2017 July 15/16: 2 Supernovae
This Saturday night promised to be a good opportunity to get the scope out and observe without worrying about being too tired the next morning. Astronomical twilight ended at 10:50pm and the moon would rise at about 12:30. In between, I decided to hunt down two fairly bright supernovae in spiral galaxies.
The night was decently transparent, and above average for summer. At midnight, I got a limiting magnitude of 6.9 near the zenith in Lyra. Seeing started out at about average and deteriorated a bit, resulting in blurry and wobbly views of Saturn. I also kept my magnification relatively low on the deep sky objects.
My first target was SN2017erp in NGC 5861 in Libra. I starhopped south from Beta Librae, passing the galaxy NGC 5885. NGC 5861 was immediately visible as a faint oval smudge at 114x, and the supernova was visible as well. The supernova popped in and out of direct vision, but I held it better when I increased the magnification to 165x. The supernova was about the same brightness as a nearby field star of magnitude 13.9, in line with current measurements.
NGC 5861 was oval, elongated NW-SE with a slightly brighter core and major axis, but no stellar nucleus. Overall, it was fairly dim but visible with direct vision. A fainter halo was visible with averted vision. Nearby galaxy NGC 5858 to the NW shared the same field at 165x. It was tiny but had high surface brightness, a stellar nucleus surrounded by a bit of bright fuzz. Sketch The other supernova, SN2017eaw, was high in the northeast in the large galaxy NGC 6946. I'm reasonably familiar with this galaxy, a spiral with low surface brightness in a rich starfield. When I put my scope on it, the supernova was visible at any magnification. SN2017eaw was about the same brightness or slightly brighter than the adjacent magnitude 13.1 field star. NGC 6946 is a compelling galaxy with lots of structure right at the limit of my 10" scope. I used 114x to frame the field and find the supernova, but the inner structure of the galaxy showed up much better at 165x. Features such as a faint knot in one arm, and a star just east of the nucleus, were only visible at the higher magnification. Sketch
An auroral display was possible, but didn't materialize at my site with a compromised northern horizon and imminent moonrise. I rounded out the early morning with casual observations of M8, M20, M17, M16, and the Veil and North America nebulae.
2017 April 22: Lyrid Meteors
I counted meteors for 3 hours on the morning of April 22nd. Skies were good with limiting magnitudes between 6.7 and 6.9. Meteor activity was about as expected: 34 Lyrids for an average of 11 per hour, 6 Antihelions and 15 sporadics. The highlight of the session was a Lyrid fireball of magnitude -6 that ended in a terminal burst in Ursa Major. This brilliant bluish meteor left a persistent train for about 30 seconds.
The Lyrids were bright on average with a mean magnitude of 1.8 (mean magnitude for the sporadics was 3.0 and for the Antihelions was 1.8). The final hour was marginally the most active with 15 Lyrids.
2017 April 3: 4 Comets in the Morning
I've been in a non-observing rut for a long time. Before this month, the last time I had my 10" Dob out was in September. I've either been too tired from work, or focused on other activities, or the weather hasn't cooperated. I finally dusted off the Dob (literally) a few days ago, and the promise of some "new" comets to observe in the morning sky spurred me to wake up during predawn hours, on a Monday no less.
My first target was Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak, fresh off its close approach to Earth. It was easily visible in my 10x42 binoculars near Alpha Draconis as a fuzzy patch among bright field stars. In the 10" Dob at 47x, it showed as a large, diffuse patch with a slightly squashed oval inner coma and a nonstellar central condensation. The brightness dropped off rapidly away from the center. The comet's eastward motion against the starry background was visible within a few minutes. When I attached the UltraBlock narrowband filter, this significantly increased the prominence of the outer coma and made a broad tailward extension (7' long in PA 260) more obvious. Total coma diameter was roughly 15'. Sketch.
Raising the power to 104x increased the detail visible in the inner coma and revealed a stellar pseudonucleus and better showed jets on each side of the central condensation that contributed to the oval appearance of the inner coma.
Next I turned to C/2015 V2 (Johnson), in Hercules. At an elevation of about 85 degrees, this comet was in Dobson's Hole, but also in a nice dark sky. It was visible as a faint fuzzy star in the binoculars, but looked like a classical comet when I turned the Dob on it. It had a round coma with a bright central condensation and stellar pseudonucleus, and an obvious tail about 10' in length in PA 300. Coma diameter was about 2.5'. A couple of faint streamers were visible in the tail. Sketch. Some clouds had passed through earlier in the night, and at first the eastern horizon didn't look promising. But by 5am when I turned my attention to Comet C/2017 E4 (Lovejoy), that area of the sky was clear. The comet was easily visible as a strongly condensed, compact object in binoculars. In the Dob at 104x, it was an oval object with high surface brightness and a prominent cyan hue. It had a bright central condensation and a bar-like structure along the major axis of the oval. I was unable to see the long tail visible in photos. Coma dimensions were about 4' x 2', with the coma elongated roughly N-S. Sketch. I was fighting twilight and trees to find my final comet of the morning, C/2015 ER61 (PANSTARRS). I needed to relocate the scope to clear trees, and then I still didn't get it in the right spot. The sky was brightening, and my field was partly obstructed by a carport, but the comet rose high enough that I was able to catch it at 104x as a faint, round fuzz, brighter in the center. Sketch.
2016 December 28: Comet 45P
I got a quick, rough view of 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova this evening from my yard. The comet was surprisingly easy in 10x42 binoculars despite deteriorating conditions. I also pulled out my old 60mm refractor and viewed it at 27x. The comet was moderately to strongly condensed (DC ~6), with a coma about 3' in diameter and magnitude ~7.5. I wasn't sure about a tail in binoculars; I didn't see a tail in the refractor.
2016 December 12 and 13: Casual Geminids
I got in a couple of short casual Geminid watches during cloud breaks. On the morning of December 12th, I watched for 13 minutes from 5:21-5:34am PDT and saw 4 Geminids, 1 Sigma Hydrid and 1 sporadic. On the morning of the 13th, I watched for 52 minutes from 5:00-5:52am PDT and saw 21 Geminids and 1 sporadic. I saw a couple of fireball-class Geminids on the 13th, both bright white with a violet tinge.
2015 January 23/24: Triple Shadow Transit on Jupiter
I got out at around 9pm PST (5:00 UT). My scope had been cooling for 90 minutes, but hadn’t reached equilibrium. Also, there was rapid small-scale scintillation. The shadows of Callisto and Io were readily visible on the roiling disc of Jupiter. Io itself was invisible. Viewing was most comfortable at 104x, and there was little if any fine detail visible on Jupiter.
I took a look at Comet Lovejoy (faded a bit, still naked eye, several degrees of bright tail). Transparency was mediocre and humidity was high. Air temperature was on its way to the upper 20’s (F).
At around 9:30pm, I came back to Jupiter and started a rough sketch. Seeing was still rough, but I used 165x and occasionally 208x to try to see as much detail as possible. I hoped to catch Io when it was partially eclipsed by Callisto’s shadow. I noticed a prominent (considering the conditions) projection/festoon from the southern edge of the North Equatorial Belt following the moon shadows. I included it in my sketch. With the poor seeing conditions, the shadows of Io and Callisto appeared merged for a number of minutes. At 9:48pm, I positively noted the appearance of Io as a dusky gray spot at the tip of the festoon. Io transformed the look of the festoon from a projection with a trailing component (presumably connected to an invisible Equatorial Band) to a pointed projection with a ball at its tip. Io darkened and became more prominent through 9:50pm before fading and becoming essentially invisible again a bit before 9:52pm. At the same time, Io’s shadow visibly started to pull ahead of Callisto’s shadow, although the two remained merged until 9:58pm.
The next big event during the transit was the occultation of Callisto’s shadow by Io. A broken cloud band moved through at around 10pm, and the remnants were still present during the beginning of the occultation. The changing obscuration made it difficult to judge the prominence of Callisto’s shadow from moment to moment. Callisto’s shadow had always been significantly more prominent than Io’s. By 10:17, I thought I could see a bit of attenuation in Callisto’s shadow. At 10:20:45pm, Callisto’s shadow appeared grayish and slightly less prominent than Io’s, but I didn’t see any internal detail. By 10:23:30pm, Callisto’s shadow was equal to Io’s, and by 10:24:20pm was clearly superior again. Overall, this was a very subtle event.
At 10:26, I could see the disc of Callisto as a dark spot in the southern section of the North Equatorial Belt on the following edge of Jupiter. At 10:28:40, Europa’s shadow started to impinge on the disc, completing the triple shadow assemblage. I sketched the view as seen at 10:43pm. At 10:53pm, I noted that Io’s shadow had left the disc. At 11:01, I could see Io proper as an intense white spot in the limb darkening on the preceding edge. Meanwhile, Europa proper was approaching the following limb. For a brief moment, bright satellites were touching each limb while three dark spots were on the disc. I made this the focus of my final sketch centered at 11:09pm. Afterwards, seeing finally improved to a solid average, and I spent some time digging out as much planetary detail as I could.
I viewed and sketched comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) through my 10x42 binoculars. The comet remained an easy naked-eye object, a "fuzzy star" of magnitude 3.8. I couldn't see a tail with the naked eye. In binoculars, the comet showed a 25' coma and a rather faint but obvious tail that stretched for at least 4 degrees in PA 75. The first 0.5 degree of tail was bright and prominent; the next 2 degrees were easy to see and showed some fine structure. After that, the tail was faint and diffuse, fading into the sky background.
The pseudonucleus was a bright stellar nugget at the center of a pale cyan inner coma. There were a couple of projections from the inner coma. One was at PA 100 and about 20' long, blending into the south edge of the tail. The other, broader and fainter, was in PA 345 and manifested as a brighter patch in the outer coma.
Fine linear structure was faintly visible in the tail, particularly in the brighter part near the coma and along the northern edge. I tried to capture this in my sketch.
2015 January 7/8
I went out for a little over an hour tonight (Wednesday evening) to catch C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) between evening twilight and moonrise. Skies were variable due to local wood stove smoke, but at the clearest I could see down to magnitude 6.7 in Taurus.
I had gotten a quick look at Lovejoy through 10x42 binoculars and with the naked eye Tuesday evening. I had noted its magnitude as about 4.1 naked eye (4.3 through binoculars). Coma diameter was large, maybe 25’ in binoculars, and a very faint, short tail was visible in binoculars. I didn’t do a detailed estimate tonight, but the comet looked a smidgen brighter.
Tonight, I concentrated on viewing the comet through my 10” Dob and making a sketch. The comet had a huge round coma with a diameter of maybe 20-25’ (difficult to determine where the coma faded into the sky background). The coma had a definite cyan tint. There was a bright stellar pseudonucleus at the center of the coma—this appeared to be about 9th-10th magnitude at 47x. The inner 5’ or so of the coma was bright and condensed, surrounded by a zone of moderate brightness out to a diameter of 10’ and then by a diffuse outer shell. A tail was faint but obvious in PA ~65. I tried to determine the tail length in binoculars and at several low powers in my Dob, and invariably lost it at about 1° from the center of the coma. Tail width was 5-10’. Some very faint, fleeting structure was visible in the tail at 36x and 47x in the Dob.
At low powers in the Dob, I also saw a broad, brighter extension of the coma from PA ~120-170. Maximum length of this was about 15-20’, so it was mostly superimposed on the coma. I suspect this is a dust fan, and it seemed to have a warmer color tint than the rest of the coma. A few of the photos that I’ve seen show hints of this feature; others do not, maybe because the coma is overexposed. I don’t think it is illusory, though.
I took a quick look at the area around the pseudonucleus at 104x just as the sky was deteriorating with the impending moonrise, and saw some subtle structure there as well.
2014 November 17/18
Monday evening, I braved the cold for a short evening session with my 10" Dob. Skies were mediocre with some local wood stove smoke and high clouds. Naked eye limiting magnitude was 6.3.
My main target was Comet C/2014 Q3 (Borisov). The comet was in Ursa Minor, not far from the star Eta UMi. I starhopped to the comet and found it extremely faint and diffuse, a hazy spot that kept nagging at my vision. The comet appeared to be about 6 arcminutes in diameter, fading into the sky background and essentially round. There was a very slight central condensation. I estimated the comet's magnitude as 10.5 and the degree of condensation as 2. The comet showed a moderate to strong response to my Orion UltraBlock filter (a narrowband nebula filter). With the filter, it was more obvious and better-defined. The comet's motion to the SSE was obvious after 30 minutes or so.
Sharing the low-power field was the little galaxy NGC 6412, just over the border in Draco. The galaxy was much smaller than the comet (diameter <2 arcminutes) and much more condensed. The galaxy was readily visible with direct vision, and more obvious than the comet. Using comparison stars, I estimated the galaxy's magnitude as 11.9. I really liked this combination of two objects where the smaller and "fainter" one was easier to see, so I had to sketch it. I printed out the Cartes du Ciel starfield and sketched the comet and galaxy on it.
2014 July 26/27
I did 1.5 hours of meteor observing, ending in morning twilight. Skies were slightly better than the previous morning. The first half-hour was amazingly productive with 22 meteors! Of course, it was immediately followed by a 15-minute drought. I saw a total of 50 meteors: 11 South Delta Aquarids, 9 Perseids, 5 Anthelions, 2 Alpha Capricornids and 23 sporadics.
I got out for a split evening/morning session. There wasn’t much smoke on the horizon, but the sky didn’t seem to be as dark or have as much contrast as normal. Limiting magnitude high in the sky ranged from 6.4-6.6. Seeing was average.
My first target was comet C/2013 UQ4 (Catalina). It was visible in my 10” Dob as a ghostly blur with little condensation. I got fleeting glimpses of a possible stellar nucleus. The comet seemed to fade in and out with direct vision. The comet responded modestly to the Orion UltraBlock filter - at 104x, the inner coma seemed more defined with the filter in place. Averted vision revealed a diffuse outer coma 7 arcminutes in diameter. The overall shape of the coma was round, but the slightly brighter inner portion seemed to expand to the SW. I estimated the comet’s magnitude at 12.0 in the 10” at 47x. Sketch.
I visited Seyfert’s Sextet (Hickson 79 or the NGC 6027 group) again. The group itself is easy as a fuzzy object at any power in the 10”. Using powers between 165x and 330x, I could make out 3 separate members with difficulty. Different sources give different designations to the members. The easiest one is often labeled as NGC 6027E. Just across from it is NGC 6027A. At times, NGC 6027 joined them in a triangle. The other members avoided detection. Even if seeing all the member galaxies is a long shot in a 10”, I’d like to try them on a night of pristine transparency at OSP and also look at them in a big scope.
A little more poking around and an extended tour of the Veil Nebula, and then I went in for a nap. At 2am, I did an hour’s meteor observing. I saw 18 meteors: 7 South Delta Aquarids, 7 sporadics, 3 Perseids and an Anthelion. Better transparency would likely have increased my total significantly. There were nice bright meteors from both active showers, but no fireballs.
I set the scope back up and took an extended look at M33. The big galaxy showed awesome structure, best at 165x even as it spilled out of the field. I verified that I could see the four superimposed NGC knots (604, 595, 592, and 588) and also picked out some of the IC objects. Obviously, if the weather cooperates at the Oregon Star Party, I will do a detailed sketch.
