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Archive for December, 2015

Happy Christmas ! A Portrait of the Constellation Orion

December 24, 2015 Leave a comment

So Christmas is upon us again and I would just like to wish all followers and readers of the blog a very Happy Christmas ! Here is a photograph I took the other night while waiting for the aurora to appear. I happened to turn around and there was the winter constellation Orion high in the south east above The Breidden hills with the arrow shaped Hyades cluster just above it to the right and then the smaller Pleiades cluster right at the top edge of the photo on the right.

It has been a great year of astronomy for me with the 95% solar eclipse in March, then a full lunar eclipse in September, lots of great comets and supernovae  and numerous sightings of the aurora over Wales. Here’s hoping 2016 is just as exciting !

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Aurora visible from Mid Wales ! – 20th December 2015

December 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Around 8pm on 20/12/15 aurora alerts started to appear in my Twitter timeline suggesting Level 8 visibility from a G2 class magnetic storm. This would produce naked eye visible aurora over Mid Wales latitudes so I headed out between 8.25 and 9.25pm, but saw nothing on the northern horizon due to cloud passing by in the north and plenty of light pollution above Oswestry. There was also the reflected light of a half Moon in the south to contend with !

I headed back indoors and watched the Auroral Oval Forecast available on the front page of Spaceweather.com which gives a good indication of both the intensity and likely visibility of aurora over Europe. At 10.50pm the visibility line reached Northern Ireland and North Wales and there were reports of the activity causing ham radio blackouts due to storm interference in the upper atmosphere. People were photographing green aurora as far south as Cambridgeshire. This looked good so I headed out again from 10.50pm through to 00.35am. At 11.22pm the activity really intensified and I could see a faint naked eye magenta glow above the Oswestry light pollution. This was not the Level 8 visibility predicted, but more like Level 6-7.  There were no naked eye visible aurora overhead like we had on 7th October 2015 but the camera, with its better light sensitivity, could pick up more colour and detail including lots of magenta and green and some tall light pillars. Activity had largely ceased by 00.10am at our latitude, but northern Scotland, the Scandinavian countries and particularly Iceland had one of the most intense shows of the year.

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A faint green and magenta glow with light pillars at 11.22pm

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The most intense display at 11.24pm

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The display widens across the horizon at 11.46pm

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The last part of the display as the aurora recedes to the north 00.00am

Here’s how that solar storm shaped up on the NOAA Space Weather forecast monitors…

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Above: The auroral oval visibility chart for 00.40am 21/12/15 just after the main activity had faded over Mid Wales

NOAA K Index 20-12-15

Above: The NOAA K index for 20th-21st December 2015. The higher the K number the more chance there is of seeing naked eye aurora at your latitude. For Mid Wales we generally need at least KP7 and as you can see it topped out at KP6 leaving the aurora well to the north of Wales, but visible with digital photography on the northern horizon. At KP8 you will definitely see naked eye aurora across the UK.

Images taken 23.22 pm to 00.10am on 20th December 2015 using a Sony RX100 compact. 28mm, ISO 3200, 1.5 t0 8 sec exposures f1.8

NGC 2264 The Christmas Tree Cluster

December 19, 2015 Leave a comment

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NGC 2264 in the constellation Monoceros is sometimes called the Christmas Tree Cluster due to the vaguely triangular group of blue stars towards the top of this image with the large blue-white star S Monocertis, near the left centre of the photo, forming the base of the tree trunk. The cluster actually lies within a dense region of star-forming gas known as the Cone Nebula and you can just make out some of the pale white gas around the stars. Hydrogen alpha astronomy filters show up the surrounding gas much better in red, but here I wanted to focus on the star cluster itself.

The cluster was first discovered by William Herschel in 1784 and at magnitude 4.5 some of the stars are visible with the naked eye, but the cluster really pops out with 8x binoculars and even more with a 3″-4″ telescope.

Image taken 19/12/15 3.21am New Mexico time with iTelescope.net T3. 1 x 300 sec Colour. RA: 06h 40m 59.9s DEC: 09° 54′ 00″ (J2000). Processed with Maxim DL5 and Photoshop CS2.

 

C/2013 US10 Catalina – A Christmas Comet

December 18, 2015 Leave a comment

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I last viewed Comet Catalina in August when it was only visible in the southern hemisphere. It is now visible low in the east during the early hours of the morning around 5am, but will be steadily gaining in height throughout December and January. It is currently magnitude 6 and easily seen in 8x or 10x binoculars as a faint grey smudge in the constellation Virgo.

The comet is displaying a couple of really nice, widely separated, tails at the moment with the fainter ion gas tail at the bottom, blown at high speed away from the direction of the Sun by the solar wind. The dust tail at the top is moving much more slowly away from the comet. Having been dislodged from it’s home in the Oort Cloud recently on a hyperbolic trajectory Catalina is making just one approach into the Solar System before vanishing back out and never to be seen again. The comet reached perihelion, it’s closest approach to the Sun, on November 15th and is now on the journey out.

Image taken 18/12/15 5.37am New Mexico time on iTelescope.Net T20. 4 x 300 sec Luminance. RA: 14h 17m 18.0s DEC: 01° 13′ 51″ (J2000). Stacked in DeepSkyStacker 3, Processed in Maxim DL5 and Photoshop CS2.

 

Supernova ASASSN-15so in Galaxy NGC 3583

December 17, 2015 Leave a comment

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The bright spot at the centre of the spiral galaxy NGC 3583 in Ursa Major is the Type Ia supernova ASASSN-15so discovered by the All Sky Automated Survey for Super Novae (ASAS-SN) on 8/11/15. It is currently magnitude 13.7. The faint barred spiral galaxy above and slightly to the right of NGC 3583 is NGC 3577.

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Images taken 16/12/15 2.37am New Mexico time on iTelescope.Net T11. Luminance 5 x 300 sec. RA: 11h 14m 12.1s DEC: 48° 19′ 01″ (J2000)