Category Archives: Astronomy

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) – FOUND!

It’s really late, I’m really short on time, but the short version is that being stubborn paid off tonight. The maps and information from TheSkyLive.com helped a ton.

Shooting blind, bracketing the framing, I finally identified that I was aiming too high on the first two sets of photos, so I went back out for a third. Do you see the fuzzy, faint, green dot? That’s the comet.

Here’s a portion of the map from TheSkyLive.com that matches what you’re seeing.

If I shoot short pictures (5 seconds) I don’t get as much washed out sky from the light pollution. But the comet is really faint and diffuse.

If I shoot longer pictures (13 seconds) I get a ton of light pollution washing everything out – but you can almost sort of start to see some of the tail. Maybe.

Here’s the frame from TheSkyLive.com that matches those two photos.

The other problem, as seen from this final frame from TheSkyLive.com, is that we’re close to the horizon, so even if the sky were clear of haze (it’s not) and/or light pollution (it’s really, REALLY not!) we would still be looking through a lot of air. So, three strikes.

But I FOUND IT ANYWAY!

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Comet C/2002 E3 (ZTF)

You might have heard about the “green” comet. It’s been lurking around in the Corona Borealis constellation for a while and is now moving over between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, headed toward Casseopeia. All of those are fairly bright constellations near the north celestial pole, so in theory the comet should be easy-ish to find.

It’s just now growing to be bright enough to be visible to the naked eye – if you’re in a dark location with no light pollution and a cloud-free, haze-free sky. “If” carries a lot of weight in that sentence. The Los Angeles suburbs and the infamous San Fernando Valley have none of those things.

Which is why I’m using binoculars, which in theory at this point should make the comet easily visible – if I’m looking in the right place.

So I’m using a map – this one from TheSkyLive.com is really good. Just make sure you have it set for the correct time and location.

For the past four nights I’ve looked, but haven’t seen it yet. On the other hand, to our north it’s been hazy as all get out, some times tough to even seen the bright stars of The Big Dipper, even with binoculars. With a faint, diffuse comet being that much harder to see, I’m not surprised.

But tonight is much more clear, so I’m going to go back out. We’ll see what we’ll see.

Comet ZTF will be getting more bright and rising higher in the sky for Northern Hemisphere viewers over the next several weeks. If you’re up late, like near midnight, or at least after 22:00, go take a look!

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Saturn & Venus & Moon

One more night. The moon’s passing Venus and Saturn by and the two planets are also splitting. They’re pretty, but they’re not spectacular, while Saturn’s fading fast. (“Fast” = over the next couple of weeks, but still a lot dimmer than it was even a week or two ago.)

Not so much color in tonight’s sunset, but at least the wind’s gone. Mid-sunset you can barely see Saturn.

The moon is now three days old, something like 16% illuminated. Saturn is now well below Venus, much different than just two days ago. You can only wonder what the ancients thought of that, the “stars” moving around in what HAD to be a permanently fixed heaven.

Close up with a longer exposure you can still see the color difference. But Saturn’s apparent color will fade as it gets dimmer, mainly because it will only be visible against a much brighter sunset sky.

As always, the moon’s crescent is so much brighter than it seems when shooting photos. There’s a little bit of detail to be seen there.

But overexpose the illuminated crescent and the Earthshine-lit face of the moon is clearly visible.

Pulling out the iPhone for the wide angle picture, Saturn fades away completely, but now we’ve got Jupiter visible at the top.

Tonight I also had one of the local barred owls in a tree right above me, hooting like a fool, right up until I switched the iPhone to video. Then, dead silence. My video is several minutes long and it didn’t make a peep. I do wonder if turning on the camera turned on some sort of infrared illuminated focusing mechanism and that flashing IR signal was visible to the owl.

I wonder how much of this scene, moon and planets, can be seen by the owl. And what it thinks of it, if anything.

Maybe that’s just us.

Maybe not!

 

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Venus & Saturn & Sunset

Tonight was the closest approach of Venus & Saturn in this conjunction. It happened about three and a half hours before these photos, but I wasn’t able to see until after sunset. That’s life on a small, round ball of dirt and water in the midst of an extremely vast cosmos.

Speaking of sunset…

Boy, howdy! Normally the most spectacular ones I’ve seen have a lot of big clouds, but tonight was a lot of very high haze. Wowsers!

I wish this photo could event begin to show all of the layers upon layers of different shades of orange and pink and peach colors that could be seen.

While spectacular, it was also enough clouds to be obscuring what I wanted to observe, i.e., Venus and Saturn. By this time I should have easily been able to see Venus, as bright as it is. But, no joy. I wasn’t at all convinced that I would be able to see Saturn when it got a bit more dark. But I went out anyway a half hour later to see what could be seen.

Stupid moi! I had sort of forgotten about that whole “moon” thing that’s two days past new moon and just the tiniest of slivers hanging there just barely above the horizon.

The other factor which I hadn’t taken into consideration was the wind. It is freakin’ howling out there, as you can see from the palm trees. I’m glad that I shot a lot of pictures, since most of them are blurred as all get out, even with the use of my heavy, “good” tripod.