My real target of the morning was comet C/2014 E2 (Jacques). The comet, just 9 arcminutes NE of 5th-magnitude star 14 Aurigae, was obvious in 10x42 binoculars and looked like a very condensed globular cluster (similar to NGC 1851 in Columba). The 4.5-arcminute coma was bright and evenly-illuminated in the binoculars.
In the 10”, the coma at first appeared round with a bright nonstellar central condensation surrounded by a brilliant inner coma and gradually-fading outer coma. The coma diameter as seen through the scope at 165x was 3 arcminutes. As the comet gained altitude and I gave it extended attention, the coma looked more fan-shaped with a wispy tail to the W (ion tail?) and a short, broad elongation to the S (dust tail?). At 47x, I could trace the ion tail for about 10 arcminutes. A couple of jets were visible in the inner coma. The comet’s motion to the NW was obvious over 20 minutes as it passed by an 11th-magnitude star. Sketch.
June 28/29: A Long Session
On Saturday night/Sunday morning, I went out for a “long session”. I spent about 4 hours observing. My first target was the recently-discovered supernova (SN 2014bv) in NGC 4386 in Draco. There are quite a few middling galaxies in the area. NGC 4386 has a bright center and fuzzy rounded inner region. The oval disc is broadly elongated NW-SE. The SE half of the disc is brighter and more defined. The galaxy fades sharply along its NE edge, leaving a dark gap between the edge and SN 2014bv. The supernova competes with the galaxy’s nuclear region as far as brightness. Sketch.
While in the area, I looked at other galaxies including the very nearby NGC 4291 and 4319. I gave a shot at the quasar Markarian 205 near NGC 4319, but I couldn’t pull it out though I’ve seen it before. Seeing was decidedly below average, and transparency was decent but not pristine (limiting magnitude about 6.6 at the zenith). There was a lot of moisture in the air. Other galaxies I stopped at were NGCs 4133, 4589, 4648, and 4750. All of these are easy 11th-12th magnitude objects with little detail visible.
Summer observing means I’m thinking about the Oregon Star Party coming up in August. The advanced observing list this year is a “pick 10” from a variety of objects, some of which are well beyond my reach with a 10” scope. Others are borderline, and a few are straightforward. The NGC objects embedded in M101 are on the list. I didn’t really tackle them tonight, but I took a quick look at the big galaxy and saw a few of the prominent star clouds. I also poked around the galaxies within a few fields of M101 while I was in the area.
Also on the advanced list is the planetary nebula M 2-9, or Minkowski’s Butterfly. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I hopped to this one, but it was actually visible as a faint elongated haze with a bright center. Despite the mediocre seeing, I pumped the power up to 330x and could see a strongly elongate shape with a stellar center. The OIII filter did nothing to enhance the nebula. I made a quick sketch. This one is easy and interesting enough that I will probably dedicate some real observing time to it at OSP.
Another object on the OSP advanced list is Seyfert’s Sextet, with the stipulation that at least 5 of the 6 component galaxies need to be identified. I remember looking at this once or twice before in my 10”. It’s a bit of a confused mess, relatively easy to see as an irregular lumpy blob but hard to get a handle on what’s what. I would definitely want a much better sky to try to make sense of this one.
After seeing a post on Cloudy Nights, I printed out the finder chart for the blazar 3C 454.3. Normally around 17th magnitude, this quasar has recently been in outburst to magnitude 14 or brighter. The blazar sits just 15” from a 13th-magnitude star. It was easy enough to find, and sure enough I saw the faint double star. The blazar seemed a bit fainter with softer light than its line-of-sight companion. Of course, at these low light levels, no color was visible. After some showpiece observing and a little break, I tackled my only cometary target of the session. C/2013 UQ4 (Catalina) was in Andromeda near the borders of Pisces and Pegasus. This comet is brightening and moving to the NW at a good clip. It was easily visible at all powers in my 10” Dob. Catalina featured a relatively large, round coma about 3’ across and gradually fading out at the edges. There was a stellar pseudonucleus and bright inner coma offset to the east. The inner coma was elongated toward the west. I estimated the comet’s magnitude as 11.0. An Orion UltraBlock filter improved the contrast and visibility of the outer parts of the coma at low powers. The comet’s motion was noticeable minute-to-minute, especially as the coma separated from a 14th-magnitude star. Sketch.
2014 June 21/22: A Short Session
My schedule has been such (isn't it like this every spring?) that I let three months go by without getting the Dob out. Now evening twilight lasts until after 11pm, so staying up to observe is a bear. Even though I wasn't at my best, I threw in what I used to call a "short session" (1.5 hours) on Saturday night.
My first target was the comet C/2012 K1 (PANSTARRS). On New Year's Day, the last time I saw this comet, it was a very faint morning object. Tonight, it was a bright evening comet, visible in my 10x42 binoculars, but also swiftly approaching the trees to my west as the sky was getting dark. I managed a hurried sketch.
The coma was bright, strongly condensed, and slightly bluish. The comet was sandwiched between two bright field stars of 9th and 10th magnitude. Its inner coma was parabolic with a small, essentially stellar central condensation. The diffuse, rapidly-fading outer coma was about 2.5' in diameter. There was a hint of a very faint eastward-pointing tail about 12 arcminutes in length.
After that, I mainly poked around showpieces, as I normally do when I'm shaking the rust off. Skies were excellent overhead but a bit murky near the horizon. Seeing was unimpressive. Some of the non-M objects I swept up included the little planetary NGC 6891 in Delphinus (small with a bright central star and two blue shells) and three galaxies in Draco (NGC 6503, NGC 6340 and NGC 6643).
May 5/6: Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
I woke up to clear skies on the morning of May 6th. As I was setting up at 3:15am PDT (10:15 UT), I saw a magnitude +2 Eta Aquarid earthgrazer, which I took to be a good sign. I observed from 10:22-11:45 UT, and saw a smattering of Eta Aquarids against a fairly rich sporadic background. Unfortunately, the shower was not nearly as active as it was in 2013 (but I had better success than most of my past Eta Aquarid attempts). I live at latitude 42.6 N, so this shower is always a pretty marginal event.
In 1.2 hours Teff, I saw 11 Eta Aquarids (mean magnitude +1.5) and 10 sporadics (mean magnitude +2.5). Skies were decent, with a limiting magnitude of 6.8 at the beginning of the watch. Twilight gradually took its toll. Limiting magnitude was still 5.7 at the end of the watch, but I saw no meteors during the last 15 minutes.
The Eta Aquarids were fast, typically with wakes and short trains. The best of the morning was a long-pathed –3. I didn’t see much color in the Eta Aquarids.
2014 February 17
With a small window between twilight and moonrise, I went out to see and sketch Supernova 2014J in M82. Skies were OK; a bit moist with a few high clouds. Still, the galaxy was very impressive as usual, and didn't suffer much even when the moon was lighting up the eastern sky. The supernova was at about magnitude 11.5. I didn't see any color in it. My sketch was a bit hurried, but should communicate my impression.
I also took a quick look at Jupiter. Seeing was below average, but Europa's shadow was on the disc and I could occasionally just make out the Great Red Spot as it neared the edge.
2014 January 1
I did a morning session to sketch the three comets that I viewed on December 29th. I started with C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy). The comet was a faint naked-eye object of about magnitude 5.8. In binoculars and at low power in my 10" Dob, one degree of bright tail was visible, plus another degree or so of very faint tail in PA 335 degrees. The coma was about 5' in diameter and dominated by a bright stellar nucleus with two broad "wings" projecting from its sides and sweeping tailward. The western side of the tail was brighter with more structure; the eastern was more diffuse. Sketch. C/2012 K1 (PANSTARRS) was on the threshold of direct vision and popped out with averted vision. A condensed coma 1' in diameter with a bright nonstellar core was bracketed by several 14th-magnitude stars. The coma appeared to be slightly elongated E-W. Sketch. C/2012 X1 (LINEAR) was a bright 9th-magnitude object. It formed an isosceles triangle with 9th- and 11th-magnitude field stars, although the symmetry was soon disrupted by the comet's noticeable motion to the southeast. The coma was round and about 3' in diameter with a stellar nucleus offset to the southeast. A bright core was surrounded by a faint envelope. There was subtle asymmetry in the coma, with the core being brighter on the north side and a couple of projections to the south and east. A short tail, brighter in the center, projected about 3.5' in PA 310. Sketch.
2013 December 28/29
I planned a split session where I would observe some deep-sky objects and Jupiter during the late evening and then get up before dawn to see comets. The evening session was pretty much just poking around. Transparency was good and the air fairly dry. I hit stuff like M42-43, M78, and the Flame and Horsehead. After the Horsehead, I swept up some other H-beta filter objects such as IC 2177, IC 405 and Sh2-235, but I didn't do any sketches or note-taking. I swept through a bunch of galaxies in western Ursa Major as well, and visited NGC 2403. It was cold enough to be a bit uncomfortable. Seeing was initially pretty bad, but by midnight it calmed down enough for me to see Europa's shadow ingress onto the globe of Jupiter and catch the beginning of the transit by Europa itself. There were a couple of bluish, looping "garlands" on the southern edge of Jupiter's Northern Equatorial Belt, although overall detail was a bit muted.
In the morning, I wanted to observe three comets--C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy), C/2012 X1 (LINEAR), and maybe C/2012 K1 (PANSTARRS). I got up at 4am, knowing the moon would be up by 4:30 and might be an issue even though it was a thin crescent. Comet Lovejoy was about magnitude 5.7 and near the edge of naked-eye visibility at its low elevation. A couple of degrees of tail were visible in 10x42 binoculars and in my Dob at 47x.
I passed by C/2012 X1 on my way to the fainter C/2012 K1, intending to come back later. C/2012 K1 was allegedly magnitude 13 or fainter, so I didn't know whether I would see it. It was only a little over a degree away from the bright C/2012 X1, so I thought I would try. At 104x and 165x, I was able to pull a small, fuzzy spot out of the sky background, next to a 14.7-magnitude star. As I was making a confirmatory sketch, the sky conditions deteriorated. Unpredicted high clouds moved in and stayed for the rest of they day.
2013 December 25
Weather recently has been mostly clear (except around the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, which was clouded out) but frigid. Early December saw 16" of snow fall in about 24 hours, followed by temperatures dipping to 20 below zero. As a result, I haven't been out with the scope. I finally made it out on Christmas evening. Winter evenings here aren't great for transparency (wood stove smoke) or seeing (rapidly-falling temperatures), but this one was better than most. Limiting magnitude reached 6.8, but was variable. Jupiter often wore a hazy halo. Seeing was a bit nervous, Antoniadi IV or sometimes III.
I started out with the Crab Nebula, and enjoyed the subtle shape and detail in this old favorite. I thought it looked best at 208x with no filter. I poked around a few other bright winter sights and decided that the air wasn't transparent or dry enough for faint diffuse nebulae. I went after faint, condensed comets instead.
C/2011 J2 (LINEAR) was near Polaris. This comet was reportedly around 13th magnitude. I thought I saw a milky spot at the comet's position at 47x. 104x revealed a faint, very condensed coma right next to a 14th-magnitude field star. I decided to wait to sketch the comet until an hour or so later, when its motion would separate it from the star.
290P/Jager was in eastern Auriga not far from the homely little open cluster NGC 2281. I glimpsed the comet at 47x, but it was better-seen at higher powers. I rated its visibility at 165 as AV1 or AV2 on the averted vision scale (possibly glimpsed occasionally with direct vision). The coma was small and round (about 1' in diameter), and condensed in the middle. I thought there might be a stellar nucleus displaced a bit to the north of center. I estimated the comet's magnitude as 12.9. Sketch. Returning to C/2011 J2, I initially had a hard time seeing it. When I did see it (at the AV3 averted vision level), it popped out as a very small and condensed, round, nonstellar core with a silvery hue and possible elongation to the NE. The coma diameter was only about 30' or so. I didn't do a formal magnitude estimate, but something around 13.5 would be about right. Sketch.
November 29: Brewington, Nevski, and Lovejoy
After watching ISON's not-quite-demise play out on the web, I decided to go out and look at the comets I could actually see. I started in the evening with Comet 154P/Brewington, well-placed in Pegasus. The Clear Sky Clock had predicted average transparency, but conditions were actually very good. The Zodiacal Band was faintly visible from Taurus to Pisces.
I hopped to Brewington at 47x in my 10" Dob, and was a bit annoyed at finding the coma overlaying a 12th-magnitude field star. I poked around some DSOs for an hour or so (M33 looked really nice at 104x) while I waited for the center of the comet to move eastward from the star a bit.
Brewington was a bit easier to see than in October, but is still a faint, mostly diffuse object. At low power, the outer coma responded well to my Orion UltraBlock filter. The coma was about 5' in diameter and round, although harder to see on the western edge where the field star interfered. At 104x, the comet showed a small central condensation about 1.5' x 1' and elongated N-S. At the edge of averted vision, the condensation appeared parabolic, opening to the east. The condensation was slightly brighter in the middle, but I didn't see anything stellar in there. Sketch. I retired for the evening, put the Dob in my car, and got up at 3am to go after more comets. I hadn't seen C/2013 V3 (Nevski) yet, so after a quick naked-eye and binocular look at C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) I sought out this newer comet in Leo. I swept into the field and said to myself: "Wow, that's a diffuse mess." Nevski, also near a field star looked a lot like Brewington--a little smaller, a little brighter overall, but even less condensed. The UltraBlock filter didn't help with Nevski, and I could see as much of the coma at high powers as at low ones. Nevski was about 4' in diameter and essentially round. With effort at 104x and especially at 165x I could see a vague, slightly brighter condensation displaced a bit to the NW of center. There were several threshold stars in the coma that confused matters. In fact, the whole star field was surprisingly rich for this area of the sky. Sketch.
A meteor (maybe 5th or 6th magnitude) streaked from east to west across my 104x field at 3:52am and left a faint, glowing wake that lasted a second or so.
After I finished my Nevski sketch, I estimated the limiting magnitude using a couple of International Meteor Organization star count areas, and got 7.1 and 7.3. That's better than I've ever gotten from my yard. Unfortunately, things went downhill pretty quickly as even the 16%-illuminated moon made a dent when it cleared the trees. I think some thin clouds moved in as well.
I looked at Jupiter. Seeing was just fair, but a lot better than it has been recently. Ganymede's shadow was obvious against the disc.
Comet Lovejoy was an easy naked-eye fuzzy star with a hint of tail visible. I estimated its magnitude at 4.4. The comet formed a naked-eye double with a star of magnitude 6.4.
In 10x42 binoculars, it looked much the same as 5 days ago, with a bright coma and a tail that was obvious for about 3 degrees and could be traced with difficulty for another degree or so. The tail looked like a bit fainter and less detailed than on the 24th.
In my 10" Dob at 47x ... wow! A stellar pseudonucleus in a slightly bluish inner coma surrounded by a gray outer coma, with a tail looking like a gray contrail against the black sky and spreading out gradually as I traced it over three fields of view.
