This Weekend – Best Time to See Jupiter

This weekend is the best time to see Jupiter of all 2017, because the planet is at opposition, meaning it is exactly opposite to the Sun and the Earth-Jupiter separation is also at its closest.

The photo below was taken during the September 2010 event and I happened to fall upon a fantastic low turbulence window in the atmosphere. Look closely and you’ll see the shadow of one of those moons on the Jupiter’s surface.


Jupiter – Benoit Guertin

Photos of Jupiter with the moons are a little tricky. Capturing the smaller moons require more exposure or gain, but at the risk of over-exposing the planet and turning Jupiter with those wonderful cloud bands into nothing more than a white sphere. It is always better to take a series of images or videos with different settings and review them at a later time on the computer.  Some information on planetary imaging and processing is provided in my blog on imaging with a webcam.

Planetary imaging is all about controlling turbulence.  Air turbulence whether within the optics, telescope, near the ground or high atmosphere will give you a blurry view. Hence some simple tips are:

  1. Allow your equipment to cool down a few minutes such that the equipment temperature can stabilize and match the outdoors.
  2. Past midnight is better as this allows time for the ground to cool especially after a sunny afternoon, reducing convective currents.
  3. Wait until Jupiter is high in the sky, that way there is less atmosphere between you and Jupiter. By looking straight up, you will be looking through a smaller “air column”.

A good time will be on April 10th when the Moon will next to Jupiter.  See the sky chart below showing the southern part of the sky at 10pm EDT.  The planet will track west as the night advances.

April 10th 2017 Sky Chart

April 10th 2017 Sky Chart


Fast Moving Comet Before Sunrise

If you are able to get out of bed early and the sky is clear, equipped with binoculars you should be able to catch a fast-moving comet as it swings by Earth at about 32 lunar distances over the next few days.  The best time is just prior to sunrise as the comet will be higher in the sky in the East.  Use Jupiter as well as bright stars Vega and Arcturus to get your bearings.  With each day the comet will rise earlier and will appear higher in the sky as the chart below shows; comet position at 5am for the next week.  However it will diminish in brightness as it moves away from Earth on after February 11th.

Comet 45P over the next few days starting Feb 10th.

Comet 45P over the next few days starting Feb 10th.

This isn’t the closest a recording of a comet passing near Earth, but it does make it to the 8th spot since modern observation and have been keeping track of near Earth objects (1950).  Back in August 15 2011, it happen to pass even closer, only 23 lunar distances, making it also the 5th closest comet approach.

With a storm system moving up the eastern edge US and Canada, my chances of getting any clear morning sky is pretty slim…

Downloadable PDF Sky Chart: 45p_feb2017_chart

Tomorrow Evening: Moon, Mars and Venus

Great photo opportunity tomorrow evening, January 31st, with a thin crescent Moon in a close formation with Mars and Venus.  As the sky darkens simply look between South-West and West and you won’t miss them.  However don’t wait too late, by 9pm they will have disappeared below the horizon.

Early Evening Sky (7pm) - Look WSW for this close formation

Early Evening Sky (7pm) – Look WSW for this close formation

The Moon will be a thin crescent.  Here it is as photographed of the Moon tonight at 5:40pm just a little less than 3 days old.

Crescent Moon - 30-JAN-2017 (5:40pm)

Crescent Moon – 30-JAN-2017 (5:40pm)

No high-resolution photo for this one.  Took it quickly through an open window simply by hand-holding the telescope, and using Venus to quickly find focus through the camera view-finder.

Skywatcher 80ED
Canon XTi (1/50s at ISO400)
Registax6 to align, stack and wavelet on the best 3 frames (out of a dozen)

Challenge for the next 2 days: Comet

My challenge for the next two days (Clear Sky Chart is predicting clear skies) is to observe and capture comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova.  It should be relatively easy to locate by hopping from Venus then down the bright stars of Capricorn starting with Delta, Gamma, Iota and ending with Theta.  Then half a degree to the left of Theta Cap is magnitude 6 star HD201057.  Comet 45P at magnitude 7 should be just next to that star.

The challenge will be its position low near the horizon, I may have obstructions before it sets.  And the twilight may not be dark enough for a magnitude 7 object.  The viewing time window will be quite small…wait for darkness and it will fall out of view.

Location of comet for January 5th 5:30pm EST

Location of comet for January 5th 5:30pm EST

No need for telescope, it’s also a binocular object.

45P is the 45th periodic comet (Halley being the 1st identified periodic comet) with a 5.3 year period.  Its orbit swings from just past Jupiter to in between Mercury and Venus.

Easily Locate Neptune on December 31st

December 31st will be your opportunity to easily locate and observe Neptune with a telescope as it will be within 1/3 degree of Mars low in the western part of the Sky.  Mars will present a reddish magnitude 1 disk while Neptune will be much smaller, essentially a dimmer magnitude 7.8 dot.  Large telescopes should reveal the blueish hue of Neptune when placed slightly out of focus.

Neptune and Mars 1/3 degree - December 31

Neptune and Mars 1/3 degree – December 31 (1 degree circle)

In the image above I’ve marked magnitude 7.9 star just outside the 1 degree circle to assist in the orientation.

However don’t wait too late in the evening, best may be shortly after 7pm once the Moon is below the horizon.  Starting from the horizon you’ll able to easily locate bright Venus and about 10 degrees above will be Mars and Neptune.  Bright stars Fomalhaut and Altair will be located east and west along the horizon.

Neptune Mars and Venus setting in the West - December 31

Neptune Mars and Venus setting in the West – December 31 (7pm)

Auriga and Its Three Bright Open Clusters

An easy target for anyone is the constellation Auriga and it’s three bright open star clusters.  It may be considered a winter constellation, but there is still plenty of time for some decent observation.  In the early April evenings , Auriga lies west about 45 degrees over the horizon.  It’s brightest star, Capella,  the sixth brightest in the night sky can easily be located.  Therefore these open clusters are easy targets for a quick star-hopping observation for anyone with a small telescope or binoculars.

Auriga in April with three bright open clusters (boxed)

Auriga in April with three bright open clusters (boxed)

My last few posts have been the photos that I’ve captured of these three Messier objects: M36, M37 and M38.  Below is a view if the boxed area from above but with the photos of the open clusters inserted at their correct location.

M37, M36 and M38 (respectively) in Auriga

M37, M36 and M38 (respectively) in Auriga

To see larger images of the open clusters, refer to my following blogs:

Messier 36 – Open Cluster in Auriga
Messier 37 – Brightest Open Cluster in Auriga
Messier 38 and NGC1907 – Open Clusters in Auriga