Yesterday, even if I’m located in the light polluted Montreal suburb, I decided to head out at quarter to midnight to see if I could by chance spot one or two bright meteors from the Perseids shower. As luck would have it in the 15 minutes doesn’t looking around Cassiopeia I spotted two before clouds and a rising moon sent me indoors.
But during that time scanning and waiting, it got me thinking… It took me a good minute to find a suitable spot in my backyard free of the light from the neighbours’ houses and street lights. If there was less light pollution we could have darker skies and everyone could enjoy the show.
During Earth Hour people are asked to turn off the lights for one hour to support the fight for climate change. But I always found that pretty pointless. If you want to fight climate change, it’s an every day affaire, in your daily routine and the choices you have as a consumer, not one hour in an entire year. So the one hour lights out is more of a gimmick, doesn’t really benefit anyone. But if we had an evening of lights out during the peak of the Perseids meteor shower wouldn’t that be great!
The Perseids falls in August when it’s warm and sitting outside past sunset in the cooling air is enjoyable. Kids don’t have school so they can stay up late. And the patio furniture is out, that’s all the required equipment.
So what do you say? Light out for the 2018 Perseids? I think that’s a worthwhile collective movement.
The Perseid meteor shower is scheduled to peak tonight, but a large Moon will ruin the show. The best time is tonight (August 12) after 11pm, looking north-east.
While the sky directly overhead may look darker, it’s better to look 45degrees over the horizon to see a thicker “slice” of the atmosphere.
On April 19th a considerable sized asteroid will pass about 4.6 lunar distances (1.8 million km) from Earth. While there is no chance of it impacting our planet, this 650m asteroid was only discovered three years ago, and it will be the closest encounter of a large asteroid since asteroid Toutatis in September 2004. The next predicted fly-by of a large asteroid is 2027 with 800m wide 1990 AN10.
The expected magnitude could reach up to 11 during the close approach, hence a decent sized scope will be required, and due to the rapid movement may be hard to locate and track.
Sky chart for asteroid 2014 JO25 covering April 18th to 20th 2017
And as a bonus, comet PanSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) will also make its closest approach to Earth on the 19th, but 10 times farther away as the asteroid. I should be visible with small telescopes or binoculars in the constellation Aquarius in the dawn sky.
This weekend is the best time to see Jupiter of all 2017, because the planet is at opposition, meaning it is exactly opposite to the Sun and the Earth-Jupiter separation is also at its closest.
The photo below was taken during the September 2010 event and I happened to fall upon a fantastic low turbulence window in the atmosphere. Look closely and you’ll see the shadow of one of those moons on the Jupiter’s surface.
Jupiter – Benoit Guertin
Photos of Jupiter with the moons are a little tricky. Capturing the smaller moons require more exposure or gain, but at the risk of over-exposing the planet and turning Jupiter with those wonderful cloud bands into nothing more than a white sphere. It is always better to take a series of images or videos with different settings and review them at a later time on the computer. Some information on planetary imaging and processing is provided in my blog on imaging with a webcam.
Planetary imaging is all about controlling turbulence. Air turbulence whether within the optics, telescope, near the ground or high atmosphere will give you a blurry view. Hence some simple tips are:
- Allow your equipment to cool down a few minutes such that the equipment temperature can stabilize and match the outdoors.
- Past midnight is better as this allows time for the ground to cool especially after a sunny afternoon, reducing convective currents.
- Wait until Jupiter is high in the sky, that way there is less atmosphere between you and Jupiter. By looking straight up, you will be looking through a smaller “air column”.
A good time will be on April 10th when the Moon will next to Jupiter. See the sky chart below showing the southern part of the sky at 10pm EDT. The planet will track west as the night advances.
April 10th 2017 Sky Chart
Great photo opportunity tomorrow evening, January 31st, with a thin crescent Moon in a close formation with Mars and Venus. As the sky darkens simply look between South-West and West and you won’t miss them. However don’t wait too late, by 9pm they will have disappeared below the horizon.
Early Evening Sky (7pm) – Look WSW for this close formation
The Moon will be a thin crescent. Here it is as photographed of the Moon tonight at 5:40pm just a little less than 3 days old.
Crescent Moon – 30-JAN-2017 (5:40pm)
No high-resolution photo for this one. Took it quickly through an open window simply by hand-holding the telescope, and using Venus to quickly find focus through the camera view-finder.
Canon XTi (1/50s at ISO400)
Registax6 to align, stack and wavelet on the best 3 frames (out of a dozen)
Every given year there are between two and five solar eclipses, this upcoming one for August 21st will be special. The last total solar eclipse for North America goes back to 2008. As Earth is largely covered by water, many of the eclipses are over the ocean where the number of viewers are limited. But this one will pass over millions of people, all with access to equipment and social media to share their experience. Hence this one has lots of people planning and getting ready. The eclipse is most impressive when you’re located in the path of totality; where the Moon completely blocks out the Sun. Hence if you are able to travel to such a location along its path, it will be worth it. I also suggest finding a local astronomy group or association as they will most-likely have telescopes and other special observing gear out for everyone to use.
The total solar eclipse will only be viewed in the narrow path crossing the middle of the USA. North and south of that will get a partial eclipse. The green vertical lines indicate the time of maximum eclipse. Courtesy Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com.
Observing the solar eclipse requires protective eye-wear and solar filters for any observing or photographic equipment. For my telescope it’s a film solar filter, now branded SolarLite by Thousand Oaks Optical. These can be purchased already mounted in an aluminium cell or in sheets for your own custom application.
Thousand Oaks Optical R-G Solar Filter
The American Astronomical Society has created a web site just for the event with plenty of information on safe observation and suppliers of necessary optical filters.
December 31st will be your opportunity to easily locate and observe Neptune with a telescope as it will be within 1/3 degree of Mars low in the western part of the Sky. Mars will present a reddish magnitude 1 disk while Neptune will be much smaller, essentially a dimmer magnitude 7.8 dot. Large telescopes should reveal the blueish hue of Neptune when placed slightly out of focus.
Neptune and Mars 1/3 degree – December 31 (1 degree circle)
In the image above I’ve marked magnitude 7.9 star just outside the 1 degree circle to assist in the orientation.
However don’t wait too late in the evening, best may be shortly after 7pm once the Moon is below the horizon. Starting from the horizon you’ll able to easily locate bright Venus and about 10 degrees above will be Mars and Neptune. Bright stars Fomalhaut and Altair will be located east and west along the horizon.
Neptune Mars and Venus setting in the West – December 31 (7pm)