At higher powers, the inner coma continued to be full of subtle detail. The central condensation appeared wedge-shaped with a bright center and several jets projecting. The bluish color of the coma seemed more subdued this morning. Sketch.
I took a quick look at C/2012 X1 (LINEAR), but the crescent moon was reasonably close and twilight was encroaching. The view hadn't really improved over 5 days ago.
November 23/24: Lovejoy and LINEAR
With ISON now lost to the dawn, I got up early on November 24th to sketch Comet Lovejoy through binoculars and then set up the Dob to look at Lovejoy and C/2012 X1 (LINEAR).
Despite moonlight, Lovejoy remained an easy naked-eye object. A tail was obvious in binoculars for about 3 degrees, then faded but could be traced with difficulty for another degree or so. This morning, the tail appeared to be two-branched. The galaxy M63 was visible in the same binocular field. Binocular Sketch. The coma was slightly bluish with a stellar nucleus, and appeared diffuse on the southern side with the suggestion of a short dust fan. All of these characteristics were more obvious in the telescope. Telescopic Sketch. The comet's motion was pretty fast--the star in the coma west of the nucleus was northeast of the nucleus 10 minutes earlier. The jets in the coma are a bit exaggerated on the sketch, and I concentrated on the inner coma so the tail is just roughed in. There appeared to be a short, broad dust fan to the east-northeast of the nucleus (toward the top of the sketch) that made an obtuse angle to the main tail extending to the northwest. Comet C/2012 X1 (LINEAR) was lower in the sky, and the 62%-illuminated moon took a bit of a toll on it. It was still easy to find as a fuzzy spot at low power in the 10" Dob. Higher powers revealed a small, bright nucleus and a parabolic inner coma that was brighter on the south side and opened toward the north. A fainter round shell about 3.5' in diameter was at the edge of visibility. Sketch.
November 21-23: Lovejoy and ISON
With news of ISON brightening, I went out on the morning of November 21st. I drove to a park with a decent eastern horizon and got there at around 5:20am. I was away from home with only my 10x42 binoculars on hand. Comet Lovejoy was an easy target in the binox, and in fact an easy naked-eye object even in moonlight. Limiting magnitude was 5.7, and I'd estimate Lovejoy's magnitude as around 4.9. The coma was large and fuzzy (10-15' in diameter?), condensed in the center but with no stellar nucleus visible at 10x. 1 degree of rather bright tail was visible, and beyond that another degree faintly visible.
ISON was in low clouds near the horizon to the upper right of Mercury. When I first saw it in the binox, it was quite starlike with a hint of tail. It was strongly reddened at low altitude, but as it rose the still-stellar coma took on an icy-cold green tint. A rather thin, faint tail stretched out for a couple of degrees, and seemed brighter on the SE side. I never was positive that I could see ISON with my naked eye. ISON Sketch. I visited the same park on November 22nd and 23rd, with an eye toward taking some quick shots of ISON. I had decent success on November 22nd. ISON Photo. Ison was to the right of Mercury, with the frozen Lost River in the foreground. In the photo, Saturn is buried in the twilight glow to the lower left of Mercury. On the 23rd, ISON was at about the same altitude as Saturn, but to the lower right of Mercury. The comet, at roughly magnitude 4, didn't brighten appreciably, and I didn't see it with binoculars on the 23rd despite good conditions. It did turn up as a very faint elongated fuzz in photos I took on the 23rd, but nothing to write home about.
November 8/9: Binocular Comets
I spent a couple of weeks away from home and away from my scope. I wasn't feeling very good this morning and woke up to clear skies. I was staying in Klamath Falls, and in the past I have been quite unimpressed by sky conditions at in-town star parties at the Klamath County Museum. But here, maybe a dozen blocks away and a bit uphill, skies were actually pretty good. When my eyes were dark-adapted, I got a limiting magnitude of 6.4 in Ursa Major.
My first binocular target was C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy). I swept it up to the east of the Beehive. Wow! This comet was bright in binoculars. I suspected that I would be able to see it with the naked eye, and I did after my eyes were dark-adapted. I estimated Lovejoy's magnitude as 5.3. The comet had a fuzzy coma with a bright center. The coma appeared about 8' in diameter and a bit squashed, with a diffuse eastern edge and a tail 15-20' in length extending to the west.
I decided to go back to bed and get up when I might have a chance to view Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) and C/2012 X1 (LINEAR). The problem with ISON was that it was behind trees, but eventually it cleared them and I saw a faint, elongated fuzzy patch. The coma was small, maybe 2' in diameter. A very short tail about 8' in length pointed westward. I estimated ISON's magnitude as 7.6.
In the brightening twilight, I also looked for C/2012 X1 (LINEAR) and managed to just glimpse it as a very small, round hazy spot.
November 1/2: Comet Brewington
I viewed 154P/Brewington again. Skies weren't great (Friday night football lights and some wood stove smoke), but limiting magnitude was 6.6 up in Pegasus and the comet (near Alpha Aquarii) was high enough to be above the worst of it.
In my 10" Dob, the inner part of the coma was visible with direct vision at 47x. This was just a small (<1' diameter) smudge close to a 14th-magnitude field star. With averted vision, a very diffuse outer coma stretched to about 3' in diameter. At higher powers, there was a faint stellar nucleus of about magnitude 14.3, and the inner coma appeared slightly elongated E-W. Overall, the comet was round, and I estimated its total magnitude as 11.4. The comet's motion toward the NE was evident after 10-15 minutes. Sketch.
October 15: Morning Comets Again
I observed between moonset and twilight on the morning of October 15. It was 23 degrees F, but felt a lot colder. Limiting magnitude was 6.8-6.9 overhead, but there was a slight milky look lower on the horizon, and patches of river fog sometimes drifted by down at ISON's altitude. The zodiacal light was very bright just before the start of astronomical twilight.
I went for C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) first, as it was in a more transparent area of the sky. It was a quick and easy starhop from Delta Monocerotis, and obvious in my 10" Dob at all powers. Lovejoy seemed a bit less condensed (DC=3 with a very faint stellar nucleus) than it did 10 days ago. There was a parabolic inner coma about 1.5' across, brighter on the edges and spreading into a short, broad fan in PA~300. This was surrounded by a large, diffuse halo that was round and about 5' in diameter as seen through the 10" Dob. I estimated Lovejoy's magnitude at 10.0. Sketch.
I also managed to see Lovejoy through 10x42 binoculars. It was just a very faint hazy spot perhaps 9' in diameter. With binoculars, I estimated the magnitude as 9.0.
Comet 2P/Encke has also changed since my last observation. It has gotten quite a bit brighter and a little more condensed. Encke was quite easy in 10x42 binoculars, appearing as a round little blob about 10' in diameter with soft edges and a slightly brighter center. I estimated its magnitude as 8.1.
In the 10" Dob at 47x, Encke showed a small central condensation near the western edge of a slightly lopsided coma. Several faint jets curved out to form a fan to the east, including a central spine about 7' long in PA~80. The longer I looked, the more prominent the jets appeared against the faint glow of the coma. Rough Sketch. Once again, I saved C/2012 S1 (ISON) for last. After a starhop from Mars, I found the comet in a sparse telescopic star field. The comet was near the center of a misshapen pentagon of 10th-magnitude stars. ISON has grown and brightened in the past 10 days, and this morning I was able to see a stellar nucleus for the first time. At 47x, I estimated the coma diameter as 4' and the tail length as 10' centered in PA 290. Coma magnitude was 10.0. At 165x, the tail was brighter along the central spine and on its southern edge. I was not able to see ISON in binoculars. Sketch.
October 5/6: 3 Evening Comets
After my morning session with three comets, I decided to focus on comets the following evening as well. The temperature stayed above freezing. Skies were average for this site; I estimated the limiting magnitude as 6.7 in Pegasus at the end of the session. I had said a conditional farewell to C/2012 F6 (Lemmon) in September, but the comet has remained bright enough to view in my 10" Dob. Not too far from the head of Draco, it also remains well-placed in the sky. At 47x, I immediately swept it up as a small fuzzy spot in a confusion of stars. At 165x, the comet was attractively placed a couple of arcminutes from a pair of 14th-magnitude stars. The comet was about 2' in diameter and maybe slightly elongated E-W. It was moderately condensed, but without a stellar nucleus. The coma magnitude was 12.3. Sketch. My second comet was also a "hanger-on", C/2010 S1 (LINEAR). This comet has remained pretty consistent in appearance. This is a small, compact object that responds well to magnification. I starhopped from the Coathanger to this one. At 165x, I could see the comet as a round fuzz adjacent to several stars. I bumped the power up to 330x for my sketch. The comet is strongly condensed, although I didn't detect a stellar nucleus. With extended averted vision, I could trace the coma out to a diameter of about 45 arcseconds. There appeared to be a diffuse elongation to the SE. I neglected to make a magnitude estimate, but 12.5-13 would be a good bet. Sketch. Finally, I got to see something new: Comet 154P/Brewington in Aquarius. At 47x, I could barely tell that there was a ghostly, poorly-condensed haze in the field. 94x was a better power. Brewington's coma responded to a narrowband nebula filter, but not as strongly as 2P/Encke's. Brewington's coma was 3' in diameter and nearly round. The inner 1' of coma was slightly brighter and seemed to be better defined on its eastern edge. I estimated Brewington's magnitude as 11.8. Sketch.
2013 October 4/5: 3 Morning Comets
I left my 10" Dob on the deck to cool off overnight. I got up before 3am to check out 3 comets in the morning sky. The air was cold, but transparency was pretty good (limiting magnitude probably around 6.8 overhead).
My first target was 2P/Encke in Lynx. I previously saw this comet in 1994 and 2003. Once I starhopped to it at 47x, Encke was an obvious fuzzball at all magnifications. The surrounding star field was very pretty with a couple of bright star chains. The comet's eastward motion was obvious within a few minutes.
Encke showed a coma about 5' in diameter, round or diffusely elongated a bit to the NE. A small, fairly weak central condensation was displaced to the west of the coma's center. A narrowband filter (Orion UltraBlock) made the outer coma better-defined, although it did not reveal any additional detail or extent. I estimated the coma magnitude as 10.0. Sketch. C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) was a quick starhop from Beta Monocerotis, although I noticed my Telrad was beginning to frost up. Lovejoy was also an easy object from the get-go. Its coma was smaller but more condensed than Encke's. A 12th-magnitude star was embedded in the coma, and the comet's motion brought the coma's center ever closer to the star. My impression was of a triangular central condensation with a stellar nucleus. Overall, the coma was about 2' x 2.5' and elongated in PA 270. I didn't try a magnitude estimate due to interference from the star. Sketch. Finally, there was (will it or won't it disintegrate) C/2012 S1 (ISON). ISON was buried in the bright zodiacal light near Mars, and the sky background was disappointingly bright. Seeing wasn't good at 20-30 degrees altitude, either, as Mars was twinkling to the naked eye. Nevertheless, ISON was an obvious elongated smudge at 47x, and much easier than when I last observed it on September 11th. I switched to 165x for a sketch, but had persistent problems with eyepiece fogging in the 24 degree (F) air. ISON had an inner coma about 1' in diameter, with a possible outer envelope about double this. The coma appeared more condensed at low power, but with no stellar nucleus. A faint tail extended for 3.5' in PA 295. I estimated ISON's magnitude as 11.1, compared to 11.8 back on September 11th. Sketch.
2013 September 9/10 and 10/11: Hello, ISON
I went after ISON on the morning of September 10th. There was a little bit of scuzz (residual forest fire smoke) around the horizon, but ISON was well above it by 5am. The zodiacal light did brighten the sky a bit. Zenith limiting magnitude was 7.0.
I starhopped to the field from the Beehive at low power and since there were only a few minutes of astronomical darkness remaining I went right to my 7mm Nagler (165x). I probably should have used 76x instead, but I wanted to darken the background as much as possible and I expected ISON to be small and condensed and possibly in need of higher magnification to be revealed as nonstellar.
The seeing was a bit nervous, but not too bad considering the low elevation (15-20 degrees). My finder chart (printed from Cartes du Ciel) wasn't too precise, so I stumbled around the field a bit. A magnitude 14 field star caught my eye first as looking a bit nebulous (later, back at the computer I saw that it was double, which probably contributed to that effect). After a few minutes, I picked up ISON as a ghostly smudge that was larger than I expected (about 1.5' in diameter). The comet was just a couple of arcminutes WSW of a magnitude 11.5 star.
I followed ISON for about 20 minutes before twilight blotted it out. The comet appeared slightly elongated to the NW (PA 290), pointing toward a field star of magnitude 14.5. The coma seemed just slightly brighter in the middle, with no definite nucleus (the mediocre seeing may have affected my impression). Sketch.
On September 11th, I also viewed the comet. It appeared much as the previous morning. I estimated its magnitude at 11.8, and its size as 2' x 1.5' elongated in PA 300.
2013 September 7/8 and 9/10: Goodbye PANSTARRS, Farewell Lemmon
I observed these two past-their-prime comets on two evenings during my stay at a dark-sky site. I sketched them on the evening of September 7th and then estimated magnitudes and sizes on the evening of September 9th. Limiting magnitude was good on both nights, 7.0-7.1 high in the sky.
When I first starhopped to C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) in northern Bootes, I thought I saw a faint fuzz at 47x. I didn't pay much attention and bumped the power up to 165x, which usually is a good power for small comets. I didn't see much at 165x, but when I pulled back to 76x, PANSTARRS jumped out at me as a diffuse patch ~2 arcminutes in diameter and slightly elongated in PA 285. There was a very weak central condensation that was difficult to see at higher power. Viewing for an extended period really paid off by bringing out more of the faint outer coma. Total coma magnitude was roughly 12, but the comet was a fairly difficult object. Sketch. C/2012 F6 (Lemmon) was much easier, more condensed, and obvious at all magnifications. Two stars of 13th and 14th magnitude stood 0.5' and 1' away from the central condensation. The comet had a broad parabolic coma about 1.5' x 2' and elongated to the NE. A faint stellar nucleus was visible at 165x. I estimated Lemmon's magnitude at 11.5. Sketch.
2013 August 12/13: Perseid Meteor Shower
Since the Perseids were the most strongly-favored shower peak in this bad year for meteor showers, I was disappointed to log a measly 2.7 hours of official observing time. Work, weather, family obligations and the Oregon Star Party all contributed. I tried a watch on the morning of the 11th at OSP, but clouds soon rendered it useless. I had to pick up my aunt at the train station on the evening of the 11th, and between the lack of sleep I got during OSP and the impending work week I was in no condition to observe on the morning of the 12th.
So, I settled for a session on the morning of August 13th. Looking at the data from other observers, the 12th was definitely the best morning for the Western US. Perseid rates were definitely far removed from their peak by the time I got set up at 1:11am, and over 2.7 hours of observing time I saw 111 Perseids for an average of 41/hour. 42 other meteors including some long-pathed Alpha Capricornids and Eta Eridanids added to the display. For brief spurts, especially around 3:00am, the Perseids were really exciting, but there were also some devastating lulls.
