Saturday, January 11, 2014

Astronomical Events: 2014

Meteor Showers:

April 22/23- Lyrids  20 per hour, radiant in Lyra.

May 5/6- Eta Aquarids  30-60 per hour, radiant in Aquarius.

May 24- Possible Meteor Shower/Meteor Storm, derived from debris trail of comet P/209 Linear. Possible hourly rates anywhere from 100 to 400+ .

July 28/29- Delta Aquarids  20 per hour, radiant in Aquarius.

August 12/13- Perseids  60 per hour, radiant in Perseus. One of the best annual showers.

October 8/9- Draconids  10 per hour, radiant in Draco. Minor shower.

October 22/23- Orionids  20 per hour, radiant in Orion.

November 5/6- Taurids  Up to 10 per hour, radiant in Taurus. Minor shower.

November 17/18- Leonids 15-20 per hour, radiant in Leo.

December 13/14- Geminids  90-120+ per hour, radiant in Gemini. The best annual shower.

December 22/23- Ursids  5-10 per hour, radiant in Ursa Minor. Minor shower.

Planetary Activity:

April 8- Mars Opposition

May 10- Saturn Opposition

August 18- Venus/Jupiter Conjunction

August 29- Neptune Opposition

October 7- Uranus Opposition

Lunar/Solar Eclipse:  

April 15- Total Lunar Eclipse. North/South America, Australia.

April 29- Annular Solar Eclipse. Africa, Australia.

October 8- Total Lunar Eclipse. North/South America, Asia, Australia.

October 23- Partial Solar Eclipse. North/Central America.

Full/New Moons:  

Full- Jan 16, Feb 14, Mar 16, Apr 15, May 14, Jun 13, July 12, Aug 10, Sep 9, Oct 8, Nov 6, Dec 6

New- Jan 30, Mar 1, Mar 30, Apr 29, May 28, Jun 27, July 26, Aug 25, Sep 24, Oct 23, Nov 22, Dec 22

Special Events:  

March 20- Occultation of the star Regulus by asteroid 163 Erigone. Eastern North America, visible in a northwest line from NYC to Ontario, Canada. The asteroid will move directly in front of Regulus, causing the star to disappear for up to 12 seconds. 

October 19- Conjunction of Mars and Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring. The comet will be so close to Mars that the planet will be enveloped by the comet's coma. 


Monday, December 30, 2013

Observatory Update: December 30 2013

 Greetings to you my fellow followers and amateur astronomers! I hope you've all had a great holiday season, no matter what holiday you observe. With 2013 now in our rear view mirrors and 2014 quickly approaching, I wanted to take a moment to share with you some updates and what you can expect from Chuckwalla Observatory in the upcoming months.

  The year 2013 has brought us some wonderful astronomical events. Lunar eclipses, meteor showers, a few comets and's been a pretty good year. I suspect 2014 will be no different. In a later post, I will share with you a list of major events you can look forward to in the upcoming year. A lot of astro-happenings means a lot of Youtube videos...and this year I've posted more videos than I ever have before! My goal was to reach 100 videos by the end of 2013, and I'm happy to say I've reached that goal. I want to thank all of my subscribers and casual viewers for taking the time to watch them. Over the past few months I have seen a large increase in the amount of subscribers I've gotten on my channel. Thank you! It's because of you that I continue to make these videos, and it's because of you that I will continue to do so and hopefully hit the 200 mark sometime next year. So stay tuned to the channel. I've got a lot planned for 2014. Astronomical observing videos, equipment reviews and how-to tutorials are all planned for the line up.

 A new year also means a bit of a funding boost for the hardware side of the operation. Some time in February I'm going to be getting some new equipment for my main telescope, hopefully enabling me to use it quite a bit more and adding increased functionality to it. A new guiding set-up, a focal reducer and a Hyperstar system are all in the works. I also have an equatorial wedge that I obtained earlier in the year, which is long overdue for a review. So expect to see some new videos on my Youtube channel shortly that will discuss these items in depth and how they are used.

 This year I am also going to be doing something I've always wanted to do in the past. I'm going to be observing and imaging all 110 Messier objects! That's right, I'm starting Project M-110. The goal is to have this project completed by Christmas 2014. To give myself a better chance of finishing on time I've already started by getting two objects knocked out: M1 the Crab Nebula and M45 the Pleiades cluster. Additionally, each object will get it's own Youtube video that will explain what type of object it is, when it was discovered and some basic information about the object along with my image of it. It is certainly an obtainable goal to have all 110 objects finished by Dec. 25th 2014, but to make it on time I will have to image on average 9-10 objects per month. Stay tuned for updates and videos regarding the M-110 project.

 I wish all of you a Happy New Year! Please enjoy yourselves but remember to be safe. I look forward to bringing you more astronomy related content in 2014 and enjoying the wonders of the cosmos together.

M1 the Crab Nebula:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Chuckwalla Observatory!

 I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Happy Holidays from Chuckwalla Observatory.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Comet ISON Update: 2nd Death?

 Well my friends, it's not looking good for our dear Comet ISON. The last two days have been revealing as to what Ison's future is likely to be. As you already know, Ison made it's perihelion approach on Thanksgiving Day and was seemingly destroyed by the sun's relentless heat. But a few hours later, it was observed that something had made it through the solar gauntlet intact. 

