouded out on the night of closest approach, there are a number of  live webcasts of the event on the early evening of the 19th.  You will see a fuzzy blob and a bright bob, but this is a scpecial occasion, so there wll be a lot of interesting discussion.

There is a Google Hangout in Australia. 11:00 UT (around 10 pm AEDST)
https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/c37ac7ps3n0va5j6tibeblnkpfc

Sunday, October 19 at 6:45pm in UTC+02
http://www.astrowebtv.org

Live webcast from Slooh
http://www.space.com/19195-night-sky-planets-asteroids-webcasts.html

A much bigger list, including NASA and ESA, borrowed from Yasser Mohammed
here.

1) NASA :
http://mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring/
http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/comet-siding-spring/
http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/october/nasa-prepares-its-science-fleet-for-oct-19-mars-comet-encounter/#.VEH5JPmSwxU

2) Slooh Observatory :
The Slooh Community Observatory will broadcast a double feature about Comet Siding Spring's close pass by Mars on Sunday (Oct. 19). The first Slooh webcast will start at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT), and the second will begin at 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 Oct. 20 GMT)
http://live.slooh.com/stadium/live/comet-siding-spring-swings-by-on-a-close-approach-to-mars

3) Virtual Telescope :
The Virtual Telescope Project will host a webcast on Oct. 19 starting at 12:45 p.m. EDT (16:45 GMT)
http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/2014/10/09/comet-planet-comet-c2013-a1-siding-spring-meets-planet-mars-19-oct-2014-online-event/
4) Europe Space Agency :
ESA Livestream with lots of experts ( starts at 10:50 PT / 17:50 UT)
http://www.livestream.com/eurospaceagency
http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Operations/Mars_Express_ready_for_comet_encounter

5) Telescope from Australia :
Amateur astronomer Peter Lake, will broadcast from the iTelescope.net Observatory (Q62) at Siding Spring, though closest approach won't be visible from Australia (broadcast starts at 03:00 PT / 11:00 UT)
http://www.itelescope.net/
https://www.facebook.com/events/679638335464865/?ref=4

6) Living Maths live feeds from South Africa :
Mr S will be interviewing NASA Astronomers and local Astronomers about the Comet that is currently making an appearance. We will talk about chasing comets and even catching them. The Hangout will last 1 hour and afterwards we will take out the telescopes and explore the stars outside. This should be an evening you won’t forget. The event will be streamed live on the Living Maths website at 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
http://www.livingmaths.com/event/nasa-interview-19-october/
https://www.facebook.com/events/649993841786622/?ref=4

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Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring Edges Closer to Mars (17-18 October)

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring amidst the rifts of the Milky Way  on 17 October (you have to click on the image and embbigen it to see the comet at all) Mars is just out of the field at bottom right, you can see the glow. Stack of 6 x 30 second luminance images taken with iTelescope T12, SUMMED in Image J.Images stacked on the comet and SUMMED in ImageJ then cropped down to show the comet (fuzzy blob centred)
Siding Spring on 18 October, the comet has come over the dust clouds, so is easier to see. Mars if now in view at the bottom of the image grossly overexposed. Stack of 2 x 30 second luminance  images taken with iTelescope T12, SUMMED in Image J. Definitely click on the image to embiggen.Images form the 18th stacked on the comet and SUMMED in ImageJ then cropped down to show the comet (fuzzy blob centred). the tail is mucg clearer now.

Tomorrow comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring comes closest to Mars.  Watched by a flotilla of spacecraft from Mars, and a batallion of amateur and professional observers.

Hopefully the weather will hold. Friday night was clear but I missed observations as I was picking up EldestOne during optimum observing time.  Tonight was cloudy, but the robot scopes at iTelescope picked up the comet for me.

Unfortunately, my kids have used up all the high speed bandwidth, so despite having heaps of pictures, downloading them takes forever. You can see my images of the comet near the butterfly cluster here.

Here's hoping tomorrow night is clearer.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

 

Orionid Meteor Shower, Morning 22 October 2014

Morning sky as seen from Adelaide facing north-east at 3:00 pm ACDST on 22 October, the Orionid radiant is indicated with a starburst. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at an equivalent local time. Click to embiggen.