The brightest meteor I saw was a -4 Perseid that had a bright head but left a train that only lasted for a couple of seconds. Other notable meteors included a magnitude 0 Perseid that showed violet and orange tints, a magnitude 1 Perseid that was strongly orange, a magnitude 2 Alpha Capricornid that was red and nebulous, and a magnitude 0 earthgrazing sporadic that left a train visible for 5 seconds. Overall, the Perseids were of about normal brightness, with an average magnitude of +2.0. Sporadics were faint at a mean magnitude of +3.3.
There was a bit of smoke early on, but it quickly dissipated in a mild breeze. Limiting magnitude was as good as 6.9 at the zenith, and hovered around 6.7 for most of the session.
I had originally planned to view Supernova 2013dy in NGC 7250 a week ago, but smoke from the Whiskey and Douglas Complex fires made me cancel that session. Unfortunately, the smoke has persisted. August 3rd was the first reasonably decent evening we've had since the smoke first blew in. Smoke was still in evidence, especially in the light-polluted areas within 30-50 degrees of the horizon. Above that, the skies weren't too bad. I actually reached a limiting magnitude of 6.9 overhead, above average for my yard. However, that was achieved when I was fully dark adapted and had been viewing faint objects through the telescope for over an hour. In the 10" Dob, I made it down to magnitude 15.7 around M57, but with more difficulty than on July 12/13, and the central star was not visible. Seeing was decent, maybe a bit better than average. In any case, this was an important shakedown session before next week's Oregon Star Party.
I quickly star-hopped from the naked-eye star HR8485 to the faint galaxy pair NGC 7248 and NGC 7250. The two galaxies are separated by about 17', so I had visions of sketching them together. However, they are so small and indistinct that they are swallowed up by a wide field of view and only worth detailed examination at high magnification. The 13th-magnitude supernova in NGC 7250 was readily apparent at any magnification; however, the galaxy itself was tiny and diffuse. It did respond well when I pushed the power to 330x and spent some time sketching the sparse star field surrounding it while at the same time taking in the galaxy's subtle structure with averted vision. The galaxy's most prominent feature was a brighter core about 1/4 of the way between the supernova on the north and an 11th-magnitude field star to the south, and displaced a bit to the west of this line. The core was small, round and quite condensed. A mottled streak of light projected south of the core for about 45", and occasionally I could detect a very faint oblong halo surrounding this. North of the core, the galaxy was fainter and seemed to stop short of the supernova, although at the very limit of my vision I could occasionally detect a projection hooking around to the west of the supernova. Sketch. NGC 7248 was actually a slightly easier target, but with very little detail visible. It showed a round core with a stellar nucleus, and with averted vision I could make out a very faint elliptical halo about 1' x 0.75' elongated NW-SE. Sketch.
I planned this night as a make-up session for my clouded-out attempt at some planetary nebulae around Aquila. I wasn't too impressed with the sky conditions at first. The Milky Way lacked the contrast that it has on really good nights, and my naked-eye limit was magnitude 6.7 (at or just below average for my yard on summer evenings). On the positive side, the atmosphere was pretty steady.
I sketched a couple of the planetaries. NGC 6852 is a medium-sized and faint planetary sandwiched between a couple of faint stars. It appears as a faint oval spot at medium powers. My OIII filter made everything too dim at higher powers, so I settled for the Orion UltraBlock filter at 230x. With this configuration, the faint star just to the SSE of the nebula seemed to alternately merge with and separate from the disc. NGC 6852 seemed more or less round or with a slight NW-SE elongation. A couple of brighter spots were visible on the NW and NE edges, and the rim seemed a bit better defined on the SE edge. The interior seemed irregularly darker. Sketch. NGC 6781 is an old favorite, so I was surprised it wasn't included in my list of objects that I have sketched through the 10" Dob. This large planetary appears perfectly round. Unlike NGC 6852, this one takes high power and the OIII filter well. Detail is subtle, but repays extended gazing. The rim still appears perfectly round and well-defined, but the southern half is broadly brighter with some mottling leading to a helmet effect. The center of the nebula and the north part of the rim are dimmer. A faint star almost touches the rim on the NE side. The starfield is suppressed by the OIII filter, but is intimidatingly rich when the filter is removed. Sketch.
After these planetaries, I went to the Ring Nebula. I was very surprised to catch a quick glimpse of the central star at 330x. I could see stars to at least magnitude 15.7 around the Ring, and I didn't have my chart that showed fainter stars. It's possible I could have dug out the magnitude 16.1 star if I knew its location. The central star remained an AV4 object (visible only with averted vision, and substantially less than 50% of the time). I tried for IC 1296, the very faint galaxy near the Ring, and initially came up empty. In darker skies, I have found this galaxy surprisingly visible in my 10" at high power. Eventually, I managed to come up with it as a small fuzzy spot at the AV3-AV4 level.
Emboldened by these results, I decided to check in on a few of the objects on this year's Oregon Star Party advanced list of dwarf galaxies and large planetary nebulae. I observed the following:
* PK 59-18.1 (Abell 72). I think I've looked at this faint planetary in Delphinus before. The main issue is a scattering of stars around the planetary that make it difficult to pick out the faint haze. One segment of the disk shows up better than the others. Surprisingly, filters didn't seem to help much on this one.
* UGC 11557 in Cepheus. I don't think I've looked at this faint galaxy before. It isn't much, but it's visible and looks a lot like ... a faint galaxy!
* PK 104-29.1 (Jones 1). I've sketched this large planetary before. It appears very washed-out and low-contrast (but still visible) without a filter, but the OIII filter brings out a lot of detail.
* PK 72-17.1 (Abell 74). I've certainly missed this huge and very faint planetary before, even under very good skies. But I tried it anyway and could make out a very faint glow with an OIII filter in place. I think I was only seeing about a third of its circumference (apparently a brighter portion). I didn't sketch it as I was about at my limit, but I certainly closed the book on this session looking forward to a showdown with this object at OSP if the skies cooperate.
July 5/6: Comets PANSTARRS and Lemmon
I spent a bit of time playing around with viewing familiar objects such as M5, M27 and M11 through my different eyepieces before turning to the fading comets that were stars of the spring sky. First up was C/2012 F6 (Lemmon), parked near Beta Cassiopeiae. Lemmon's coma was concentrated and round like an unresolved globular cluster, but had an off-center stellar pseudonucleus. A faint cyan tinge was visible in the inner coma. Coma diameter was about 3.5'. A very faint, fuzzy tail was visible to the SSW, no more than 10' in length. Sketch. I starhopped to C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) from Alpha Draconis. The comet has faded considerably since last month, and I could no longer make out an antitail. The comet showed a ghostly parabolic coma about 3' across and fading gradually into the sky background. There was a small, non-stellar central condensation. The coma widened to the ENE, and there was a suggestion of a start of a fan-shaped tail, but this couldn't be traced for more than a few arcminutes. Sketch. I intended to go out again on July 6/7 to observe some planetary nebulae, but some surprise clouds proved to be so persistent that I packed it in. While trying to find something to look at in a clear area of the sky, I sketched the galaxy NGC 5665 in Bootes. This little galaxy is visible as an oval smudge at low power in the 10" Dob. At 230x, It showed a bright, bulging inner region surrounded by a diffuse halo. There was a hint of mottling near the nonstellar nucleus. Overall, the galaxy was elongated NW-SE, with dimensions of about 2' x 1.5'. Sketch.
June 10/11: No Gamma Delphinid Meteor Outburst
Alerted to the possibility of a meteor outburst, I did a quick 45-minute session under good skies from 8:15-9:00 UT on June 11. I saw 8 sporadics and 2 anthelions, but no good candidates for the putative Gamma Delphinid shower.
June 7/8: Comets PANSTARRS and Lemmon
I definitely don't get out with the Dob as much as I used to--hectic work schedule and not enough energy left at the end of the day, plus competing hobbies that favor the daylight hours. On this Friday night, the stars aligned (so to speak) and I thought I'd give it a go, at least to visit these two comets. C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) was favorably positioned near the North Celestial Pole, so I hunted it down right after the sky got dark (which is none too early in June). I had some issues with finding a decent place to set up while dodging all the neighbors' porch lights, but I finally settled in.
PANSTARRS has faded considerably since I last viewed it in April, and was difficult in binoculars due to its proximity to a bright 7th-magnitude star. I was able to see it better a bit later when it had moved a bit, and at that time I estimated the comet's magnitude at 9.4. In the 10" Dob at 44x, the comet showed a round coma about 4' in diameter with a stellar pseudonucleus offset a bit to the NW of center. A couple of small jets were visible to the SE, the beginning of a fan-shaped tail that stretched for 25-30' in PA 130. Even more striking was the antitail that stretched for at least 1 degree in PA 355. The first 20' or so of the antitail were narrower than the coma and had a higher surface brightness than the other tail; beyond that, the antitail broadened and gradually faded into the sky background. The starfield seemed pretty crowded for this region of the sky. Sketch.
Naked-eye limiting magnitude was 6.7. The seeing sucked, so I didn't spend much time on Saturn and only glanced at a few showpiece objects before retiring for a quick nap.
Comet C/2012 F6 (Lemmon) graced the morning sky not far from M31. It was quite easy in binoculars; I estimated its magnitude at 8.0. In the 10" Dob at 44x, Lemmon showed a round coma 7' in diameter. The coma was fairly condensed, but lacked a stellar pseudonucleus or any internal structure to speak of. It had a faint cyan tinge. A faint, narrowly fan-shaped tail extended for at least 25' and maybe up to 40' in PA 235. There was a hint of faint linear structures in this tail, as well as a thin northern branch in PA 250 that may have been the ion tail. Sketch.
May 5: Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
I had only seen a few Eta Aquarids during a few years--this shower is difficult to observe from latitude 42.6 North because the radiant is still low in the sky at the start of astronomical twilight. Also, the weather is usually bad, or the Moon is in the way, or I'm sick ... This year was better, and the shower showed signs of higher-than-normal activity.
I got out for about 1.5 hours of observing this morning. I didn't quite make my planned 3:15am start time, but as I was setting up I did see my first Eta Aquarid (a +3 earthgrazer) at 3:15 (1015 UT). A couple of minutes later, I saw a brighter one as I started my watch.
Activity was pleasantly high, with a few lulls (droughts of 10, 8, and 11 minutes) and one big spurt (5 Eta Aquarids and 1 sporadic in 1 minute around 1118 UT). For the first half-hour (radiant elevation 5-10 degrees), the Eta Aquarids all showed earthgrazer characteristics, with long paths and persistent trains even on the fainter meteors. A memorable orange ETA of -1 shot for about 70 degrees directly overhead and faded out behind me.
I ended up seeing 24 Eta Aquarids and 10 sporadics. Skies were average for most of the watch, with a little dip in the limiting magnitude as the moon rose above the ridge to the east and quick deterioration due to twilight during the last 18 minutes of the watch (which only produced 4 meteors). The Eta Aquarids were not especially bright, with nothing brighter than -1 and a mean magnitude of 2.2.
This morning's session went much better than my previous attempts to view the Eta Aquarids (the best "highlight" I could find in my logs was a grand total of 6 ETAs in 45 minutes in 2002 [also 9 in one hour in 2008]).
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting/Tape Recorder
Date: 2013 May 4/5
Interval 1: 1017-1059 UT
Total Meteors: 13
ETA 9 [-1, +1(3), +2, +3(2), +4(2)]
Spo 4 [+1, +3(2), +5]
Interval 2: 1059-1129 UT
Total Meteors: 17
ETA 13 [-1(2), 0, +1(2), +3(4), +4(2), +5(2)]
Spo 4 [-1, +2, +3(2)]
Interval 3: 1129-1147 UT
Total Meteors: 4
ETA 2 [+3(2)]
Spo 2 [+1, +2]
I spent a week housesitting at a nice dark site, but for the most part the weather didn't cooperate. I got in two short but productive observing sessions. On the evening of April 11th, I decided to hunt down Comet 63P/Wild near the sickle of Leo. On my way there, I stopped by my old favorite galaxy NGC 2903. I'm not sure whether I ever noted the fainter galaxy NGC 2916 before, but since it showed up on my finder chart for Comet Wild and was in the same low-power field as NGC 2903, I looked for it and found it readily visible in my 10" Dob at 44x. While a small smudge, it was of moderate surface brightness and showed interesting detail at higher powers. Overall, the galaxy consisted of an oval halo elongated N-S. The brighter central portion lacked a stellar nucleus, but did have a small central condensation in the middle of a thin N-S bright area. The galaxy also seemed to bulge a bit in the E-W dimension at the center. To the SE of the center, there was a darker area that could represent a dark lane or space in between spiral arms. I bet this galaxy would look very interesting through a very large aperture telescope. Sketch I starhopped over to Comet Wild, which was NOT visible at low power. Even at 165x, it was difficult to hold without averted vision. It initially appeared as a very small round condensation, and my eyes kept being drawn to phantom images or faint nearby stars. With prolonged observation, the comet became more obvious and I could see that the small central region was surrounded by a larger, very faint halo. The comet was round overall and the total coma diameter was about 4', although the brighter central region was only about 1' in diameter. Sketch
On the morning of April 17th, I was frustrated by clouds that eventually cleared off before morning twilight leaving just a bit of high haze behind. I took the opportunity to view Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS). The comet is in Cassiopeia now. It is circumpolar from Oregon, but is higher in the predawn sky.
The comet was still an impressive naked-eye object, appearing as a diffuse streak about 1 degree long. I'd roughly estimate the integrated magnitude (coma + tail) as about 4.5. Binoculars revealed more detail, but didn't extend the tail length.
The comet was a nice sight in my 10" Dob at low power, sitting in an impossibly rich star field. A 10th-magnitude star was just south of the coma, and over the 30 minutes or so that I observed the comet it moved northward away from this star. The coma diameter was about 4', with a bright almost-stellar pseudonucleus. The coma and the brightest part of the tail were yellowish. Two tail components were visible--a bright, narrow wedge in PA 350 degrees that extended over a degree while fading gradually; and an antitail that emerged in a sharp spike about 20' long in PA 115 degrees. A faint, fan-shaped glow was visible in the angle between the antitail and the main tail. Sketch
I was able to take a quick check of the comet with naked eye and binoculars on the morning of April 21st at the onset of astronomical twilight. The comet was still a naked-eye object, although it had faded somewhat. I was able to get a good estimate of the magnitude of the coma by itself (m1). With the naked eye, the coma magnitude was 5.8, and with 10x42 binoculars, the coma magnitude was 6.5. The tails appeared much as they had on the 17th.
2013 March: Comet PANSTARRS
I had some rotten luck with clouds being in the wrong place for several days. On Wednesday the 13th, I had to work until 8pm but managed a quick view of the comet through binoculars before it sank into clouds.
I finally got a decent view of the comet on Thursday evening, March 14th. It was readily visible in 10x42 binoculars at 7:45pm, and within 10 minutes or so I got some naked eye glimpses. The comet looked slightly orangish in binoculars against the bright blue twilight sky.
The head is very strongly condensed, with an essentially stellar pseudonucleus as seen through binoculars, and the tail is pretty short, maybe a degree or more in length. I could see a short section of the tail with my naked eyes. I would put the coma magnitude at +1 or a little fainter, although the variable thin cloudiness didn't let me get a really good estimate.
The comet sank pretty quickly, and there were thick cloud bands on the horizon.
