Large Asteroid to Pass Near Earth

On April 19th a considerable sized asteroid will pass about 4.6 lunar distances (1.8 million km) from Earth.  While there is no chance of it impacting our planet, this 650m asteroid was only discovered three years ago, and it will be the closest encounter of a large asteroid since asteroid Toutatis in September 2004. The next predicted fly-by of a large asteroid is 2027 with 800m wide 1990 AN10.

The expected magnitude could reach up to 11 during the close approach, hence a decent sized scope will be required, and due to the rapid movement may be hard to locate and track.

Sky chart for asteroid 2014 JO25 covering April 18th to 20th 2017

And as a bonus, comet PanSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) will also make its closest approach to Earth on the 19th, but 10 times farther away as the asteroid.  I should be visible with small telescopes or binoculars in the constellation Aquarius in the dawn sky.

Source: NASA/JPL

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_17sep2010

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

 

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)

2017 Event : Total Solar Eclipse for North America

Every given year there are between two and five solar eclipses, this upcoming one for August 21st will be special.  The last total solar eclipse for North America goes back to 2008.  As Earth is largely covered by water, many of the eclipses are over the ocean where the number of viewers are limited.  But this one will pass over millions of people, all with access to equipment and social media to share their experience.  Hence this one has lots of people planning and getting ready.  The eclipse is most impressive when you’re located in the path of totality; where the Moon completely blocks out the Sun.  Hence if you are able to travel to such a location along its path, it will be worth it.  I also suggest finding a local astronomy group or association as they will most-likely have telescopes and other special observing gear out for everyone to use.

August 2017 Total Solar Eclipse.

The total solar eclipse will only be viewed in the narrow path crossing the middle of the USA. North and south of that will get a partial eclipse. The green vertical lines indicate the time of maximum eclipse. Courtesy Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com.

Observing the solar eclipse requires protective eye-wear and solar filters for any observing or photographic equipment.  For my telescope it’s a film solar filter, now branded SolarLite by Thousand Oaks Optical.  These can be purchased already mounted in an aluminium cell or in sheets for your own custom application.

Thousand Oaks Optical R-G Solar Filter

Thousand Oaks Optical R-G Solar Filter

The American Astronomical Society has created a web site just for the event with plenty of information on safe observation and suppliers of necessary optical filters.

Stay tuned…

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)

Comets for 2017 [updated 16-APR-2017]

Below are some of the comets to keep a watch for in 2017 as they should be observable with small scopes and even binoculars.

45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova
Currently observable low in the evening at around magnitude 8 and will continue to brighten to magnitude 7 in January and then fade rapidly, including a approach to within 0.08AU of Earth on February 11th, as well as passing within a few degrees of globular cluster M3 shortly after.
  Photo from January 6th.

C/2016 U1 ( NEOWISE )
Currently observable at magnitude 9 and predicted to brighten to magnitude 7 in mid January.  Discovered on October 21, 2016.  Not visible in the southern hemisphere.

C/2015 V2 ( Johnson )
Faint at magnitude 12, and will continue to brighten until mid 2017, with good chances of observation.

C/2015 ER61 ( PanSTARRS )
Should brighten to magnitude 7 spring of 2017, unfortunately not very visible to the northern latitudes.  However it will cross many NGC and Messier objects throughout the first half of the year.

2P/Encke
Expected to brighten to magnitude 6-7 around at the start of March, overall visible for about 45 days.  For those in the northern hemisphere, best observations will be the end of February.

41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak
Expected to brighten to better than magnitude 6 in early April.  A good opportunity for wide-field photo as it passes 5° of M92 at the end of April.
Photo from April 13th.

References:
Comet Chasing
Seiichi Yoshida’s Bright Comet Listing (and future listing)
Paper by the British Astronomical Association

November 13, Nearly Full Moon

Image

Making diner and notice that it’s getting dark outside and there’s not a cloud in the sky.  Wait! What time does the Moon rise? 4:54pm it should already be 5 degrees in the sky.  Run to the front of the house and look out the door, but no Moon.  Hmmm… maybe I’m too low and the houses across the street are blocking the view.  Head up one floor and look out the bedroom window!  Ah there it is.  OK kids, who wants to go see the SuperMoon!  I grab my camera as my kids run for their boots and jacket.  I figure that from the street corner I should have a good line of sight.  Once there I ask my son to hold his arms up in the air as if grabbing the moon.  I need to get down pretty low on my knees to get everything lined up.  After a few repeated instructions to open or close his hands, to which he responds with a “Are you done yet!”  I take a few long exposures under the street lamps. No tripod so 1/8sec and ISO 800 it is.  Then took a few more of just the Moon with shorter exposures to avoid causing the Moon to become saturated (1/200sec ISO200)

A bit of photo editing and the end result.

November 13th 2016 Full Moon - just ahead of the Super Moon.

November 13th 2016 Full Moon – just ahead of the Super Moon.