2013 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).
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.