It was great to see the moon slipping below the Calabasas hills, at one point with the lit crescent part below the ridge but still with part of the Earthshine-illuminated upper arc still visible. I would share that with you but all of those pictures look like I was taking them from a trampoline mounted on a roller coaster, so you’ll have to trust me on this one and use your imagination.

As it finally got dark I could see Saturn, but it was definately dimmer than last night, caused by the thin, high cloud layer. But you can see how Saturn has moved relative to Venus, past it to the right and down toward the horizon. (Of course, remember that it’s your relative view that’s changing, we’re all seperated by almost a billion miles and they only look “near” each other since we happen to be at a particular spot in our relative orbits as we all circle the sun.)

Darkness finally, cold (into the upper 40’s, which is cold for SoCal), and the gales blowing, it was easier to see Saturn.

Remember, if you didn’t get a chance to see this tonight or last night, if you get a clear Western sky about an hour after sunset, go look anytime over the next week to ten days. The two will be separating with Venus going ↖ away from the sun and Saturn going ↘ toward the sun and getting dimmer and lost in the glare of the evening twilight. But you’ve got a few days if you’ve missed it so far. Binoculars will help, if you’ve got them.

And don’t forget Jupiter overhead, or Mars back behind you near Orion.

Get outside! Take a look!

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Venus & Saturn

If you have a clear Western horizon and no clouds one of the next couple of nights, take a look about 45 minutes to an hour after sunset.

(Photo by Steven Willett)

In Texas tonight, they had a more colorful sunset than we did, but up at the top center you’ll see two objects. The bright one at the bottom is Venus. Just above it, dimmer, is Saturn.

 

From Los Angeles’ west San Fernando Valley, there was a much more blase sunset, but the planets were no less bright, even on a cell phone.

With the good camera (Canon DSLR) and a telephoto lens you can start to see the bright white color of Venus, as well as the softer, more yellow color of Saturn. If you have a small telescope or even a decent pair of binoculars, the rings of Saturn can start to be seen.

 

These two have been getting closer for weeks. Venus is rising into the sunset sky, it’s apparent motion taking it away from the sun, while Saturn’s apparent motion will be taking it behind the sun from our viewpoint, so it’s sinking quickly into the evening twilight. In about two weeks it will be almost impossible to see, being too close to the sun to be seen after sunset.

Tomorrow night, just after sunset on the North American East Coast on Sunday, January 22nd, will be the closest they’ll appear to each other, both easily visible in a telescope or binocular field of view. But you’ll still see them near each other on Monday, or Tuesday, or the next several days. Just a little bit further apart every day.

But, like I remind you with all of these events, no matter what the mainstream media would like to tell you about, “***TONIGHT***, there’s this ***AMAZING*** THING going on!” it’s not just tonight. Or tomorrow. So if it’s cloudy this weekend for you, but nice on Monday or Tuesday, go look anyway. Be a rebel!

And while you’re out there and you’ve seen bright, white Venus and dimmer, yellow-ish Saturn on the Western horizon after sunset, look up, near the zenith.

That really bright object almost directly overhead? That’s Jupiter. And if you have binoculars or a telescope, the Galilean moons are easily visible.

If you stay up a little past sunset, out in the east where you see Orion (one of the easier constellations to find), look just to the west of Orion and you’ll see the Pleiades cluster (lovely!) and between it and Orion you’ll see a bright-ish red object. That’s Mars.

If you have a telescope that’s just a little bit bigger than a beginner’s model, about halfway between Mars and Jupiter you might see Uranus, a blue-green object. But you will need that telescope.

If you have a decent telescope, probably 8″ or bigger, look just to the west of Jupiter to find Neptune, which will be a deep blue color.

But remember, even if you don’t have a telescope or binoculars, even if all you have is your Standard Issue Mark I Eyeball, you can see Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and of course, that fourth planet that’s easily visible in this picture.

Earth. Third rock from the Sun. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

Enjoy your sightseeing!

 

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Last Week’s Full Moon & Clouds Before The Storm

Last Friday night the full moon looked amazing through the cloud layers that were leading the way for the rest of the big storm that hit on the weekend.

What was really odd, and not really visible at all to the eye (which makes me wonder if it’s some sort of artifact, like dew or moisture on the lens) was the ring around the moon a minute or two later.

But looking at the way there’s a thin layer of clouds from about 7:00 to 3:00, where the arc is, but no thin clouds and no arc from about 3:00 to 7:00… Maybe there was some odd boundry layer there in that layer of clouds and I was seeing the moon at just the right spot?

Who knows? I’m just throwing ideas up against the wall to see what sticks…

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First Sunset Of 2023

I really wasn’t expecting to be able to see anything for the rest of the week as far as sunsets go, given the “atmospheric river” that lining up to dump many inches of (much needed, I know, I KNOW!) rain on California for the last four or five days and the next ten days or more. But lo and behold, we were between rain bands this evening and the sky was clear right at sunset.

Nice gradient. That whole thing I was talking about last week with all nine planets lined up has pretty much passed. Mercury has now sunk down in the evening sky toward the Sun and is too dim in the twilight to see, so on the Western hornizon we’re just left with Venus.