Five minutes later, the comet emerged from the bottom of the dark cloud in the photo, but it was strongly reddened and dimmed by atmosphere. I lost it for good at around 8:25.
I also saw the comet on Friday evening, March 15th. There was still a thick cloud band on the horizon, and the seeing was terrible so viewing the comet through a small refractor didn't reveal any fine detail.
My best views of the comet came on Sunday, March 17th. I estimated the coma magnitude at +1.4, and the tail stretched for 2-3 degrees. There was still enough murk along the horizon that the views were better earlier despite the brighter sky.
I saw the comet again on Friday, March 22nd. The comet was still an easy binocular object, but only a marginal naked eye object in the moonlight, twilight and haze. I estimated the coma magnitude as +2.8 with the naked eye, suggesting a very significant fading. I could maybe scratch out a degree or so of tail.
On Friday, March 29th, I got my first views of the comet without competition from twilight or moonlight (but still very low in the sky). The comet, despite having faded to ~magnitude 3.9, was an easy naked-eye object with about a degree of tail. In binoculars, it was impressive, with a broad and bifurcated tail stretching for 3-4 degrees. I made a quick sketch through my 60mm refractor, and also took a wide-angle photo to capture the mood of the scene.
January 2/3: Quadrantid Meteor Shower
I observed the Quadrantids for 1.8 hours from my yard on the morning of 2013 January 3, from 1228-1418UT. Temperature was a frigid 1.5F (-17C), and the sky was very clear without a hint of fog or haze. On the downside, the moon was shining off 2 feet of snow. I blocked the moon behind a spruce tree and accepted some obstruction from this tree and another tall tree in my field. Limiting magnitude was a steady 5.8.
Meteor activity was slow at the beginning of the watch, and picked up in fits and starts thereafter. I ended up seeing 58 Quadrantids and 13 other meteors. Mean Quadrantid magnitude was 1.5, while the sporadics averaged 2.5. Ten Quadrantids were in negative magnitudes, but none brighter than -3. Most of the brighter Quadrantids were yellowish, and only a few left wakes. One highlight: a spectacular magnitude +1 earthgrazing sporadic that was orange with a well-defined train. A -5 Iridium flare also gave me a start, as did occasional chattering noises from mystery creatures stirring in the dark.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting/Tape Recorder
Date: 2013 January 2-3
Interval 1: 1228-1322 UT
Total Meteors: 28
QUA 23 [-2, -1(3), 0(4), +1(2), +2(3), +3(6), +4(4)]
Spo 3 [+1, +3(2)]
Interval 2: 1322-1418 UT
Total Meteors: 43
QUA 35 [-3, -2(2), -1(3), 0(4), +1(7), +2(6), +3(9), +4(3)]
ANT 1 [+3}
COM 2 [+2(2)]
Spo 7 [+1, +2(3), +3, +4(2)]
2012 October 20/21: Orionid Meteor Shower
After fighting a cold all week, I decided to brave the cold (21F) morning. Weather had been iffy over the past couple of days, but Sunday morning turned out to be clear. Skies were average, with just a hint of scattered haze around Jupiter.
Meteor rates were steady but a bit on the low side, and most of the activity was faint. I came up with 36 Orionids and 31 other meteors in the 2 hours. There were no fireballs, although a few meteors reached magnitude -1. The most attractive meteor was a golden, trained magnitude 0 Orionid. The South Taurids were also active, but were dim.
Interval 1: 1010-1110UT
Teff: 1.00 hours
Total Meteors: 33
NTA: 1 [+1]
STA: 4 [+2, +4(2), +5]
ORI: 16 [-1, 0, +2(4), +3(4), +4(4), +5(2)] mean=2.8
EGE: 1 [+3]
Spo: 11 [-1(2), 0, +1, +3(4), +4(3)] mean=2.1
Interval 2: 1110-1210UT
Teff: 1.00 hours
Total Meteors: 34
STA: 1 [+2]
ORI: 20 [-1, 0(3), +1(2), +2, +3(6), +4(3), +5(3), +6] mean=2.9
EGE: 2 [+3,+4]
Spo: 11 [-1(2), +2, +4(7), +5] mean=3.0
August 11/12: Perseid Meteor Shower
After days of beautiful weather, Saturday morning dawned with thick smoke rolling in from the Barry Point fire to my southeast. I was committed to doing a local star party, so I stuck around close to home. The smoke persisted throughout the day, and as night fell the sky was socked in up to about 40 degrees in elevation. Through binoculars, Vega looked yellowish instead of its normal bluish tinge. Turnout at the star party was sparse, although everyone got to see some good early evening Perseids including a -5 fireball at around 10pm. Everyone went home at around 11pm, and I retreated to my yard.
I began observing soon after midnight and found that the smoke had relented somewhat. Skies continued to improve, although I never quite reached my normal limiting magnitude of 6.7-6.8. The moon wasn't a big factor for me--it was blocked by a hill and trees at moonrise and registered maybe an 0.1-magnitude drop in the center of my field later on. The moon wasn't strongly reddened, more confirmation that the smoke had retreated.
Perseid rates were not very impressive for a leap year. I saw 140 in 3.3 hours. There were lots of bright and colorful meteors (perhaps the smoke imparted some of the orange and yellow colors). Sporadic rates were very low (14 in the same period), hinting that not all was right with the sky conditions. I was fighting tiredness during the first part of the watch, and took a nap for a bit of an hour before catching the predawn show (which was still sporadic-poor).
I thought about going out again late Sunday evening, but wasn't feeling that great so I didn't.
July 28/29: Meteor Observing
I observed for 2 hours on the morning of the 29th (9:28-11:28 UT) and saw a total of 58 meteors under magnitude 6.6-6.8 skies. 26 were sporadics (I put two possible Alpha Triangulids in here), 14 were South Delta Aquarids, and 12 were Perseids. The early Perseids seemed pretty bright and strong.
1 CAP (magnitude +1)
4 ANT (mean magnitude 2.5)
14 SDA (mean magnitude 2.4)
1 PAU (magnitude +2)
12 PER (mean magnitude 1.6)
26 Spo (mean magnitude 2.6)
June 5th: Transit of Venus
I took the day off work and planned to join a local viewing party at Klamath Community College. The forecast was for broken cloud cover, so I figured we'd see something over the 5-1/2 hour duration. It was mostly clear overhead as I drove south from Chiloquin to Klamath Falls, until I got into town. Dark clouds and showers there. I drove to the college and touched base with Todd, the museum director who was coordinating the event. It was obvious that skies weren't going to clear for some time, so I hightailed it back north. I got stuck behind some slow traffic, so when I finally hit a pulloff with some sun I had missed first contact. I set up the Scope of Death and my DSLR with Baader filters and caught Venus about midway between first and second contacts. I also shared the view with a curious motorist who pulled in behind me. Seeing was really bouncy with some wind, but skies remained clear well past second contact. The broad black drop was visible at second contact.
After a half hour or so, I broke down and headed back to the college, where it had just cleared up. The crowds were very light compared to the annular eclipse, and there was another scope set up with a sun funnel for rear projection, so I left the Baader filter on the SOD. Todd had the museum's C-11 with full-aperture glass filter, so people had a variety of viewing experiences. Sometimes it was raining with the sun still visible. After 5pm, a large cloud centered itself on the sun and remained there for two hours before allowing a brief view for the die-hards who stuck it out. Of course, by scanning the sunlit surrounding hills we could see that there were plenty of other places with clear views. As I drove north again, the skies were still clear there, although the seeing was horrendous and the sun set into a band of clouds a few degrees above the Cascades.
May 20: Annular Solar Eclipse
Originally, I had visions of finding a spot by my lonesome near the northern limit to stare through the scope and watch Baily's Beads, but as each weather forecast became more discouraging I decided to go south and join my local non-club's viewing party at Butte Valley Middle School in Macdoel, CA.
There were about 150 people in attendance, so I elected to augment the two filtered scopes by setting my 60mm "Scope of Death" up in projection mode so a lot of people could look at once. Early on, most of the clouds were thin enough to view through, but about 10 minutes before second contact an opaque cloud sat in front of the sun and we thought we were doomed to be disappointed. It thinned out right in time, to universal approval. The sun disappeared again right at third contact, and rarely poked through after that.
My photo gallery from the event:
I had hoped to track down Comet C/2012 C2 (Bruenjes) early in the evening, and maybe Comet 78P/Gehrels as well. Unfortunately, every house to the west had a megawatt porchlight on, and the only trees that blocked the porchlights also blocked the comets. I should have fixed up a tarp on the fence or something like that to block the glare, but I wasn't feeling that ambitious and gave up.
I retreated to a darker corner of the yard, and made a detailed high-magnification sketch of the planetary nebula NGC 2440 in Puppis. I had observed this planetary and made a rough sketch a couple of weeks ago, and found it to be a rewarding target. This planetary lacks a visible central star, but has almost everything else: multiple shells, spiral-like structure, a Dumbbell-like core, ansae, and an irregular outer halo. The bright inner disc is a cyan-tinged squared-off oval about 30" x 20" and elongated WSW-ENE. It responds well to high magnifications and is enhanced with an Oxygen-III filter. An apple core-like central structure spans the minor axis, with a brighter region just south of the center of the nebula. Wings off the top and bottom of the core join to form a slightly fainter ring that makes up the perimeter of the disc. Irregularities and bright spots are present at several places, including slightly brighter ansae at each end of the major axis. Some of the spots appear stellar, but most are enhanced by the OIII filter indicating that they are nebulous. The possible exception is a bright spot embedded in the NW edge of the disc, which is less prominent with the filter in place. Surrounding the disc is a diffuse halo that roughly doubles the size of the nebula. Some fleeting irregular structure is visible in the outer halo, including dark patches along the major axis. Two faint stars are present at the edge of the halo, one to the NW and one to the NE. A 9th-magnitude star is over 3' to the east and outside the field in my sketch. Seeing was generally decent, but at times air tremors interfered with my NGC 2440 sketch. I wasn't expecting much when I turned the scope to Mars, but the Red (OK, pale peachy) Planet showed enough detail that I sketched it as well. Mars was a couple of arcseconds larger in apparent diameter than my last sketch a month ago, but the real changes were in its phase (nearly full instead of 95%) and the North Polar Cap (much smaller now, just a tiny bright chip). Abundant dark markings were visible in both the northern and southern hemispheres. North of the equator, the Mare Acidalium complex was the most prominent area on the disc. To the south, Mare Erythraeum and Aurorae Sinus combined with other features to produce the effect of a dark band across the disc. Seeing was average, and fine detail was blurred so that smaller features were invisible or not well-separated. The following limb was very bright with clouds/haze. Sketch.
I went out after moonset (around 4am) to catch and sketch the close approach of Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) to globular cluster M92. Just over 30 arcminutes apart and of roughly similar brightness, the two objects were a stunning sight at low power in my 10" Dob. Here is my sketch.
The comet showed a round coma 9 arcminutes in diameter with a prominent stellar nucleus. A straight, rather thin antitail was immediately visible in PA~105, brighter near the coma and with a vaguely darker spine along the middle. A couple of jets seemed to emerge from the inner coma to feed the antitail. The antitail stretched for nearly a degree in length. A broad, fan-shaped tail projected from the other side of the coma, with its center at PA~305. This tail was roughly the same brightness as the antitail near the coma, and reached a length of about 15 arcminutes. Photos show a long, straight ion tail stretching beyond the fan-shaped gas tail--I was unable to detect the ion tail visually. The comet's motion towards the NNW was quite noticeable during the hour-plus that I watched the field. Given several more hours of darkness, I would have seen the antitail sweep across M92.
At low power, M92 showed a bright and tightly packed core tapering to the west. Strings of stars stood out in the globular's halo, giving the appearance of a counterclockwise spiral structure. Parts of the periphery appeared star-poor and nebulous at first glance, and then resolved into myriad pinpricks with extended viewing. Normally, I would use higher power to better resolve the cluster, but I stayed at low power to keep the comet and cluster in the same field of view.
Before twilight got too bright, I also checked out the pair in binoculars. I pulled the Dob around to Saturn and Mars, which looked just OK as the seeing was disappointingly jumpy. As far as transparency, it was a decent morning. I didn't do a limiting magnitude estimate, but skies were consistent with my normal yard limit of 6.7 or so. Temperature when I packed up at around 6am was 21 degrees F.
I broke this chilly night into pre-midnight (Jupiter) and post-midnight [Mars, Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd), and a few DSOs] sessions. Temperature at 9:30pm was 25 degrees F, and it had dropped to 13 degrees F when I ended my morning session at 2:30am.
With snow in my normal yard observing spots, I had to make do with the driveway in full view of porch lights from across the street. So this was mostly a planetary night. Io transited Jupiter, followed by the Great Red Spot and Io's shadow. My sketch attempts to capture the scene at Io's egress from transit. Seeing was iffy most of the time with a few steadier moments. The North Equatorial Belt was thin and straight with a diffuse southern border. A dark barge was visible just to its north at about the same longitude as Io's shadow. Farther to the north, there were a couple of dusky belts and a grayish South Polar Region. A couple of loops protruded from the southern border of the NEB, with a faint ribbon extending from one of them into the Equatorial Zone.
The South Equatorial Belt was broad and fairly dark with quite a bit of structure. The Great Red Spot was more of a whitish hollow with a well-defined border. There was a split in the SEB following the GRS, and other interesting detail in the immediate vicinity, but not a lot of fine turbulent detail as often appears under very good seeing. I was just hoping the seeing would hold up long enough for me to complete the sketch. Overall, the contrast seemed pretty low and the air pretty jumpy tonight. Both Io (only visible once it entered the limb darkening) and its shadow (easily visible throughout and placed within the split) were superimposed on the SEB. The South Polar Region and everything else south of the SEB was quite blank--only dusky, indistinct markings.
My morning Mars session featured slightly better seeing. I began a sketch at 1:00am. The Red Planet was a bright orangish-pink with a very prominent North Polar Cap and a dark collar around the cap with a small break in the collar near the preceding edge. The Syrtis Major complex was a vague dark area near the terminator. A subtle bright patch followed the northern tip of Syrtis Major. Sinus Sabaeus was a dark linear feature stretching across the southern part of the disc, and appeared to split near its following extreme. Sinus Meridiani was pretty indistinct, and a bright area of blue limb clouds hovered over the area following it. The Mare Acidalium-Niliacus Lacus complex dropped down like a dark cape from the North Polar Cap collar, with a subtle bright lane separating the cape from the collar. Several dusky streaks spread south from the cap collar across otherwise blank orange desert.
By the end of my Mars sketch, my eyepieces were spending more time fogged/frosted than clear. I took quick looks at a few galaxies in Leo, plus M51 and the globular cluster M3. The skies were slightly milky as cirrus cloudiness started to push its way in. I took a quick look at Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd), which remains easily visible in binoculars and doesn't look much different than it did last September.
2012 January 3/4: Quadrantid Meteor Shower
Tuesday evening was pretty cloudy, and I didn't have very high hopes for Wednesday morning Quadrantids, but I set my alarm just in case. I woke up to clear skies with a slight haze around the horizon. When I looked out my window, I saw a bright Quad within a few seconds, so I prepared to go out.
