The big news this week is the first recordings and observations of an interstellar object. Of the 750,000 asteroids and comets that have been cataloged up to now, every one of them originate from within our solar system. This object detected by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope and named A/2017 U1 or “Oumuamua”, a Hawaiian word for scout or messenger from the distant past, came from another part of our galaxy. Based on measurements made from multiple ground-based telescopes it is believed to be rather long and of a deep red color . Below is an artist’s rendering of this extra-solar visitor. While a comet would have generated some type of coma or tail travelling near the Sun, no such activity was recorded, hence it’s believed to be an asteroid-type object.
Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Measurements over multiple nights allowed to establish the trajectory, which clearly shows that it did not originate from the Oort cloud or other asteroid/comet rich fields surrounding the Sun. While the discovery was made only on an October 19 image, its closest approach to the Sun was September 9th.
Diagram showing the trajectory of A/2017 U1 (ESO/K. Meech, et al.)
Now I thing they got it all wrong. What they picked-up was the Red Dwarf mining ship swinging by our neighborhood!
ESO Press Release
Today I got an e-mail from Gary that a photo of the Big Dipper that I had submitted a few months ago got selected for this week’s column on SkyNews. Couldn’t be happier. I wish all my weeks could start this way.
Astrophotography is a combination of equipment, experience, location/timing and luck. With this photo I just happen to hit everything right and was lucky.
Using the best equipment helps, but for this photo it was the simplest of setup: my very worn Canon Rebel XTi DSLR with a zoom lens set to 17mm F4 mounted on an old steel camera tripod my father used in the 60s. So nothing special, and within everyone’s reach.
OK, for the next part I had experience on my side. It allowed me to pick the right camera settings, but was also lucky as my photo viewing was limited to that small LCD screen on the camera. I had no laptop to fully explore and review the photos and make the necessary adjustments. Even the focus was reviewed through the small camera LCD. That night I only took 4 images with 20 second exposure crossing my fingers that I would have something worthwhile once back home.
And then there is the post-processing on the computer, which is a lot of trial-error. In image processing doing steps A + B will not give you the same results as performing B + A. We all have our “recipes” for what produces good results, but every photo ends up being a unique project. With this one, I knew there was good potential.
Finally there is the location and timing. I was up in cottage country, away from city lights, and a clear sky. However there was a full moon rising, couldn’t wait too long as the sky would start to brighten. A Big Dipper low in the sky next to the trees framed everything very well.
Thanks Gary and SkyNews for selecting my photo. For all the experimentation that I do with the camera, once in a while I get everything right. I’m just happy someone noticed and said “Hey, that’s a great photo we could use.”
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.
Below are some of the comets to keep a watch for in 2017 as they should be observable with small scopes and even binoculars.
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.
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.
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.
Seiichi Yoshida’s Bright Comet Listing (and future listing)
Paper by the British Astronomical Association
JunoCam onboard the Juno spacecraft is providing us with some great pictures of the Jupiter cloud top, but from the rarely seen polar angle. Pretty much all spacecrafts that have visited Jupiter did so with a fly by along the equatorial plane, which is also the same plane we observe Jupiter here on Earth. However with the Juno spacecraft, we now have a chance to enter into a polar orbit and take pictures of the polar regions.
Part of the reason behind JunoCam is to get the amateur astronomer community participating in selecting what parts of Jupiter the camera should be snapping pictures, and of processing the raw images. The image below was captured by JunoCam during Juno’s 3rd swing around Jupiter at a distance of about 37,000km. The south polar region is on the left.
NASA, JPL-Caltech, SwRI, MSSS; Processing: Damian Peach
The above was the PeriJove3 encounter (3rd pass), and voting on the next PeriJove4 will take place between January 19th and 23rd 2017. This is where the community can propose and vote for Points of Interest to photograph with JunoCam during the rather quick (2 hours) close pass with Juno. You can even submit images of Jupiter taken with your equipment to help plan the Points of Interest.
TIME magazine has released what their editors consider the best space photos of 2016.
P Crowther, University of Sheffield/NASA/ESA
Space-thriller themed mission trailer
Secrets lie deep within Jupiter, shrouded in the solar system’s strongest magnetic field and most lethal radiation belts. On July 4, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will plunge into uncharted territory, entering orbit around the gas giant and passing closer than any spacecraft before. Juno will see Jupiter for what it really is, but first it must pass the trial of orbit insertion. For more information: http://www.nasa.gov/juno and http://missionjuno.swri.edu