When Moon, Venus, and a Beehive got together

Conjunction of Earth’s Moon and planet Venus with M44 as a bonus! September 14, 2020. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.

CAA member Frank Shoemaker, despite challenging seeing conditions and the early hour, captured a fine image of the September 14 conjunction of Earth’s Moon and planet Venus. As luck would have it, the conjunction occurred in constellation Cancer home of the lovely open cluster M44, the “Beehive”. The technical info.: Canon EOS 6D Mark 2, 100mm, f/4.5, 19 seconds, 5:29 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Hubble’s latest portrait of the “Lord of the Rings”

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of Saturn on July 4, 2020. Two of Saturn’s icy moons are clearly visible in this exposure: Mimas at right, and Enceladus at bottom. This image is taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. OPAL is helping scientists understand the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our solar system’s gas giant planets. In Saturn’s case, astronomers continue tracking shifting weather patterns and storms. Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and the OPAL Team

Saturn is truly the lord of the rings in this latest portrait from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, captured on July 4, 2020, when the opulent giant world was 839 million miles from Earth. This new Saturn image was taken during summer in the planet’s northern hemisphere.

Hubble found a number of small atmospheric storms. These are transient features that appear to come and go with each yearly Hubble observation. The banding in the northern hemisphere remains pronounced as seen in Hubble’s 2019 observations, with several bands slightly changing color from year to year. The ringed planet’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium with traces of ammonia, methane, water vapor, and hydrocarbons that give it a yellowish-brown color.

Hubble photographed a slight reddish haze over the northern hemisphere in this color composite. This may be due to heating from increased sunlight, which could either change the atmospheric circulation or perhaps remove ices from aerosols in the atmosphere. Another theory is that the increased sunlight in the summer months is changing the amounts of photochemical haze produced. “It’s amazing that even over a few years, we’re seeing seasonal changes on Saturn,” said lead investigator Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Conversely, the just-now-visible south pole has a blue hue, reflecting changes in Saturn’s winter hemisphere.

Hubble’s sharp view resolves the finely etched concentric ring structure. The rings are mostly made of pieces of ice, with sizes ranging from tiny grains to giant boulders. Just how and when the rings formed remains one of our solar system’s biggest mysteries. Conventional wisdom is that they are as old as the planet, over 4 billion years. But because the rings are so bright – like freshly fallen snow – a competing theory is that they may have formed during the age of the dinosaurs. Many astronomers agree that there is no satisfactory theory that explains how rings could have formed within just the past few hundred million years. “However, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft measurements of tiny grains raining into Saturn’s atmosphere suggest the rings can only last for 300 million more years, which is one of the arguments for a young age of the ring system,” said team member Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley.

Two of Saturn’s icy moons are clearly visible in this exposure: Mimas at right, and Enceladus at bottom.

This image is taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. OPAL is helping scientists understand the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our solar system’s gas giant planets. In Saturn’s case, astronomers continue tracking shifting weather patterns and storms.

Comet switches to evenings where it shines

Be sure and check back… this article is updated as new images arrive!

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Lights above and lights below: the scene at the Lorain, Ohio lakefront featuring comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) the night of July 13, 2020. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.

In mid-July Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was becoming an evening object, visible in sunset twilight, and brightening as it did so. The predawn apparitions were difficult for many to appreciate — visible after 4 a.m. and disappearing around 5 a.m. — but “prime time” visibility in the evening sky has members of the general public more excited.

Lake Erie offers wide-open spaces and distant horizons, with other features sometimes adding to the scene. Frank Shoemaker visited the lakefront in Lorain, Ohio on July 13, 2020 to view and photograph the comet. “I shot this {image above} at 11:15 p.m.  The floodlights on the lighthouse shut off at 11 p.m.  Before that its glare made the images pretty useless.” Shoemaker wrote. Technical details: Canon 5D MK 4, 135mm prime lens, f/2, 4 secs, IOS 1600.  Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom.

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in late sunset colors as it glowed over Lake Erie. Photo by Christopher Christie.

CAA member Christopher Christie wrote the comet “was naked eye visible out over the Lake after sunset.” Until recently, C/2020 F3 was rarely reported as viewable without binoculars.

Tighter crop of Christopher Christie’s comet image.

There are more challenges than simple atmospheric issues. Lonnie Dittrick writes, “Nice location but a bit challenging dodging folks walking around, car lights, and airplanes. It was fun. Image cleaned up with Photoshop.”