The Orionids are a worthwhile shower that somewhat favours the Southern Hemisphere,best seen between 2-5 am, the radiant, the point where meteors appear to originate from, being just under Betelgueuse, the bright red star in Orion.


The Orionids are the debris from Halley's comet.

This year the sky is nicely dark for the shower. The best viewing is the morning of the 22nd, when between 3-5 am under dark skies you should see about a meteor every 4-6 minutes.

You can find out the predicted rates for your location using the  NASA meteor flux estimator (use 8 Orionids and make sure you set the dates to 21-22 October 2014).

If you decide to get up, allow at least 5 minutes for your eyes to adjust, and be patient, it may be several minutes before you are rewarded with you first meteor, then a couple will come along in quick succession.

Choose a viewing spot where you can see a large swathe of sky without trees or buildings getting in the way, or with street-lights getting in your eyes. The darker the spot the better (but do be sensible, don't choose a spot in an unsalubrious park for example). Look to the north-east, and the distinctive red star Betelgeuse below the saucepan will be easy to spot. The meteors should originate just below here. However, let your eyes roam a bit to pick up meteors that begin their "burn" a fair distance from the radiant.

A lawn chair or something similar will make your observing comfortable (or a picnic rug spread on the ground and a nice pillow), and having a Thermos of hot coffee, tea or chocolate to swig while watching will increase your comfort. (Here's some hints on dark adaption of your eyes so you can see meteors better).


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

 

Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS, a nice morning binocular comet (October 16-30)

Evening sky on Thursday October 16 looking East as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 (5:00 am) ACDST in South Australia. Comet C/2012 K1 Panstars is below the tail of Canis Major. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).Animation of the path of the comet from 16 to 30 October as it passes through Puppis. It will be around magnitude 7 all this time.

Binocular chart of Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS during October. The large circle is the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. Click to embiggen and print.

Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS is now high enough in the southern morning skies, and the Moon sufficiently past full, to see comet C/2012 K1. It is best observed close to astronomical twilight, as it will be highest in the sky then.

It currently is showing a great double tail. Currently magnitude 6.9, it looks as if it will get no brighter than this during the month.

Binocular scale view  of the comet and NGC 2467 on the morning of the 16th.

The comet is passing through Puppis, coming close to a number of nice clusters which will make for great telescope and binocular viewing.

For most of the week it is not far from the tail of the constellation of Canis Major, the celestial dog in the eastern evening sky.  The bright star Sirius is a handy guide to finding the comet (see charts).

In binoculars the comet should be a small fuzzy ball with the hint of a tail. In small telescopes the tail should be more obvious

On October the 16th it passes 10' from the open cluster Tr9 (mag 8.2) and NGC 2467 (Magnitude 7.1). This will be very nice in binoculars (see the printable B&W chart for more detail).

On the 17th it is within binocular distance of a number of open clusters, including NGC  2483 (mag 7.6) and NGC 2453 (mag 8.3). On the 21st the comet is within 2 degrees of open clusters Cr 132 and Cr 140 (Magnitude 3.5).

On the 23rd the comet is at the edge of  open cluster Cr 139. This will be a difficult observation as the open cluster is very bright (magnitude 2.1).

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

 

The Sky This Week - Thursday October 16 to Thursday October 23

The Last Quarter Moon is Thursday October 16. Mercury is lost to view. Mars meets comet C/2013 Siding Spring in the star clouds of Sagittarius on the 19th. Saturn is low in the evening sky. Jupiter is prominent in the morning sky and is visited by the crescent Moon on the 18th. Orionid meteor shower on the morning of the 22nd. Comet C/212 K1 Panstarrs visible in binoculars.

The Last Quarter Moon is Thursday October 16. Apogee, when the Moon is furthest from Earth, is on the 18th.

Evening sky on Sunday October 18 looking west as seen from Adelaide at 21:00 (9:00 pm) ACDST in South Australia. Mars meets the comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring). Saturn is under the head of  Scorpius. Comet C/2013 V5 is now in dark skies above Saturn, but is quite low to the horizon still. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Mercury  is lost in the twilight.


