Giant Sunspot Region AR 2529 17-4-16

April 22, 2016 Leave a comment

The Sun’s activity is now heading towards solar minimum, but it can still occasionally surprise us with some large surface features such as sunspot active region AR 2529 which appeared over the last weekend. To give you some idea of scale you could fit five Earth’s inside the dark area of that sunspot ! It is so large people have reported seeing it at sunset behind thin cloud with the naked eye.

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Images taken 17-4-16 12:10pm, PST CaK, DMK 400

Categories: Solar Tags: , , , ,

The Dark Skies of Anglesey, North Wales

March 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Spent a few days up on Anglesey near Penmon where they have stunning dark skies so I took the opportunity to do a little astrophotography from the back garden of the cottage, which overlooked the sea to the north. Orion was prominent in the western sky while to the south Jupiter was rising above the roof and through the trees. Many star clusters were visible with the naked eye including the Double Cluster, three clusters in the southern half of Auriga and M44 (The Beehive) near Gemini. The Andromeda Galaxy was easy to find in the north.

The Isle of Anglesey AONB is currently working towards gaining Dark Sky Reserve Status and you can follow their progress here The view was quite spectacular on a moonless night with stars from horizon to horizon. Light pollution was minimal for naked eye viewing, particularly to the north and west. The main problem for photographers will be the large number of passenger jets heading east – west in the north and it was difficult to take a photo which did not have a plane trail in it.

All images taken with the Sony RX100, F1.8, 28mm, ISO 3200, 8 second exposures.

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Orion in the west

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Jupiter rising through the lower branches of the tree

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Jupiter gleaming over Penmaenmawr and the Snowdonia Mountains

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Looking west to Benllech and Amlwch with the constellations Cassiopeia, Perseus  and Andromeda. The faint smudge just right of centre is the Andromeda Galaxy.

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Looking north west to Cassiopeia and Andromeda with the Milky Way faintly glowing

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The Plough looking north east

Spectacular Aurora over Mid Wales tonight !

Once again the value of Twitter for aurora alerts was proven tonight. I started to pick up reports of a Class G-1 storm reaching KP5 levels of visibility in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland at around 8.20pm tonight and then by 9pm there were reports from Southern Ireland. I thought I would take a look even though no reports from Wales were coming in and was rewarded with the most spectacular light show to date for our area. Pillars of white light were numerous with a background of greens and magenta reds in the north and north west. Occasional higher bands could be seen early on right round to the west and fairly high up.

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Images taken 9.30 – 10.30 6/3/16 Sony RX100, ISO 3200, 28mm, F1.8, 8 seconds.

Categories: Aurora Tags: , , ,

Comet Catalina – Now Visible in Binoculars

January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

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Above: Comet Catalina on 15/1/2016 at 23.31 pm from the back garden. Sony RX100, 28mm, F1.8, ISO 3200, 8 seconds. A crop of the image below.

Comet C/2013 US 10 Catalina will be at it’s closest approach to Earth on Sunday 17th January at about 110 million kilometres away. It is already speeding away from the Sun and back out of the Solar System and losing brightness fast. With a Full Moon coming up on January 24th this really is your last chance to see the comet with binoculars from your back garden as the moonlight will make it very difficult to see. I had a look last night in wonderful clear skies and the comet was easily visible in 8 x 30 binoculars.

The photograph above gives a pretty accurate idea of what you will see through binoculars. Look for a faint grey fuzzy splodge with a slightly brighter core to the left of the star Alkaid which forms the tip of the handle in the constellation Ursa Major (also called the Big Dipper, The Plough, The Saucepan).  If you are stepping outdoors from a brightly lit house your eyes will need 5 – 10 minutes to fully adjust to the dark conditions and resolve the faintest stars and the comet. Turn off all outside lights and don’t use torches as these will ruin the ability of your eyes to adjust and see fainter objects. Just stand and look at all the amazing constellations around you for a bit then zoom in with the binoculars and let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness. Scan the area to the left of the star Alkaid (use the finder chart below) and you should pick up the faint grey smudge of light that makes up the comet. Feast your eyes on this small object as it is the last time humans will see it. Catalina will never return due to its orbital path.

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Above: The position of the comet to the left of the bright star Alkaid in Ursa Major 15/1/16 23.31 pm

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Above: Finder chart courtesy of freecharts.com to help you locate the comet between the 15th and 22nd January

While you are out there under the stars do also take a look behind you to the south and the fabulous Orion constellation with the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters to the west of it. It was really glistening last night in a very dark and clear sky from our house.

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Above: The constellation Orion to left with the Hyades (right of centre) and Pleiades (right) star clusters. Image taken 15/1/16 23.39 pm Sony RX100, 28mm, F1.8, ISO 3200, 8 seconds.

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

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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)

 

Aurora over Mid Wales ! 7th October 2015

October 7, 2015 Leave a comment

DSC049836.47pm looking west

Aurora alerts were coming in at 6.30pm on Twitter tonight for KP6 – 7 storm level activity with naked eye aurora potentially visible in Wales and even further south. I headed out for a good wide view to the north at 6.45pm and was immediately greeted with naked eye visible aurora across the whole northern sky from west to north east. I could perceive colour for the first time tonight where I had only seen faint white wisps of light before with green and magenta being clearly discerned. We had amazing bands of green at fairly high altitude for our latitude and then tall pillars of whiter light projected upwards into the darker star filled sky. The show seemed to peak early for our location and was largely over by 7.30pm, but continued to be amazingly intense further north in England and particularly in Scotland.

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Here’s how that geomagnetic storm developed on the Planetary K index graph from NOAA in the US. It has to hit KP7 for aurora to be visible in Wales and you can see it hitting that between 7 – 9am on the 7th October.

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Categories: Aurora Tags: , , ,