I began my watch at 1105 UT (3:05am PST). Skies were a little bit hazy with some residual moonlight scattering but a reasonable limiting magnitude of 6.4. Quadrantids were active but a bit slow to start out, averaging 7 per 15-minute interval. The skies got nice and clear and the limiting magnitude peaked at 6.9, but almost immediately some clouds and haze started moving in from the west. I battled various degrees of obscuration and limiting magnitudes that dropped as low as 6.1 in the clear areas. The Quadrantids kept coming at about the same rate, however.
By 1230 UT, the clouds had moved on leaving a bit of haze that also eventually dissipated. Quadrantid rates picked up to about 1 per minute and remained there for the rest of the watch. The limiting magnitude climbed back up to 6.8 at best. My best interval was 11 Quadrantids in 8 minutes between 1327 and 1335 UT. I carried on observing until 1405 UT.
All in all, I saw 124 Quadrantids, 2 Anthelions, and 32 sporadics in 2.9 hours of observing time. The brightest Quadrantids were a
-4 and a -3, and there were 5 Quads of magnitude -2. Most of the Quadrantids were white or colorless, but a couple of the bright ones were orange, one yellow, and one blue.
Temperature at watch end was 21 degrees Fahrenheit, quite balmy compared to the 5 degrees I experienced during the Geminids. A good way to start out what looks to be a promising year for meteor shower observing!
2011 December 13/14: Geminid Meteor Shower
I went out from about 7:20-8:20pm before the Moon rose on the evening of the 13th. Geminids were active, but the radiant was still low. I didn't do a formal count, but I saw about a dozen Geminids and a couple of sporadics. Most of the Geminids were faint.
On the morning of the 14th, I started counting at 3:40am under bright moonlight. Skies were perfectly clear when I started, but there was a brief period during my watch when clouds moved in and covered as much as half the sky. After the clouds departed, there was still some high haze. In spite of all this, the Geminids put on a good show. I saw 70 Geminids and 7 sporadics in 1.82 hours of observing time. The mean Geminid magnitude was +1.2, and I didn't see any fireballs but saw a good number of -1 and -2 Geminids.
December 10: Total Lunar Eclipse
Drove out past Fort Klamath to catch this morning eclipse. Totality began while the sky was still fairly dark. After maximum eclipse, the sky brightened quickly, and the color of the eclipsed moon became pretty dull. The moon set behind the mountains a few minutes after the end of totality. Here are a few pics.
September 1-4: Oregon Star Party
Wow, I just didn't have time to do a full write-up this year. It was another nice OSP, though, and the threatening smoke stayed away while I was there. Here's a photo gallery (mostly daylight nature stuff plus a few sketches).
I braved the moon and ventured out into my yard for Perseid observations. The yard is tree-lined with a mostly unobstructed view to the south--great, except when there's a full moon to the southwest. I ended up in a different part of my yard, facing northeast and accepting obstructions to the west and southwest. There had been some high clouds in the evening, which would have been a real killer with the moon, but they seemed to be mostly gone.
Limiting magnitude was initially 5.4 and improved somewhat as the moon sank. Meteor activity was very slow at the beginning, and my first two meteors weren't even Perseids. With the Aquarid complex behind me and behind the trees, I wasn't able to associate these meteors with radiants, so 3-4 possible minor-shower members ended up as "sporadics" on my report. A violet -2 Kappa Cygnid early in the watch was less ambiguous and was the best meteor of the morning.
Perseid activity picked up in fits and starts, and sporadic activity was very low. I ended up seeing 51 Perseids and 9 other meteors in 2.2 hours of Teff. I stopped recording at 1157 UT, more because I was feeling a bit fuzzy than because twilight was brightening rapidly. I kept watching, and a funny thing happened--between 1200 and 1210 I saw 12 Perseids and 2 sporadics, easily the best rates of the entire morning.
Looking back, I see that my rates were in line with previous moon-bugaboo years of 2003 and 2006. Zenithal Hourly Rates for the two intervals below were approximately 68 and 56.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Date: 2011 August 13
Interval 1: 0930-1039UT (2:30-3:39am PDT)
Teff: 1.00 hours
Total Meteors: 25
KCG: 1 [-2]
PER: 20 [-1(2), 0(2), +1(5), +2(6), +3(5)] mean=1.5
Spo: 4 [-1(1), 0(1), +1(2)] mean=0.2
Interval 2: 1044-1157UT (3:44-4:57am PDT)
Teff: 1.20 hours
Total Meteors: 35
PER: 31 [-2(2), 0(6), +1(4), +2(6), +3(11), +4(2)] mean=1.7
Spo: 4 [+1(2), +2(2)] mean=1.5
I observed on the morning of August 10. Perseids were fairly sparse, with 27 in 1.75 hours. They were almost matched in number by other meteors, which included 19 sporadics, 4 South Delta Aquarids, 2 August Eridanids, and 1 Antihelion. Skies were initially affected by the setting moon but soon darkened up very well (limiting magnitude at start of session was 6.5 and at its best was 7.0). There were no really spectacular meteors, but it was a nice morning under the stars. Before I went out, I could hear coyotes howling from somewhere nearby.
I pulled the scope out to do a sketch of Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd), and then settled into my sleeping bag to observe meteors for 1.5 hours.
The comet has developed nicely over the past few weeks, and is now visible in binoculars. I didn't estimate its magnitude, but it is probably around 8.0. In the 10" Dob, The comet showed a parabolic coma with a bright central condensation and a short, wide fan-shaped tail opening southward. The eastern edge of the tail was straighter and better-defined (ion tail?). Sketch.
My meteor-observing session got off to an abysmal start, as I saw nothing for the first 20 minutes despite good conditions (limiting magnitude 6.7). A faint sporadic interrupted the lull, and then after more non-activity I saw six meteors in three minutes. The rest of the session featured more consistent activity, although a bit on the low side for late July. In 1.5 hours, I saw 33 meteors, 22 of which were sporadics. The South Delta Aquarids were the most active shower as expected, contributing 6 meteors. Otherwise, there were 2 Perseids, 1 Alpha Capricornid, 1 Antihelion, and 1 Piscis Austrinid. The brightest meteors were short sporadic fireballs of -4 and -3.
When I finished with the meteor observing, I took a peek at Jupiter. Seeing was average; I could make out some fine detail in the Equatorial Belts from time to time, and the North Polar Region appeared to be broken up into several thin belts and zones.
It had once again been too long since I got out the Dob, so I planned a session for the pre-fireworks night. I set up in twilight, and took a quick look at Saturn. Seeing was pretty bad early on, but eventually settled down enough to make out the Cassini Division at least. The planet was at quadrature, so the shadow of the globe on the rings showed up well. I turned the scope to M51 to catch the bright supernova 2001dh, now past its peak. Even at magnitude ~13, it was easily visible in the darkening twilight. I watched as the sky got darker and the spiral arms of the Whirlpool became more distinct.
Other than catching a glimpse of the Whirlpool supernova and later, Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd), my only observing plan was to hit a bunch of globular clusters in Ophiuchus. I picked out 19 of them, plus the bright little planetary nebula IC 4634, before moving on to some of the summer showpiece objects. It reminded me of the time many (20?!) years ago when I stumbled across objects like NGC 6293 and 6284 with my SOD and first realized that I could go beyond the Messier list. Although listed as a morning comet, C/2009 P1 Garradd was up before midnight and at an acceptable elevation by 12:30am. This comet, currently about magnitude 8.5, will be hanging around the northern night sky for many months to come, brightening slowly. In the 10" Dob, it appeared bright and condensed with a parabolic coma 3' in diameter and opening to the southwest. A field star was near the edge of the coma. (Sketch)
April 30/May 1
Finally, a clear moonless night on a weekend, and me (barely) feeling well enough to drag out the telescope! It didn't get truly dark until almost 10pm, so I had plenty of time to fumble with the equipment I've become unfamiliar with since fall.
With no bright comets in the evening sky, my plan was to track down Supernova 2011by in galaxy NGC 3972 in Ursa Major, and to look at some of the neighboring galaxies. Before tackling challenging objects, I warmed up with some showpieces. Saturn was the obvious starting point. The ringed planet was on glorious display, high in the south as darkness fell. The atmosphere was slightly unsteady, and there were still some tube currents as my scope struggled to equilibrate to the rapidly falling temperatures, but Saturn almost always looks good. The rings are open fairly wide now. I took a long look and resolved to return at the end of my session.
Right next to Saturn was the double star Porrima. A few years ago, this pair of neatly-matched white stars was almost impossible to separate, but they have moved far enough apart to appear double again. I looked at an easier double star, Pulcherrima in Bootes, with a bright orange primary and a bluish secondary, and then moved on to deep-sky objects. I hit the globular star cluster M3, and the spiral galaxies M51 (the Whirlpool) and M101 with its faint arms dotted with knots of star-forming regions. As I was looking at M101, a satellite streaked across my eyepiece field.
I judged that my eyes were dark-adapted enough to go hunting the faint fuzzies, so I moved up to the star Gamma Ursa Majoris in the bowl of the Big Dipper. I found the nearby galaxy M109, and then headed into the great northern frontier of galaxies. Some small, others tiny; some round, some elongated; some obviously visible at a glance, others requiring an extended look with averted vision to pull out of the sky background. I found 22 galaxies within a 4-degree square of sky, and I wasn't really trying. Armed with better charts, I would have pulled out a few more. Long exposure photographs would reveal a multitude, and taken to their extreme, well, the Hubble Deep Field was shot not too far from here. Once you get past the distractingly bright local stars of our Milky Way, it's all galaxies, each their own island universe.
The object I sought was a star, or used to be. Less than 5 days ago, a supernova was discovered in the faint galaxy NGC 3972. One star, presumably a white dwarf in a close binary system, exploded and became bright enough to be visible (in a decent telescope) from Earth, 60 million light years away. The galaxy (in reality one of those island universes with millions upon millions of stars) appeared as an elongated bit of fluff, and the supernova a starry pimple off to one side. The supernova had gotten brighter since the most recent estimates, and was around magnitude 13. That's only 1/300 as bright as the faintest star visible to my naked eye, but impressive when considering this one "star" shone nearly as bright as its home galaxy. I sketched the eyepiece field (which included the even fainter galaxy NGC 3977 as well as a host of ordinary Milky Way stars), and then went off among the galaxies.
I hopped from galaxy to galaxy on strings of stars, leaving my 7mm Nagler eyepiece (165x and a 0.5° field of view) in the focuser and retreating to a lower power only on a couple of occasions. When I surfaced at the edge of my chart, it was nearly midnight. I looked up and saw a bright, slow meteor shoot out of Ursa Major. Somewhere a Barn Owl shrieked during its midnight flight, and a flock of doves started from their roost in the trees across the road.
I returned to Saturn. The air had calmed down (although the temperature was still falling, 29°F on its way down to 20). The planet's appearance was much improved, and I kicked the power up to 320x. The rings crossing the globe gave a nice 3D effect, and out near the ansae I could see the Cassini Division separating the A and B rings. A wide cloud belt was visible in the planet's northern hemisphere, brownish against the ochre of the disc. Four moons were visible.
To close out the session, I made a quick pass by M13, the Hercules Globular with its strings of stars and "companion" galaxy NGC 6207. Finally, I returned to Ursa Major for the Owl Nebula, a round bubble of gas cast off by a star dying a quieter death.
2010 December 20/21: Total Lunar Eclipse
Cloudy, hazy conditions that eased a bit at times. Photo
2010 November 17: Leonid Meteor Shower
The Clear Sky Chart predicted average to below average transparency and up to 20% cloudiness, and it was more or less correct. I stuck it out for a very slow session. There was quite a bit of haze, but there were also some clearer spells. Limiting magnitude varied from 5.8 to 6.7. Unfortunately, the biggest clear spell coincided with a lull in meteor activity, and the Leonids never really took off. I saw 9 Leonids, 3 North Taurids and 10 sporadics in 1.44 hours observing between 3:46 and 5:30am, and that was it. I had to take a 16 minute break in the middle of the watch when some fog settled in.
There were a few interesting meteors, including a red magnitude 0 North Taurid, a golden magnitud 0 sporadic, an earthgrazing +1 sporadic from a radiant low in the south, and a -3 Leonid (the only Leonid I saw during a lull that lasted half an hour).
October 19/20: Orionid Meteor Shower
I got in an hour of observing on Wednesday morning between moonset and twilight. Skies were almost as impressive as the night before. Comet 103P/Hartley was easily visible as a fuzzball to the naked eye.
Based on my one-hour sample, Orionid activity was up significantly from the previous morning. I saw 41 Orionids. Neither sporadics (9 meteors) nor minor showers (1 South Taurid and 1 Epsilon Geminid) showed up in great numbers. Once again there were no fireballs, and the brightest meteors were 3 Orionids of -1. The Orionids seemed to be rich in faint meteors.
October 18/19: Orionid Meteor Shower
I got in a couple of hours of meteor observing between moonset and twilight on the morning of the 19th. Once the moonglow had subsided, skies were phenomenal (limiting magnitude as good as 7.2). Orionids were active from the beginning of my session; I saw four in the first two minutes. Well, that rate didn't hold up for long. I ended up seeing a total of 49 Orionids and 29 other meteors (19 sporadics, 5 Epsilon Geminids, 3 South Taurids, 2 Leo Minorids) in 2 hours. The brightest meteor was an Orionid of magnitude -1.
October 17/18: Comet Hartley
I got up early to see Comet 103P/Hartley. I didn't drag my scope out, just looked with binoculars and took a quick picture. The comet looked like a bump on the nose of Auriga. It was very faintly visible to the naked eye, and very easy in binoculars. I didn't see any structure, just a round fuzzball with a bright center and a dim coma gradually fading toward the edges. I saw a nice Orionid fireball during the session.
I did a quick evening session to check out Comet 103P/Hartley. The comet was rather faintly visible in 8x56 binoculars as a diffuse spot. In the 10" Dob, it showed a diffuse, essentially round coma 12' in diameter with a stellar nucleus and very small inner coma. Several stars were involved in the coma. A slight bluish-green tinge was visible, but I didn't see a trace of a tail. The inner coma had a couple of faint jets pointing southward. Naked eye limiting magnitude in the area was 6.6. Sketch.
I also checked out Jupiter. Seeing was average. Europa's shadow was plainly visible on the disc, and there was a large reddish disturbance in the south temperate region on the following limb.
2010 July 18
I got up early the past couple of mornings for some casual observing as well as to sketch Comet 10P/Tempel. I looked at Jupiter on both mornings, although the seeing wasn't very good. The near-absence of the South Equatorial Belt (I could see a gray ghost of it) made the Great Red Spot stand out well on Saturday morning.
Comet 10P/Tempel is a binocular object in western Cetus. In binoculars, it appears as a large, diffuse spot. In the 10" Dob it shows a broadly fan-shaped coma about 12' in diameter and opening to the NNE. Several faint jets extend from a nearly stellar central condensation and bright inner coma. (Sketch)
June 26: Partial Lunar Eclipse
I got up to look at the eclipse this morning (maximum coverage 54% @ 4:38am). I went to Henzel County Park along Agency Lake, a few miles from Chiloquin. The Moon set behind a mountain at 5:30, a half-hour before the end of the umbral phase.