Mars  is easily seen in the western evening sky, setting around midnight. Mars was at opposition, when it is biggest and brightest, on the 9th of April, and is still  readily distinguishable as the bright red/orange object above the western horizon in the early evening.

Mars is in the constellation of  Sagittarius. Mars meets Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring on the 19th. Fom Australia the comet and Mars will be less than 18 arc minutes apart (less than a quarter of a finger-width apart). The comet will be closer to Mars tan the Earth is to the Moon at closest approach, and a bevy of spacecraft will be watching. Sadly, you need really serious telescopes to see the comet now, as it has faded substantially. An extensive observing guide with printable maps is here.

Saturn is in the early western evening sky, and was at opposition on June 11th. Saturn is visible  in the early evening, setting a bit over two hours after sunset. Saturn is still high enough from twilight for decent telescopic observation for a short while, but the window for telescopic observation is closing fast.

Saturn is in Libra near the head of the constellation of the Scorpion and forms a battered line with Mars and Antares.

Comet C/2013 V5 has passed perihelion and is still surviving. It is visible in medium sized or larger telescopes (8" reflectors or larger). While it is in quite dark skies at the moment, it is still low to the horizon, and will become even more difficult as it fades and twilight encroaches.

Morning sky on Saturday October 18 looking north-east as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 am ACDST.  Jupiter is above the north-east horizon. with the Moon close by (click to embiggen).

Venus is lost in the glare of the Sun.

 Jupiter  rises higher in the morning twilight, and now is easy to see above the horizon before twilight. During the week Jupiter climbs higher and becomes easier to see as the brightest object above the north-eastern horizon.

On 18th October the crescent Moon is just above Jupiter.


Evening sky on Thursday October 16 looking East (and up towards the zenith)  as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 (5:00 am) ACDST in South Australia. Comet C/2012 K1 Panstars is below the tail of Canis Major. The inset shows NGC 2467 and the comet as seen in binoculars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Comet C/2012 K1 Panstarrs is rising higher in the morning sky. At the beginning of the week it  should be visible in 10x50 binoculars as a fuzzy dot with a stubby tail. As the week goes on and the Moon wanes it should be easier to see. At magnitude 7 you will need to let your eyes adapt to darkness to see the comet clearly. On the 15th and 16th of October the comet is within binocular distance of the nice open cluster NGC 2467.

More detailed charts and a printable binocular map  are here.


Morning sky on Monday October 22 looking north-east as seen from Adelaide at 3:00 am local daylight saving time in South Australia. The white starburst marks the position of the Orionid radiant. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

The Orionid Meteor shower peaks on the morning of October 22  in Australia, the radiant for the Orionids rises around 1 am on October 22, with the best meteor viewing being between 3:00 am and 5:00 am. You can expect to see roughly a meteor every 5 minutes or so under dark skies.

As the name suggest, the meteors will seem to originate just below Orion. Allow several minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and be patient, it may take ages for a meteor to turn up, then you may see a few in a row.

You can use the Meteor Flux Estimator to predict the number of meteors you might see at your location. Choose 8 Orionids, and make sure the date is 2014 and you have DST on if you are in daylight saving zones.


There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. Especially with Mars and  Saturn  prominent in the early evening sky.  If you don't have a telescope, now is a good time to visit one of your local astronomical societies open nights or the local planetariums.

Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm AEST, Western sky at 10 pm AEST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.

Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

 

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring Rendevous With Mars (19 October 2014)

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) and Mars as seen at astronomical twilight (an hour and a half after sunset when the sky is fully dark) facing west on 19 October, the night of their closest approach when they will be less than 18 arc minutes apart. Click to embiggenAnimation of C/2013 A1 and Mars over the nights of 13 October to 22 October as seen at 9 pm ACDST from Adelaide. Similar views will be seen at equivalent times elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Click to embiggen

Binocular scale image showing the path of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars during October.  Click to embiggen and print. A printable black and white PDF chart of this image is here. The large circle is the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. The comet is far too dim for binoculars now, but the chart will help orienting yourself for the high resolution chart below.

Unless you have been living in a cave this past year you will know that in less than a week comet Siding Spring comes close to Mars.

