Eclipse Viewing in Canada?

With a week left before the August 21st solar eclipse, some of you may be scrambling to find eclipse viewers to safely view the event. Stores appear to be running out of the necessary viewers and ordering online may not make it in your hands on time.  Also there are reports of poor and unsafe gear being sold on the internet, so do the proper research before ordering.  Both NASA and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) only recognize five manufacturers as meeting the necessary ISO standards for solar safety film, these are: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical, TSE 17 and Baader Planetarium.

July/August SkyNews

July/August SkyNews – includes eclipse viewer

One way to get your hands on eclipse viewers is to find a copy of the July/August SkyNews magazine.  The issue not only has great articles how to prepare, observer and photograph the eclipse, but it comes with a free eclipse viewer.

Alternatively you can join one of the observation parties hosted by astronomy clubs, colleges, museums or stores.  Here is a list from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada of cities hosting observing events.

Next Year: Lights Out For the Perseids

Yesterday, even if I’m located in the light polluted Montreal suburb, I decided to head out at quarter to midnight to see if I could by chance spot one or two bright meteors from the Perseids shower. As luck would have it in the 15 minutes doesn’t looking around Cassiopeia I spotted two before clouds and a rising moon sent me indoors.

But during that time scanning and waiting, it got me thinking… It took me a good minute to find a suitable spot in my backyard free of the light from the neighbours’ houses and street lights. If there was less light pollution we could have darker skies and everyone could enjoy the show.

During Earth Hour people are asked to turn off the lights for one hour to support the fight for climate change. But I always found that pretty pointless.  If you want to fight climate change, it’s an every day affaire, in your daily routine and the choices you have as a consumer, not one hour in an entire year. So the one hour lights out is more of a gimmick, doesn’t really benefit anyone. But if we had an evening of lights out during the peak of the Perseids meteor shower wouldn’t that be great!

The Perseids falls in August when it’s warm and sitting outside past sunset in the cooling air is enjoyable. Kids don’t have school so they can stay up late. And the patio furniture is out, that’s all the required equipment.

So what do you say? Light out for the 2018 Perseids? I think that’s a worthwhile collective movement.

Perseid Peaking Tonight

Aside

The Perseid meteor shower is scheduled to peak tonight, but a large Moon will ruin the show. The best time is tonight (August 12) after 11pm, looking north-east.

While the sky directly overhead may look darker, it’s better to look 45degrees over the horizon to see a thicker “slice” of the atmosphere.

Jupiter Below a Crescent Moon

I have to say with the wet and cloudy weather in the past two to three months I haven’t taken the telescope out for quite some time. The high humidity often produces clouds in the evening and into the night as the air cools. And with the wet spring and early summer, the mosquitoes are rather annoying.

Therefore I haven’t been actively taking part in my backyard astronomy hobby.  However a few days ago, I noticed a  crescent Moon through thin clouds, and what I thought to be Venus just below.  Grabbed the camera and took a few photos at ISO 800 66mm F5.6 1/4sec to see what type of result I could get with that.  I have to say it was hard to find the right setting, and my car’s roof was a poor tripod.

The photo below really doesn’t capture the range and subtle gradients in direct and diffused light around the Moon and the clouds, contrasting with the pin-point bright planet.

Jupiter Below a Crescent Moon (July 28, 2017) - Benoit Guertin

Jupiter Below a Crescent Moon (July 28, 2017) – Benoit Guertin

It was only a few days later when I downloaded the images on the computer and checked to confirm the planet that I was surprised that the it was Jupiter shinning so brightly.

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

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak

Periodic comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak is currently a magnitude 8 object for telescopes and unlike many other current bright comets like C/2015 ER61 (PANSTARRS) and C/2017 E4 (Lovejoy) it is visible for a good portion of the night while the other two are only visible in the morning twilight for those like me in the northern hemisphere.

On April 13th comet 41P was in the constellation Drago, which is where I managed to photograph it.

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak (13-Apr-2017) - Benoit Guertin

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak (13-Apr-2017) – Benoit Guertin

Not much of a tail on this comet, and I’ve checked other photos taken with larger scopes and the result is also just a coma around the nucleus.

Because it is passing near Earth, its movement in the sky is quite noticeable frame-to-frame in the captured images. For the registration and stacking with comets, this is done by alignment on the comet and not the stars, hence the star trails in the above image. I performed another stacking, this time using the stars to align, and the comet’s movement becomes obvious. The displacement measures 2.6 arc-minutes in the 41 minutes that elapsed between first to last exposure.

UPDATE: Created a short video showing the comet’s movement

Distance traveled by the comet in 41 minutes

Distance traveled by the comet in 41 minutes

My setup was less than ideal, as the constellation was only visible from the front of my house.  Yes that is a lovely street-light shining right across the street.  Luckily the telescope was pointing a little to the right, and a rolled piece of cardboard help act as an dew-shield extension to block the glare.  But on the good side I had a nice solid concrete surface and got a very good polar alignment with 1 minutes exposures giving me nice round stars.  Hmmm, might explore this setup a little more often…

Setup in the garage to image comet in constellation Drago

Setup in the garage to image comet in constellation Drago

Telescope: SW80ED
Camera: Canon XTi (450D)
Exposure: 32 x 60sec ISO 800
DeepSkyStacker, IRIS, GIMP

Other comets of interest for 2017

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