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) over a wooded hill with sunset colors. Photo by Lonnie Dittrick.

The beautiful picture below is by CAA member Paul Leopold taken Monday night at 10:15 p.m. He said sky conditions were excellent in terms transparency with the comet was visible from 9:45 p.m. – 11:15 p.m. DST. Technical: Olympus OMD EM5 Mark 2, 75-300mm at 75mm, f/6.3, ISO 4000, 21 seconds. He used an IOptron Star tracker Mount to prevent “star streaks.” It was post-processed in Photoshop from Olympus Raw Format image.

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) the night of July 13, 2020, from Medina County, Ohio. Photo by Paul Leopold.

This next photo is by CAA member Alan Studt and shows a wide view of the comet as seen from Fairport Harbor (Ohio) Lakefront Park on Lake Erie. It was shot at 10:15 p.m. with the following specs.: Nikon D850, 4 sec., ISO 4000, 52mm, f/4.5.

Viewed from Fairport Harbor (Ohio) Lakefront Park, C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is seen in this wide view the night of July 14, 2020. Photo by Alan Studt.

Sky conditions were somewhat questionable the night of July 15 but turned out to be clear enough for comet spotting from several locations across the area.

James Guilford made a last-minute trip to Mapleside Farms in Brunswick where he encountered a nearly-full parking lot; people gathering to take advantage of the place’s expansive view of the western sky. Also in the crowd were Jon Salontay, Joe and Pat Zentner. Many of the attendees likely went away disappointed — the comet was not readily naked-eye visible, diminished in light-polluted low clouds. C/2020 F3 was enjoyable via binoculars and could be imaged so long as the photographer knew where to point the camera!

Guilford’s photo illustrates the modern battle between the beauty of the night sky vs. human activity — light pollution, in this case. He titled his picture “Purity and Pollution” with the technicals: Canon EOS 6D Mk. 2, 24 – 105mm lens @ 73mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 8 seconds, processed in Photoshop.

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Purity and Pollution. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE floats serenely above clouds illuminated by ground-based light pollution the night of July 15, 2020. Photo by James Guilford.

Jon Salontay, who was at Mapleside, wrote, “The comet showed up well in 10×50 binoculars, but could only be hinted at viewing naked eye, and only after first spotting it in binoculars.  Quite a lot of the crowd left before the comet could be seen, but those that were there for the comet in the first place stayed for the show.” He made the following close-up image.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE as seen the night of July 15. Photo by Jon Salontay.

Alan Studt stayed home but recorded this beautiful suburban night scene. He wrote, “We were able to see the comet with binoculars from our back yard in Parma (Ohio, not Italy). Here’s a wide shot with Mount Alverna Village in the foreground.”

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A wide shot with Mount Alverna Village, Parma, Ohio in the foreground, July 15, 2020. Photo by Alan Studt.

Here’s another image that looks like a painting, perhaps a water color appearance this time! Carl Kudrna recorded this image at the Dover Center park in Bay Village, overlooking Lake Erie. Camera: Galaxy s9+ smartphone.

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Viewed at the Dover Center park in Bay Village, overlooking Lake Erie. Photo by Carl Kudrna using his smartphone.

Matt Franduto sends this next image recorded under fairly clear skies, framed by trees.

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Between the trees Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE between trees, traces of its dust trail extending far behind, July 15, 2020. Photo by Matt Franduto.

The gorgeous picture, by Lonnie Dittrick, was shot at Letha House Park West location of the CAA’s observatory. Dittrick wrote, “Took this image Tuesday night overlooking the pond by the observatory.  The comet held its own for a good 45 minutes until succumbing to the gunk off to the West.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been out there that late… I forgot how nice it is out there.”

This gorgeous twilight image, including C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, was shot July 14 in Medina County. Photo by Lonnie Dittrick.

Friday, July 17 brought a beautiful clear night to Northeastern Ohio and CAA members took full advantage of it.

Below, Frank Shoemaker captured a beautiful scene at Huntington Beach Park, on the shores of Lake Erie. “I shot this about 10:20 p.m.,” he wrote. “The comet was clearly visible to the naked eye. In you zoom in on the comet you can barely see the very faint second tail.” Technical details: Canon 5D Mk. 4, Sigma 50mm prime, f/1.4, 10 sec, ISO 800.

The scene at 10:30 p.m. on the shores of Lake Erie: Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE on July 17, 2020. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.