Even it’s not far from the Sun, but it’s really stinking bright so you can see it there just below center, to the left of that tree.

Above it was easy by this time to see Jupiter (also stinking bright) straight overhead, and Mars off to the east, reasonably bright and red, over in the neighborhood of Orion. In between Jupiter and Venus you can see Saturn if you know which one it is, and the Moon is also up off in the east, so that’s five of the six naked eye stars visible, plus the Moon. (I’m counting the telephone pole, wires, and neighbor’s houses as a legitimate sighting of the Third Rock from the Sun.)

I hope your New Year’s Eve was safe and enjoyable and your New Year’s Day restful and fun. Tomorrow we get all of the parades and the remaining football bowl games, so I hope you get to enjoy them without having to work. You’ll know how the weather’s deteriorating in SoCal by the weather conditions for the Rose Parade (should be dry-ish) and the Rose Bowl (may or may not get through the whole game without rain).

Meanwhile, 2023 fired a warning shot across my bow in the form of a whole slew of two-factor authentication codes being sent to my phone for my Google and Gmail accounts. I’ve changed the passwords and that seems to have stopped it for now, and I’ve verified that there aren’t any unauthorized logins, but I may end up spending a good chunk of tomorrow updating and changing all of my passwords on all critical accounts. Fun! Just what I was looking forward to.

Let’s not start off this way, 2023. I will not be willing to cut you much slack, just to be clear.

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All Of The Planets – If Your Sky Is Clear

There’s a thing going on this week where all of the planets (including Pluto), plus the Moon, plus Ceres will all be above the horizon and visible at the same time. Phil Plait has a great article about it with maps and so on.

In short, immediately after sunset, look to the west and you’ll see Venus right near the horizon, Mercury above it a bit in the twilight, then looking up from there you’ll see Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, with the Moon moving around in there from day to day. With binoculars and a map you can find Uranus, possibly Neptune, and Ceres, the largest asteroid. With a mid-sized telescope you can see Neptune, and with a big telescope and/or a camera set up you can see Pluto. The Earth, of course, is below you.

Wednesday’s the best day for this, but you can probably see it almost any night this week, adjusting for how the planets move a bit every day.

Assuming, of course, that you have a clear sky. It might be cold, but it needs to be clear.

We’ll be relatively warm, temps in the 50’s and 60’s, but it’s gonna look like this:

This is the storm moving in from the west. By noon tomorrow it’s supposed to be raining pretty steadily for the next ten days or more. Again, as always, we’re in year four of one of the worst droughts on record so all of this rain is extremely welcome. Except, of course, for that whole “rain = clouds = NO planets visible” equation.

We’ll see if we get lucky. I’ll take a peek this weekend every day around sunset. You should do the same.

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Sunset – Winter Solstice 2022

(Click to enlargenate!)

The winter solstice was about seven hours ago. Tomorrow, in the Northern Hemisphere, the daylight will last for a few seconds longer. South of the equator, the days will start getting shorter.

For us in the north, the light returns, the cycle repeats, the journey moves onward.

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Occultation

Big goings on in the heavens tonight as the Moon moved in front of Mars and hid it for about an hour, and event known as an “occultation.”

(Was Mars hiding, or was the Moon blocking it? Who’s to blame? What was happening on Mars during that hour that the Martians didn’t want us to know about from Curiosity? Inquiring minds…)

I didn’t have the time to spare to pull out the big telescope and get it set up, but that didn’t stop me from taking time to watch and pull my camera and a video camera and a couple of tripods out. There are some truly spectacular pictures and videos out there from some of the big observatories (see Griffith Observatory, for example), but these are my “fast & dirty” results.

Before we get into the sequences, a note about basic physics and optics. The short version: the full Moon is 3.75 gazillion times brighter than Mars. So trying to take pictures that show the Moon, you need a very short exposure, in this case, 1/4000 second, the shortest exposure my 17-year-old Canon DSLR can do.

But then you can just barely see Mars. To show Mars clearly, you need a much longer exposure (1/160 second) which leaves the Moon as a white, featureless blob, looking more like the Sun.

Somewhere in the middle, if you’re lucky, there is a picture that gives you some bright, washed out detail on the Moon while also still showing the planet 50,000,000 miles away.

First, screen captures from the video camera. It has a great 20x optical zoom, but the resolution is quite a bit less than the DVR or any commercial quality video camera. Still, given five minutes of setup, these aren’t bad. These are small, low-resolution files, but they make a nice progression.

Prior to the occultation, with Mars to the lower left of the Moon, at about the “seven o’clock position”:

I was having some real problems with the tripod malfunctioning, so I’m amazed that I caught this at all! These captures are all about 30 seconds apart.

About an hour later, coming back out at about the “two o’clock position”:

These photos are about a minute apart.

Secondly, with the big camera, I didn’t get much worth sharing when Mars disappeared, but when it was reappearing I did much better (remember to click on the photos to see them full sized!):

Meanwhile, through binoculars, this was an amazing sight! I hope you got a chance to see it for yourself!

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