I got up for a short binocular session to view C/2009 R1 (McNaught). The comet checked in at magnitude 5.5 and was slightly easier to see with the naked eye than on June 12. 1.5 degrees of faint tail was visible extending to the NW, and I could see a short brighter dust tail forking off for 15' to the WNW. The head of the comet was essentially stellar. The pretty little open cluster NGC 1528 was visible at the top of the binocular field. Sketch.
I haven't had much time to observe recently, and the weather hasn't cooperated either. I did get out for a brief evening session in early May, and observed three comets. I may put up sketches eventually.
On the morning of June 12, I went out with binoculars only to view Comet C/2009 R1 (McNaught). The comet is bright and strongly condensed with a coma diameter of about 7 arcminutes. I estimated its magnitude right around 6.0, but there was a 7th magnitude star in the coma that I didn't notice until twilight when the comet had moved away a bit. There was a very faint tail extending about 1 degree to the WNW. I could barely detect the comet with the naked eye with averted vision. I made a quick sketch.
Other interesting sky sights: the International Space Station was gliding through the stars just as I went outside. When I turned my binoculars to the comet for the first time, a faint meteor zipped through the field of view. In twilight, I looked at Jupiter with binoculars and saw three moons lined up on the west side and Uranus not far away in the same binocular field.
2010 February 19-21: The "Lost Sessions"
I actually got a little bit of observing in during February. On successive mornings I was able to sketch Mars and see some decent detail (February 19 and February 20). On the morning of February 21, I observed Comet 81P/Wild, which showed a surprisingly bright tail.
2009 December 13/14: Geminid Meteor Shower
I was observing from 5:51 to 9:08 UT on December 14 and clocked just under 3 hours of Teff. Unfortunately, there was moving fog about. Limiting magnitude at the field center would suddenly vary from 5.8 to 6.7, and obstruction by clouds from 0% to 25% to completely covered in a matter of seconds. I had to break several times when it got too bad. I tried to keep up by doing very frequent estimates, so it will be a lot of fun to slice up that data :(
I did get everything entered off my tape, and I saw 198 meteors including 176 Geminids. 18 Geminids were in the negative magnitudes, with the brightest a long violet -4. A decent display, but not spectacular. It would obviously have been much nicer to get consistently clear weather, but any type of clearing for the Geminids is pretty rare around here.
November 17: Leonid Meteor Shower
I set my alarm and woke up to find mostly clear skies. It was a crisp but mild November morning. Clouds and haze threatened from the north, but only closed in after I had gotten in 2.25 hours of observing time and counted 64 meteors. I started observing at 2:30am PST (10:30UT). Leonids were active (I counted 36), with a couple of nice spurts and some mind-numbing lulls. The most spectacular meteor I've seen in a long time occurred at 10:54UT, a magnitude -5 Leonid with a terminal burst that changed from blue to violet and left a train that was visible for 10 minutes. Other than that, the Leonids were quite bright but with no other fireballs.
Sporadic rates were OK (a total of 21), and the Taurid radiants each kicked in a few meteors. It wasn't the most impressive observing session, but it was pleasant enough. I'd really like to see the Geminid peak this year...
October 22: Orionid Meteor Shower
I set my alarm a couple of times Thursday morning, and woke up to clouds each time. Finally, at 3:40am, the clouds seemed to be lifting. I dragged myself out to a retreating cloud bank and began observing at 4:00 (11:00 UT). I saw a couple of Orionids and an Epsilon Geminid as I was setting up. Meteor activity was decent, and skies were clear (if a bit moist) except for a few clouds at the beginning and end of my watch. Limiting magnitude hovered around 6.5, a couple of tenths worse than a normal morning here.
I observed for 1.67 hours and saw 70 meteors. Of these, 44 were Orionids for a fairly normal show. The Epsilon Geminids and Leo Minorids each put in 4 meteors, and each Taurid radiant kicked in 2.
The morning was fireball-free, but there was a -2 Orionid and a -1 sporadic/South Apex that was impressive for the way that it shot through the center of my field. Even more impressive were a very slow reddish Taurid of magnitude 0, and a point Orionid that lasted for several seconds.
I would have observed for 15-20 additional minutes, but the clouds came back and ended my watch.
2009 August 11/12 and 12/13: Perseids
I got in two cloud-plagued observing sessions around the Perseid maximum. The timing of the clouds was a bit exasperating, as they kept me from seeing the best of the two apparent outbursts visible from North America this year. Brief highlights below; full reports on the meteorobs mailing list archive (follow links).
- August 11/12: variable clouds, 118 Perseids and 12 other meteors in 2.64 hours of observing time. I saw 2 nice Perseid fireballs. Skies were pretty nice in the clear holes in spite of the moonlight.
- August 12/13: scattered clouds, 85 Perseids and 18 other meteors in 2.59 hours of observing time. Nothing too exciting; due to evening clouds I started observing after the peak of the outburst reported by other observers.
July 27/28 and 28/29: Meteor observations
I got out for an hour and a half Tuesday morning. Skies were OK with just a hint of smoke decreasing transparency. Meteor activity (55 total meteors in 1.54 hours) was consistent and bright with good activity from the Alpha Capricornids and about normal activity from the South Delta Aquarids and Perseids. Sporadic rates were quite high, and the sporadic magnitude distribution was impressively bright (looked more like a shower distribution).
July 28: 0926-1100 UT
Teff: 1.54 hours
Total Meteors: 55
On Wednesday morning, I got in two hours of observing this morning. The first hour was rather slow. It took almost an hour before I saw my first South Delta Aquarid. I also saw one Anthelion and the only Alpha Capricornid of the morning. Total for the first hour was 18 meteors.
In the second hour, rates picked up and included 10 SDAs. The Piscis Austrinids made a rare showing with 3 representatives. I saw 5 Perseids, versus 2 in the first hour, and sporadic and Anthelion rates also increased. There weren't any spectacular meteors; the best were a sharp -1 SDA and a reddish magnitude 0 PAU. Total for the second hour was 38 meteors.
2009 July 28/29
Interval 1: 0858-0959 UT
Teff: 1.01 hours
Total Meteors: 18
Interval 1: 0959-1100 UT
Teff: 1.00 hours
Total Meteors: 38
July 24/25: Jupiter and Comet 217P/LINEAR
I did a morning session to observe the Jupiter impact spot. Initially, Io and its shadow were both in transit (the shadow visible and Io itself invisible). The impact site was fairly vague on the following limb, but sharpened up as it approached the central meridian. The site appeared to be elongated E-W and sometimes presented a bipolar appearance with two nuclei. During unsteady moments, or when I pushed the magnification too high, the spot appeared to shrink to a single intense black point. Seeing was average to mediocre, roughly comparable to that on the morning of the 21st. The spot didn't seem to have changed much in size or in ease of detection. During the observation, Io became visible as the bright disc of the satellite approached the darkened preceding limb of Jupiter. This is one of those quiet, ethereal moments of observing, when Io or Europa is transiting a bright zone on Jupiter and then becomes shiningly visible near the limb of the planet. Also of note, at about 3:46am PDT a faint artificial satellite (maybe 9th magnitude and moving at about 0.8 degrees/minute from west to east) crossed my field and actually transited Jupiter.
Before looking at Jupiter, I added to my comet count with a short look at Comet 217P/LINEAR. The comet was in Cetus, and still fairly low in the sky. It was visible at low power as a nearly stellar fuzz. At 114x, it showed a small fan-shaped coma (1.5' in minor axis and extended more or less southward) and a stellar nucleus. Sketch.
July 20/21: Observations of possible impact scar on Jupiter
After reading the accounts on Spaceweather.com, I decided to take a chance on observing the possible impact site in Jupiter's South Polar Region (SPR). I put the 10" Dob out to cool down, rested for a couple of hours, and went out just after midnight. Seeing was initially mediocre, and no fine detail was visible. During steadier moments, I thought I could make out a small dark blotch in the SPR. I wasn't sure until about 12:45am, when seeing improved markedly. I couldn't push the power too far (190x was about it), but that was plenty to see the "dark mark". The spot was closer to the pole than I had anticipated. It appeared angled, with its preceding edge tilted northward. There was a thin dark line trailing the spot, and I wasn't sure if this was part of the spot or just another atmospheric feature on Jupiter. During the best moments, the spot appeared to have a penumbra and to have a diffuse extension southward.
I was so intent on getting a sketch done that I didn't try a polarizing filter until the seeing had worsened again and the spot was pretty close to the preceding limb. The filter put an edge on a white oval that I had suspected, and also brought out ropy structure in the South Equatorial Belt. I wonder whether it would have brought out more detail in the impact spot when it was closer to the central meridian.
Like others, I have fond memories of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts of 1994. This reminded me a bit of that first night and the AH! I got when I realized that the dark spots weren't in my eyes but were actually the A and C impacts that a lot of people didn't think would be visible.
I went out to look for a couple of comets and to observe some events on Jupiter. There was a bit of high haze (and eventually some clouds after midnight), so the sky lacked contrast. Limiting magnitude at the zenith was still around 6.7.
C/2006 W3 (Christensen): I first observed this comet during last year's Oregon Star Party. It has brightened to magnitude 8-9; I think I could detect it in binoculars, but it was involved with some bright field stars. The comet showed a well-defined parabolic coma extended to the south. There was a bright stellar nucleus and some subtle filamentary structure in the short tail. The coma was about 3.5' in diameter, and the tail was about 5' long. Sketch. 22P/Kopff: I first observed this comet back in 1996. This is its second approach to the Sun since then. Some patchy clouds were moving through, and I wanted to catch it before moonrise, so sky conditions weren't the best down in Aquarius. I didn't see the comet at first, but eventually tracked it to its hiding place near a couple of 12th-magnitude field stars. The comet was rather dim, diffuse and small with a visible coma diameter of about 2'. It may have been slightly elongated N-S, but there was no visible tail. The center was slightly brighter, but without a stellar nucleus. Sketch.
Jupiter: Io's shadow had a busy night. First it transited across the disc of Jupiter, then it eclipsed Ganymede. The shadow transit was visible in mediocre seeing at about 12:45am. The seeing improved, and the Great Red Spot was also visible. Unfortunately, a band of clouds came through and messed up the view. Even when they departed, seeing wasn't as good as it had been.
I retired until 4:30am, when I went out to monitor the eclipse. Seeing was OK, but not great. The side of Jupiter on display then was fairly bland except for one looping feature in the North Equatorial Belt. I chose to observe the eclipse with 165x, instead of the 76x that had worked well a week ago, and the eclipse seemed fairly subtle. Ganymede dimmed to about the same brightness as Io or even a bit dimmer (a slightly greater drop than last week), but at the higher power the light drop didn't seem as steep and the minimum wasn't so obvious.
July 15: Io eclipsed and NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS!
I got up to observe Io's eclipse by Ganymede's shadow this morning. Seeing was poor at a quarter after four, and only Ganymede was really showing a disc in my 10" Dob @ 165x. Because Ganymede was closer to Jupiter and more affected by glare, it didn't appear much brighter than Io. Near the start of the umbral eclipse around 4:20am PDT, Io (always a bit warm in hue) seemed to redden a bit, then dull, then dim precipitously. It bottomed out around 4:22:15, about a minute earlier than the maximum eclipse suggested by the predictions I was using. It was maybe a bit dimmer than the two magnitude 9.5 field stars, maybe not because Jupiter's glare made comparisons difficult. Then it brightened back up over the next couple of minutes. I didn't notice the redness as it came out of eclipse.
A few minutes after the eclipse ended, seeing improved tremendously. I had already noted the beginning of Europa's shadow transit, and the presence of the Great Red Spot near the preceding limb. Now there was gobs of detail including a huge disruption or spot/spots near the trailing limb, south of the latitude of the GRS. I started a sketch, but I never finished it. I stopped it abruptly when I happened to look eastward and see...
Yes, a bright patch of Noctilucent Clouds (NLCs) hugging the horizon. My yard unfortunately doesn't command a panoramic view of the horizon, but I could tell that the clouds extended along the entire NE horizon. I walked down my street for a broader view, but already the sky was brightening enough to dim the clouds' luster. I first noticed the clouds at about 4:40; by 5:00 they were seriously starting to fade into the twilight background.
This was my first sighting of NLCs. When I returned to the scope, the seeing had deteriorated again, but I took some looks at the Moon and Venus.
July 10/11: Artificial Satellites and Io's Eclipse of Ganymede
Friday evening, I stood in the somewhat buggy evening with bats swooping around me to get a look at a couple of artificial satellite passes. First, there was a bright flare from Iridium 95. A couple of minutes later, the International Space Station made a pass high overhead and then flared a bit as it neared the eastern horizon opposite the Sun. It was still bright twilight, so I never located the Progress 33 ship that is supposed to be following it.
I got out for half an hour on Saturday morning under a bright waning gibbous Moon, a bit of cirrus (thankfully only near the horizon) and mediocre seeing. Why?
An annular eclipse of Ganymede by Io's shadow. I finished setting up about 10 minutes ahead of time, looked in the eyepiece for a while to get a feel for the brightnesses of Jupiter's moons, and at 2:09am PDT Ganymede started to dim. The light curve seemed pretty steep. I played around with different eyepieces, but I appreciated the magnitude drop best at a medium-low 76x in my 10" Dob. During steadier moments before the eclipse, I had been able to make out the moons' discs at higher powers, but seeing wasn't good at all during the eclipse and I certainly didn't see the shadow march across Ganymede. The whole umbral event lasted four minutes and seemed to fly by; in no time at all, Ganymede was back to full brightness. At maximum eclipse, Ganymede dropped to roughly the same magnitude as Io, but I wasn't feeling really confident in my estimates.
Elsewhere in the sky, Neptune was in the same mid-power field as Jupiter. The Moon, well, the Moon was bright and very detailed although the seeing was rippling the edges. I went for a few colorful double stars and my token deep-sky object of the night was NGC 404 (Mirach's Ghost). I couldn't see it at all with my left eye which I had just used to look at the Moon, but it was immediately visible when I switched to my right.
2009 April 23 + 27: Sun Halos
After my April 22 observations, we had some variable weather including some very cold mornings and some cloudiness. I undertook one short, unspectacular nighttime observing session on April 24, but the sky contrast just wasn't yielding the best deep-sky views.
On the other hand, occasionally the high clouds offered their own diversions in the form of sun halos caused by sunlight being refracted as it passes through ice crystals. I saw notable displays on the morning of April 23 and on the evening of April 27.
On April 23, there was a colorful circumzenithal arc, a "smile" high in the sky above the Sun. At the Sun's altitude, there were the usual bright parhelia or sundogs, with the added bonus of a partial parhelic circle passing from the Sun through the left parhelion and continuing beyond.
On April 27, there was a fainter but more complex and colorful display as I was driving home. Segments of a 22-degree halo around the Sun were visible, along with bright parhelia and a bright upper tangent arc. After a while, the circumzenithal smile appeared, but extending downward from it was a huge, faint supralateral arc, like a misplaced rainbow. Subtle, but absolutely beautiful!