The pair are at their closest on October 19, when at 18:51 UT they will be a mere 1' 51" apart (that's one arc minute 53 arc seconds, about the width of a human hair). Unfortunately, this will only effectively be seen from Africa. From the Australia the closest the pair get is a bit under 18' before the comet is too low in the sky for effective observation.


Simulated view in Celestia of Siding Spring passing Mars. Although the tail appears to pass between Mars and Phobos this is a rendering artifact. The comet is well beyond Demios (the dot near the centre).

Passing 138,800 Km from Mars, comet Siding Spring comfortably misses the red planet. For comparison. Mars's outermost Moon Demios circles the planet at around 20.000 km from Mars's surface (on the other had, the average Earth-Moon distance is 384,400 Km).

Simulation of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring as seen from Mars on the 19th, shortly before local sunrise. Simulation in Stellarium, which somewhat exaggerates the comets appearance (what the heck is with the bow shock thingy!). 

A small flotilla of spacecraft are getting ready to either observe or avoid the comet (see this cute "I'll Save you Robots" graphic as well, and this graphic of the planned orbital observations) . While the comet itself will miss Mars, the planet may be enveloped in its coma, and there is the possibility that cometary dust and debris will damage the spacecraft. Nonetheless, we are preparing for a bonanza of space based observations.


Chart of the path of C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) and Mars from 13 September to November, as seen from Australia at the end of Astronomical twilight. The large rectangle is 4 degrees by 2.5 degrees and the small  rectangle the approximate field of view of a Newtonian scope with a 10mm eyepiece. Click to embiggen and print.

As well as all these spacecraft, amateurs and professional alike are eagerly watching the comet. in the lead-up to the encounter, and will be watching the encounter itself and its aftermath. 

The comet was relatively bright (around magnitude 9) and passed through some stunning astronomical territory. Now it is around magnitude 11 and still in interesting, if crowded, skies, but not as spectacular as before.

The rich stellar backgrounds make seeing the comets tail somewhat difficult against the crowded stars.As of writing only reflecting telescopes with an 8" mirror or better have been able to pick up the comet visually in eyepieces from 30 mm to around 10 mm. Imaging systems will have better luck picking the pair up, and some DSLR images have picked up the comet (very faintly, see also here - warning, big image).


Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) approaching the Butterfly Cluster (M6) on 8 October, stack of 9 x 30 second luminance images (summed in ImageJ) obtained remotely with iTelescope (Q62) T12 0.1m f/5.0 Astrograph SBIG STL-11000M, North top. Click to embiggen,

Whether using a DSLR camera with telephoto lens, or a CCD imaging system,

You may need to do a MEDIAN combine when stacking images to bring the tail out at its best (messes up the pretties but you can do a separate image emphasising the clusters and so on). 

As well as the standard exposures, if you have R, B or V astronomical filters and can take some images with them that would help the science missions as well (allowing definition of dust to gas ratios etc).

The biggest challenge will be getting images of Mars and Siding spring in the same frame.
With the comet around magnitude 11, and Mars at magnitude 0.9 the difference in brightness is enormous.  You will have to take a series of  really short exposures to avoid over exposing Mars, and a series of longer images to bring out the comet (see below for more details).

Another problem is that for any eyepiece/CCD camera frame that gets both Mars and the comet in the  same frame  Mars will be tiny (at least from Australia, from South Africa, larger magnifications will allow both the comet and Mars in the same field).


Mars imaged for 1 second using the Ha filter on iTelescope T9. Kinda small and not much detail.

Whichever approach you use, you can't get the comet without over-exposing the planet, so you will have to assemble images from separate exposures (ie maybe shoot 10x60 second exposures for the comet and say 2-3 0.1 second exposures of the planet).

Obviously some practise will be required to get the exposure parameters right before the night of the actual encounter.

Now that the Moon has left the early evening sky, this is a good time to test your imaging out on the comet and Mars. Locating the comet may be a pain if you don't have an automated GOTO scope. On the 17th the comet is one degree from the 13th magnitude globular cluster Pal 6, which may make a nice test of your equipment.

Despite the difficulties, this will be an historic encounter, and well worth the effort if you have medium to high end astronomical gear.

If you are clouded out, there may be live coverage from iTelescope and the Virtual telescope (watch this space).

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