Alan Studt was able to record the faint ion tail of the comet, in addition to its broader dust tail. His technical data: Taken around 10:30 p.m. at the CAA’s observation site in Letha House Park. Made of 60, two-second exposures, 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 6400, Nikon D850, stacked in Sequator. Equivalent to a two-minute exposure.

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The faint ion tail of Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE can be seen streaming back from the nucleus and above the broader dust tail. Photo by Alan Studt.

The position of the comet also lent itself to nightscape photography and Studt took advantage of that. Below, the comet is seen in the starry sky above and still lake waters below. Taken around 10:30 p.m. and made of 20, six-second exposures, 15mm, f/2.8, ISO 800, Nikon D810, stacked in Sequator. Equivalent to a two-minute exposure.

Studt NEOWISE reflection

James Guilford, also at the park site, had the same idea but was at a slightly different location near the lake. His technical info. for the picture below: Canon EOS 6D Mk. 2, single 15-second exposure at 60mm, f/4.0, ISO 1600.

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More additions to our C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) article…..

Viewed pre-dawn July 9 and 10, at Greece, NY, looking out across Lake Ontario. Photo by Chris Elder.

Below we see an effort by Paul Leopold using an elegant rig consisting of his Olympus OMD EM5 Mark 2 with IOptron Star Tracker mount, with 75 – 300mm zoom lens. He shot at 171mm, f/5.9, ISO 1600, for 61 seconds. It was a beautifully clear “night at Letha House Park in Medina County with several CAA members viewing and imaging.”

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) on a beautifully night, July 15. Photo by Paul Leopold.

July’s Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) excites members

Comet Dawn. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE rises above Lake Erie at 5:00 AM, the morning of July 9, 2020. Photo by James Guilford.

Members have enjoyed several opportunities for astronomical events in July: the penumbral lunar eclipse; a conjunction of Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn; and most recently the apparition of Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE.

C/2020 F3 presented special challenges for observing and imaging as it showed up very low to the horizon rising ahead of Sun — not much more than 10º before morning twilight wiped it out. July’s weather around the apparition grudgingly cooperated with relatively clear night skies tarnished with a hazy atmosphere and bright Moon to light it.

Still, how many comets do we see in one lifetime? There was considerable enthusiasm around observing this one. The comet was expected to be visible in the morning sky until July 11 after which, according to NASA, C/2020 F3 can be fished out of evening twilight until mid-August. The nucleus or “head” of the comet is reportedly unusually large. NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft suggest that the comet’s core of ice and dust is 5 km wide. This bodes well for the comet’s visibility in the weeks ahead when it becomes an early nighttime object.

Observers and photographers report the object was not visible to the unaided eye, given conditions. Binoculars, telescopes, and even modest telephoto lenses were able to fish C/2020 F3 out of our Northeastern Ohio atmospheric murk.

Navigation lights and the lighthouse off downtown Cleveland, Ohio reflecting off the calm Lake Erie waters set off the subtle beauty of Comet C/2020 F3 the morning of July 9, 2020. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.

Various locations and various times provide differing views of the sky in general and this object in particular.

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C/2020 F3 as viewed from West Virginia and imaged using a cell phone. The rough quality of the smartphone image, the muted colors, dark landscape reminds us of a classic oil painting of a night scene with comet. Photo by Kai Getrost.
A view of C/2020 F3 from Brunswick, Ohio. Photo by Jon Salontay.

Jon Salontay writes, “Got up Thursday and this morning (Friday) to view from my front driveway in Brunswick.  We are at 1,125 ft., higher than most of the surrounding area, but there a lot of trees. I was too late Thursday (5 a.m.) as the sky was already too bright.  This morning was a different story.  Started a 4:30 a.m.  Venus was shining brightly, so I knew it was clear.  The comet was easy to find and a nice sight in 10×50 binoculars.  Following Capella to Menkalinan and downward made spotting the comet easy.  I could make out a trace of it naked-eye, but only because I knew exactly where to look. Got some photos with my Canon Rebel T5i with a 55-250 F 5.6 zoom lens on a tripod. Used ISO 800, 4 seconds at F/5.  I’ve attached the best of them, with close cropping.”

A tightly-cropped view of C/2020 F3 from Brunswick, Ohio. Photo by Jon Salontay.
Clouds usually interfere with astrophotography but, in this case, they add to the beauty of this composition. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) over Lake Erie the morning of July 12. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.
Comet C/2020 F3 as seen from Greece, N.Y., looking out across Lake Ontario. Photo by Chris Elder.

We will add to this gallery as submissions are received or images updated.