April 21/22: Lyrids and Venus Occultation
I got up at midnight to do some morning observing. The main course was the Lyrid meteor shower, but the appetizer of deep-sky sights was pretty good and the dessert of Venus being occulted by the Moon was definitely a hit.
First, I looked at the clumpy galaxy NGC 4088 in Ursa Major and its 14th-magnitude supernova, nearby galaxy NGC 4085, and some other galaxies in the region. NGC 4088 is a very interesting galaxy. Its nucleus is not very prominent, but there is a central bar with several knots along its length. On each side of the bar there is a dark patch and then a ring-like segment of a spiral arm. The spiral pattern is inferred, but not obvious. The supernova was faint but readily visible near the center of the galaxy. Sketch.
Next, I settled down to watch some Lyrids. I saw a decent display with normal rates and some bright meteors. I started at 2:00am (9:00 UT), and the two brightest meteors appeared within the first seven minutes. The first was a -2 Lyrid that shot overhead, and the second was a Lyrid of at least -4 that had a violet "head" and orange "tail". This fireball streaked through western Ophiuchus and left a persistent train that lasted 3.5 minutes.
There were the normal spurts and lulls, with several dead periods of up to 14 minutes. I think my perception slacked off a bit later in the observation. I ended up with 64 total meteors (37 Lyrids) in 2.63 hours of observing time. The mean magnitude of the Lyrids was a surprisingly bright 1.7; otherwise, it was a pretty normal session.
I have a tree-lined ridge to my east, and that made me wonder whether I would get to see the occultation of Venus. It was pretty close, but by 5:12am the Moon was creeping up through the trees with Venus seemingly in tow: Photo at 5:16am
It was a long wait from 5:19 to 6:15am and the reappearance, but there was a spectacular zenithal pass of the ISS that gave me my best telescopic views yet. Jupiter didn't look too bad in the twilight, either.
At last, with the contrast of the Moon lessened against the impending sunrise, I caught a glimpse of a tiny point of light emerging from the hidden dark limb: Photo at 6:15:39am That point of light proved to be just the tip of the crescent: Photo at 6:16:15am Finally, Venus was fully revealed: Photo at 6:16:42am
The surface brightness of Venus was pretty amazing, and of course it was easily visible to the naked eye even well after sunrise.
Not a bad morning's observing!
I managed to dodge clouds once again to view Comet Lulin. The comet was an obvious naked-eye object of magnitude 5.1, with a coma diameter of 21'. In 8x56 binoculars, there was a bright, straight tail (antitail) that reached for about 1 degree in PA ~115 degrees. A broad, faint tail stretched for 20' in PA ~300 degrees. Naked eye limiting magnitude was 6.5.
In the 10" Dob at 36x, the tails appeared much as they did in the binoculars. Some faint structure was visible within both. The coma was bright and more or less round, with a stellar nucleus. A cyan hue was faint but perceptible. The comet's motion was obvious while I was making a sketch.
I got a brief clearing window early Wednesday morning and took a look at Comet Lulin. The comet was immediately obvious to the naked eye as a fuzzball of magnitude 5.3 and over 20' in diameter. 8x56 binoculars showed about a degree of fairly bright, broad tail in PA~110°. In my 10" Dob, the same tail was visible, plus a very faint tail about 15' long in PA~300°. The coma showed a stellar nucleus surrounded by a very bright inner coma, then a large area of even illumination before the edges faded out. There wasn't much (if any) fine structure in the coma. The comet's movement was very noticeable when I stepped away for half an hour to wait out some passing fog.
I viewed Comet Lulin on Friday morning (it was 15°F in Chiloquin, and felt colder). The comet was easy in my 8x56 binoculars and appeared as a fuzzy 15' x 10' blob with a brighter center. I estimated its magnitude to be 6.7. The comet was not visible to the naked eye.
In my 10" Dob at 44x, the comet showed a stellar nucleus surrounded by a bright coma. The coma was extended PA~90° in a faint, thin anti-tail about 10' in length. A rather bright, broad tail perhaps 1° in length extended from the other side of the coma, centered at PA~300°. There were several faint jets visible in the coma. A magnification of 76x gave better contrast at the expense of field of view.
I also viewed Saturn (rings still tightly closed with the dark ring shadow visible across the globe). Faint belts were visible in both hemispheres, and the north polar region seemed bright. Seeing was average at best and then fell apart.
Other targets for quick looks: M5, NGC 4038/39, NGC 4361, NGC 4565. 90 minutes goes by really fast when you're racing morning twilight.
I've been precessing my observing sessions with the retreating Moon. Tonight I was out from 10pm to 2am. My main observing objectives were to sketch the Flame Nebula and to get a good look at Saturn. While transparency was above average, the seeing was very poor. There was a bothersome breeze and very rapid twinkling that made stars into tiny, angry balls. Luckily, this didn't really affect deep-sky observing at lower powers, so I was able to go ahead and spend maybe 90 minutes sketching the Flame (NGC 2024). This is a classic, picturesque nebula that sits just east of bright Zeta Orionis. At 76x, I was able to put the star out of the field and get a good view of the brightest part of the nebula, although faint tendrils reach right up to Zeta. The brightest part of the Flame is about 20 arcminutes in diameter and is full of dark lanes and complex structure. I slightly preferred the unfiltered view over that with my UltraBlock. Sketch.
I continued an informal hop around the wonders of the winter and early spring skies. It was just pure therapy to be able to scan the Virgo/Coma area at moderate power and watch galaxy after galaxy appear in the field. Other standout views for the night: M94, M106, NGC 4565, M3, M97, M108, M109, M64, M51. It was really, really cold (22F plus the aforementioned breeze). This along with the poor seeing combined to dull my appetite for sketching, so the Flame was the only object I put on paper. Several random meteors punctuated the night. When Saturn was at a decent elevation, I took a look. The rings appeared as a fairly short, thick line. I was occasionally able to glimpse the rings' shadow across the disk, but the air was unsteady enough that I didn't discern any other detail or attempt a sketch.
January 16/17: Comets plus
An extended break in the weather allowed me to get in a couple of telescopic observing sessions this week. After a brief shakedown run on Tuesday (I haven't had the Dob out in a while), I put in a couple of hours on Friday night. While I revisited a lot of old deep-sky friends, the objects I sketched were two comets. Comet C/2006 OF2 (Broughton), a bit of an old acquaintance itself, remains a small and condensed object. It seemed brighter than when I viewed it in late August (now about 10th magnitude), and also has developed a prominent stellar nucleus. The coma was about 1.5' across and appeared slightly elongated to the south. Sketch. I got a quick glimpse of Comet 144P/Kushida on Tuesday evening, and then made a sketch on Friday evening. On both occasions, there was an 11th-magnitude star in the coma that altered my perception of the comet's symmetry. The comet itself was about 9th magnitude and faintly visble in 8x56 binoculars. In the 10" Dob @ 76x, the comet's coma was about 5.5' across with a prominent nonstellar nucleus. The comet was to the north of the field star, and the coma appeared slightly elongated and brighter to the north, but this may have been a result of the field star competing with the southern part of the coma. Sketch.
On Saturday evening, I scanned some of the winter's deep-sky wonders with binoculars, and then turned my binoculars to Cetus for a pass of the ISS tool bag. The "satellite" was about 7th magnitude and dimmed and brightened at seemingly irregular intervals.
2009 January 3: Quadrantid Meteor Shower
After a couple of months of terrible weather (no Leonids, Geminids or Ursids here), Saturday morning looked pretty promising. I managed to wake up at around 3am and look out at clear sky. Temperature at the start of the observation was 17F (-8C), which is actually pretty balmy for a clear night in January. It dropped a few degrees while I was out there. I didn't see any meteors while I was setting up, which worried me a bit, but I started seeing Quads once I settled into my sleeping bag. After a bit of trouble with my watch and tape recorder, I got things straightened out and enjoyed a spectacular meteor shower on par with the 2004 Perseids.
In 2.63 hours of Teff, I saw 289 Quadrantids and 40 other meteors under nice dark skies. The Quadrantids seemed to be of average brightness. There was a brilliant -5 fireball late in the watch. Most of the Quadrantids appeared pure white to me, although there were a smattering of greens and blues and one red. Only about 5% left notable wakes/trains. I picked up a lot of meteors fairly close to the radiant.
Other minor showers were nearly absent, and sporadic rates were roughly normal. The most notable background activity featured 8 fast, trained meteors appearing to radiate from the Corvus/Virgo/Crater boundary region (South Apex?).
The Quadrantids came in the normal spurts and lulls. I didn't see a sharp peak, although rates were apparently higher in the middle of my watch. The Quadrantids were definitely still going strong well into twilight as I watched the ISS glide by and then dug out my binoculars to see the infamous toolbag (about magnitude 7.5) skip by Eta Draconis.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2009 January 2/3
Interval 1: 1120-1230 UT
Teff: 1.03 hours
Total Meteors: 113
Interval 2: 1230-1333 UT
Teff: 1.00 hours
Total Meteors: 146
Interval 3: 1333-1410 UT
Teff: 0.60 hours
Total Meteors: 70
QUA 1120-1230 UT
-1(3), 0(7), +1(18), +2(22), +3(23), +4(16), +5(5) Total=94, Mean=2.3
QUA 1230-1333 UT
-3(1), -1(4), 0(11), +1(21), +2(36), +3(40), +4(17), +5(3) Total=133,
QUA 1333-1410 UT
-5(1), -2(1), -1(2), 0(6), +1(12), +2(14), +3(20), +4(6) Total=62, Mean=1.8
Spo 1120-1410 UT
-1(1), 0(3), +1(3), +2(4), +3(18), +4(7) Total=36, Mean=2.6
COM +2(1), +4(1)
2008 October 22: Orionid Meteors
I got out to observe for just under 2 hours this morning (actually just over two hours, but my tape recorder ate the first 7 minutes of my observation). In that time, I observed 57 meteors, 35 of which were Orionids. The Moon was a thick waning crescent and caused some obstruction issues in the second hour, but skies were still good with limiting magnitude overhead ranging from 6.5-6.7. Orionids seemed to be performing at around their normal maximum rate, which was pretty good for a day past maximum. Other reports suggest above normal Orionid activity (ZHR ~40) on the mornings of October 20 and 21. On those mornings, I had to be at work early and the skies weren't so good, so I didn't make an attempt.
The Orionids were slightly brighter than normal, with a mean magnitude of 1.9. The brightest Orionid was magnitude -2. Sporadics were few and faint, with only 9 counted. Several minor showers were active and produced interesting meteors, including a -2 South Taurid with a purple tinge and a very long Leo Minorid.
2008 August 13: Post-peak Perseids
I pulled one last short Perseid session on Wednesday morning. Still fighting a foggy head, I managed to see 100 meteors including 77 Perseids in just over 90 minutes observing time. Just a nice morning to be under the stars, even though I had some trouble getting myself going at the start.
2008 August 12: Perseids
I had been anticipating this morning for the last four years. In 1996 and 2004, the Perseids had performed spectacularly for me, and 2000 was right up there when I factored in the bright Full moon and the aurora (which was an amazing show in itself). Based on these past leap years, I thought I had the potential to see 100 Perseids in an hour on the morning of 2008 August 12.
Well, it didn't happen. Skies were OK with just a little smoke to drop the LM one or two tenths. I was still a bit weary from my slowly retreating illness, which probably didn't help my perception. And the Perseids gave an OK performance, but just an OK performance. I averaged 66 per hour over 3 hours of Teff. The first hour was OK, on par with last year's nice display, but there were some long dead periods after that. Sporadic and minor-shower activity was down from the previous night, which may also point to lowered perception.
The Perseids were noticeably dimmer than on the previous night; no fireballs tonight. I saw five meteors from the August Eridanid radiant area. Kappa Cygnids were conspicuously absent. My final totals for three hours of observing: 197 Perseids and 40 other meteors.
2008 August 11: Pre-peak Perseids
I was sick all weekend and wasn't feeling so great on Monday morning, but I decided to give it a short predawn shot. In just over an hour and a half, I observed 97 meteors including 62 Perseids. Skies were pretty normal for Chiloquin with a limiting magnitude of 6.8. Luckily, the smoke is out of the way for now.
The highlight of the session was a -6 Perseid fireball that traced a long path before terminating with a bright flash down in Sculptor. Seven other Perseids and two of the sporadics were of negative magnitudes, so there were quite a few bright meteors out and about.
I hope to put in three hours on Tuesday morning.
2008 July 12: Four comets in the morning sky...
and two of them are named "Boattini". I've gotten out under the stars three times in the past couple of weeks. Smoke from fires in California has been a show-stopper at times, but when the wind is blowing the right direction the skies are really nice. Seeing just hasn't been good enough to make Jupiter worth spending a lot of time on given its southerly declination. So, I've gone after comets instead. On July 9, I viewed comets C/2008 J1 (Boattini), C/2006 OF2 (Broughton), and C/2007 W1 (Boattini). On the morning of July 12, I added C/2007 N3 (Lulin) to the mix.
C/2007 N3 (Lulin) in Capricornus was a very small (1' in diameter), condensed object, although it appeared nonstellar even at 44x. At 165x, it showed a stellar nucleus surrounded by a very bright inner coma and a faint and small outer coma. The comet's motion was apparent over a few minutes. Magnitude was about 11. Sketch. C/2006 OF2 (Broughton) in Perseus was similar, although a bit fainter at magnitude ~12. Its fairly bright central condensation was nonstellar and embedded in an inner coma of about 1' diameter. A faint outer coma doubled the objects diameter and appeared to be elongated toward the SW. Sketch. C/2008 J1 (Boattini) in Cepheus was a bit brighter (maybe magnitude 9.5-10; I couldn't pick it up in my 8x56 binoculars). This comet was quite diffuse with a coma diameter of about 6'. There was a a broad fan-shaped coma with a faint stellar nucleus, a couple of faint jets, and a suggestion of elongation of the coma toward the ENE. Sketch. C/2007 W1 (Boattini) in Cetus was a faint naked-eye object on the morning of July 12. I estimated its magnitude as 5.6. The coma diameter in 8x56 binoculars was about 15'. The comet looked round with a bright stellar central condensation in the binoculars. The 10" Dob revealed a nice cyan color. The large inner coma was slightly offset toward the north of center. There was a faint stellar nucleus and the suggestion of several spidery jets. Sketch.
May 5: Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
I was clouded out Sunday morning (Tuesday morning looks bad as well), but Monday morning was just fine and with a bit higher meteor activity than I was expecting. In one hour (3:40-4:40am local time), I saw 18 meteors including 9 Eta Aquarids. Nothing especially bright showed up, but I was glad to get out under the stars again.
Wow, what a winter! Neither the weather nor my personal schedule were very cooperative. I got my 10" Dob out for the first time in months. It was a short session. Seeing was absolutely awful, so I didn't spend much time looking at Mars or Saturn. Sky darkness and transparency were below average, but I did view and sketch the slowly fading comet 17P/Holmes and the smaller, fainter comet 46P/Wirtanen. Comet Holmes is still an obvious binocular object, albeit very large and diffuse. The comet is hardly brighter toward the center, and has no real edges. I suspected a faint elongation to the WSW. Observations from 2005-2007 are now archived.