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

NGC2264alt-800

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

Comet-Catalina2alt-1280-5-750

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

NGC-3583-SNalt3-750

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.

DSC049946.57pm looking north west

DSC049976.59pm looking north

DSC04998-27.06 pm looking north

DSC050007.07pm looking north

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: , , ,

Supermoon and Total Lunar Eclipse – September 28th 2015

September 28, 2015 Leave a comment

IMG_0336Supermoon at 12:19 am 28/9/15 Equinox ED80 Canon 350d @ prime focus

OK so I am going to try and update this post tonight as the combined supermoon and total lunar eclipse progress. The post may become more incoherent as tiredness takes over, but we will see how far we get ! If you don’t know what I am talking about and you live in the UK, Western Europe, West Africa, Greenland, Iceland or North America then take a look at the info. here Astronomy Now Magazine – Total Lunar Eclipse

Tonight we have a rare treat. The Moon is currently at perigree ie. it’s closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit. This means that the Moon will appear approximately 8% larger than normal and this event is popularly referred to as a ‘supermoon’. But there’s more ! The Moon is also aligned fully within the Earth’s shadow and will therefore darken dramatically to a deep brownish red colour at totality between 3.11am and 4.23am (BST). The red colour is caused by light from the Sun passing through Earth’s atmosphere around the edge of the globe. The blue light of our atmosphere is scattered more easily, but the red light of the various sunsets and sunrises around the edge makes it through and is projected onto the surface of the Moon.

Currently the sky is clear and the supermoon looks fantastic over the roof of our house. I have a Skywatcher Equinox ED 80 refractor mounted on an EQ6 equatorial mount which is computer driven so that it tracks the Moon. Photographs are being taken with my rather ancient Canon 350D DSLR mounted directly onto the telescope tube at prime focus and  using the telescope as the lens. Focusing is a bit hit and miss with this setup as the 350D does not have a Liveview that you can zoom so I have to get the focus set up as close as possible via the small viewfinder and then view each shot zoomed in, re-focus, take another shot and view zoomed in it etc. until the focus looks good.

The eclipse action starts at 1.12am (BST) when the Moon starts to enter the Earth’s shadow in the penumbral phase. We won’t notice anything until 2.07am (BST) though when the umbral phase begins and we see the Earth’s shadow creep across the top left limb of the Moon.

UPDATE 4.28 am….. Well the live thing didn’t work out as I had to constantly monitor the setup and change the camera exposure settings throughout to capture the full red colouring and change of light. Have to say that was bloody fantastic to watch !!! 4.15 am and I am still wide awake with excitement 🙂 Anyway here are a few photos through to maximum  totality at 3.47am and beyond…..

IMG_03442.26 (BST) Quarter Shadow

IMG_03482.54 (BST) Half Shadow

IMG_03613.16 (BST) Red colouring appears

IMG_03633.21 (BST)

IMG_03683.28 (BST)

IMG_0383Maximum Totality 3.59 (BST)

IMG_03864.01 (BST)

Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy)

August 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Comet C/2014 Q2 put on a superb show at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) in mid January 2015 and I caught some images of it back in March 2015  when it was around magnitude 6.8. It is fading fast now as it leaves the Solar System, but can still be picked up in telescopes at magnitude 10.3. Here you can just make it out as a fuzzy ball of light at the centre of the image passing through space between the constellations of Draco and Bootes.

C2014Q2-2

Comet Lovejoy Orbit 13-8-15Orbit view showing the current location of the comet as it leaves the Solar System

Image taken 11.38 pm New Mexico Time (UTC -6) with iTelescope.net T3 (Tak TOA 150, SBIG ST-8300C One Shot Color CCD) 5 x 120 sec Lum.

Categories: Comets Tags: ,