We were fortunate enough to have clear skies this past weekend and I managed to do some narrowband imaging from my back yard in Granger, Ohio. I’d like to share with everyone one of my latest CCD images taken of the Elephant trunk nebula IC 1396 located in the constellation of Cepheus. I often wonder why I bother traveling great distances to dark sky sites like Texas and Florida when I can get results like this from my back yard in Ohio!
Imaging details: Telescope: Takahashi TOA 150 Refractor. Camera: SBIG ST8300M with self-guiding filter wheel. Mount: Losmandy: G-11. Exposure times in narrowband: 4 hours SII filter with 20-min. sub exposures, 4 hours OIII filter with 20-min. sub exposures, 4 hours HA filter with 20-min. sub exposures. Location: Granger, Ohio. Processed in MaxIm DL, Images Plus, Pixinsight, and Photoshop. Final RGB combination was converted using the Hubble color palette, HST.
CAA Member Joe Golias is (obviously) an expert astro-imager and is owner of Astrozap, a Cleveland-area company that produces astronomy accessories.
A coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetic field during the early hours of October 2, sparking a geomagnetic storm. In North America, auroras spilled across the Canadian border into more than a dozen northern-tier US states, including Northern Ohio. The CME left the sun on Sept. 30, propelled by an erupting magnetic filament, racing away from the Sun at 2 million MPH.
CAA members David Nuti and Christopher Christie observed the light show from Lake Erie’s southern shoreline and captured some images. Presented here is one we think is pretty spectacular!
Photo Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T3: ISO 800, 12 sec., f/3.5, 18mm, 12:41 AM, October 2, 2013.
Actually, a pair of surprises gave night owl CAA member Christopher Christie a wonderful opportunity: a shot at the “northern lights.” A wonderful aurora spread across the Canadian border and descended into the United States as far south as Colorado and Nebraska. The aurora was caused by the unexpected arrival of an interplanetary shock wave on May 31st and that stormy night held the added surprise of clearing skies!
“While it was thunder storming I noticed on one of the web sites I watch that the Bz component of the interplanetary magnetic field tipped sharply south to around a minus 20,” wrote Christie. “So I was keeping an eye on some other sites and the weather, saw the rain was about to let up and since it looked like there would be a good chance of having Aurora if the skies cleared, I decided to give it a try. It was still drizzling when I left but when I got to my spot it had stopped. The skies were still pretty cloudy and I couldn’t really see anything but I took a few pictures anyway, just in case. I noticed this one weird spot that wasn’t moving but kind of getting bigger as the clouds started to break up a little. It was just a green blob, nothing special and no real movement, waves or spikes, but you could see it even with the naked eye. After about an hour the clouds moved back in and it went away so I went home to look through my pics and was happy, wasn’t much but how often do we get Aurora here.” End of round one!
Christie kept monitoring the conditions, however. “So it was about 3 AM and I noticed that the Bz was still way south and it looked like something could happen again and it looked like some clearing was moving in. So of course I had to go back out and I’m glad I did. It was still partly cloudy and the skies never cleared all the way, but it was a great show, all kinds of colors, green, red, purple and white with some waves and spikes. It lasted till almost 5 AM when the sun started to brighten up the horizon and the clouds took back over.”
The image above is one of several Christie made that night and we have enhanced it a bit for display here.
Exposure information: Canon EOS Rebel T3 — ISO 3200, f/3.5, 8 sec., 18mm; June 1, 2013 at 4:08 AM.
Comets visible to the naked eye are a rare delicacy in the celestial smorgasbord of objects in the nighttime sky. Scientists estimate that the opportunity to see one of these icy dirtballs advertising their cosmic presence so brilliantly they can be seen without the aid of a telescope or binoculars happens only once every five to 10 years. That said, there may be two naked-eye comets available for your viewing pleasure this year.
“You might have heard of a comet ISON, which may become a spectacular naked-eye comet later this fall,” said Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator of NASA’s NEOWISE mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and self-described cosmic icy dirtball fan. “But if you have the right conditions you don’t have to wait for ISON. Within a few days, comet PANSTARRS will be making its appearance in the skies of the Northern Hemisphere just after twilight.”
Discovered in June 2011, comet 2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) bears the name of the telescopic survey that discovered it — the less than mellifluous sounding “Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System” which sits atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii.
Since its discovery a year-and-a-half ago, observing comet PANSTARRS has been the exclusive dominion of comet aficionados in the Southern Hemisphere, but that is about to change. As the comet continues its well-understood and safe passage through the inner solar system, its celestial splendor will be lost to those in the Southern Hemisphere, but found by those up north.
“There is a catch to viewing comet PANSTARRS,” said Mainzer. “This one is not that bright and is going to be low on the western horizon, so you’ll need a relatively unobstructed view to the southwest at twilight and, of course, some good comet-watching weather.”
Well, there is one more issue — the time of day, or night, to view it.
“Look too early and the sky will be too bright,” said Rachel Stevenson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at JPL. “Look too late, the comet will be too low and obstructed by the horizon. This comet has a relatively small window.”
By March 8, comet PANSTARRS may be viewable for those with a totally unobstructed view of the western horizon for about 15 minutes after twilight. On March 10, it will make its closest approach to the sun about 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) away. As it continues its nightly trek across the sky, the comet may get lost in the sun’s glare but should return and be visible to the naked eye by March 12. As time marches on in the month of March, the comet will begin to fade away slowly, becoming difficult to view (even with binoculars or small telescopes) by month’s end. The comet will appear as a bright point of light with its diffuse tail pointing nearly straight up from the horizon like an exclamation point.
What, if any, attraction does seeing a relatively dim naked-eye comet with the naked eye hold for someone who works with them every day, with file after file of high-resolution imagery spilling out on her computer workstation?
“You bet I’m going to go look at it!” said Mainzer. “Comet PANSTARRS may be a little bit of a challenge to find without a pair of binoculars, but there is something intimately satisfying to see it with your own two eyes. If you have a good viewing spot and good weather, it will be like the Sword of Gryffindor, it should present itself to anyone who is worthy.”
NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing relatively close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them, and predicts their paths to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.