It was unknown what exactly had made it through, and at this point we still don't know if it was a fragment of the nucleus or a pile of dust and rubble. But what was interesting is the fact that this remnant of Ison began to brighten up and act like a lest for a while. However, over the past 48 hours, this remnant began to dim and disperse. At this point, it has become rather ethereal in nature and much less bright that it had been. 

 So what's next? No one can say exactly. The remains of Ison is no longer in the field of view of the SOHO LASCO imagers, so it can no longer be tracked that way. Hopefully another observatory can try and catch it in the next few days. My gut feeling tells me it is probably over for Ison, although it wouldn't surprise me if Ison pulled some sort of trick out of it's sleeve. While it is entirely possible the remnant could make an interesting telescopic object if it doesn't disperse completely, I would not expect to see it with the naked eye. 

 My apologies to everyone who was expecting a fabulous naked eye object for December. I know it's very disappointing to have lost this gem of a comet. Some of you may have even bought telescopes to see Ison. We can't control the forces of nature, we have to observe and enjoy the wonders of the universe on it's terms. Ison may not have made it to greatness, but what it did do is give the gift of information. It's uniqueness will give science something to study for many years to come. This is Ison's legacy.

Image from NASA/SOHO:

Friday, November 29, 2013

Comet ISON is DEAD....or perhaps NOT!

 Well, after a year of waiting and watching, the day finally arrived. November 28th, 2013. Just Thanksgiving Day to most. But for a few, a day that meant a little bit more than usual this year. Perihelion Day. The day that Comet C/2012 S1 ISON made it's closest approach to our sun. The day that would make or break our beloved "Comet of the Century".

 We watched the spectacle unfold in almost real time on the internet. Oh, the wonders of today's technology. Ison was too close to the sun to watch with the eye, too much glare and far too dangerous to point a telescope in it's direction. But through space borne solar observatories like SOHO and SDO, we could see the show unfold through their eyes. Yet, with today's technology, we could not predict what was to come next.

Ison looked very healthy in the hours before perihelion, all seemed to be going well. It was very bright, in the negative magnitude range, and seemed to be behaving as a good comet should. Yet, as the comet started to close in on the sun, it started to dim a little bit. Then a little bit more, and a little more, and a little more. It continued to dim until it appeared as but as a ghost of it's former self. The bright coma, the head of the comet, seemed to warp and elongate until it was no longer recognizable. And it faded away even more. And we waited some more, waited to see what would emerge on the other side of the sun. Nothing came. All the excitement and anxiety that built up over the past few months turned into a 100 pound block of disappointment that slugged me in the stomach. I had watched the object that I researched and studied and imaged for the past several months die before my very eyes.

Or did I?

A bit later, when I checked the most recent imagery from the SOHO solar observatory, I noticed something. Right where I had expected Ison to emerge on the other side of the sun, something was emerging. It was faint, but it was there. A spark of hope flickered for a moment. After looking at the image, I concluded that I was seeing the remains of Ison's dusty tail moving along it's would be orbit. I checked again a bit later. The ghostly tail was more pronounced in the next image. And in the next, and in the next. And, it was getting brighter and looking more comet-like. Something made it through! 

This is not typical comet behavior. But of course, Ison is not typical comet. From the very start, Ison has shown erratic behavior. After it's discovery, it seemed like a typical comet with a potential for greatness. It was found to be a comet who's orbit takes it very close to the sun...called a sun grazer. Comets that make this kind of trip tend to get very bright and form a very long tail...if they can survive the trip. Near the sun, Ison would have to endure temperatures of nearly 5000 degrees and powerful gravitational forces. All while making a hairpin turn at over 800,000 mph. Comets that can endure the punishment usually blossom into naked eye spectacles. Thus, Ison aquired it's "Comet of the Century" status. But later in it's orbit, Ison was observed to be exhibiting odd behavior. It was not brightening at the expected rate. In fact it was running 2 magnitudes dimmer than it should have been, As it got closer, it seemed to brighten up...but very slow. It started to vent gas and turned a nice green color, but it wasn't producing as much dust as it should. As it got even closer, it finally started to brighten substantially like it should. And then it dimmed again. Near perihelion, it exploded in brightness and gas/dust production. And then it dimmed again, and seemingly was vaporized in by the solar furnace. And came back.

What is going on? Know one knows for sure, not even the comet experts. Scientists are dumbfounded by this behavior. It is still very much uncertain what came out the other side. All that is known is that it is there, it is getting brighter, and seems to be sporting a tail. It could be a large fragment of Ison's nucleus. It could be a stream of comet pebbles. And it could be days until we know for sure. But now, we will have to watch and see what happens next. Ison, are you still with us?

NASA photo from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Nova Alert: Bright Nova Delphini 2013

There has been a new development over the past couple of days. A previously non distinct star near the constellation Delphinus has literally exploded in luminosity very recently.

 The sudden brightening of this star is called a nova, and this one is named Nova Delphini 2013. A nova is the result when a type of star, called a white dwarf, accumulates hydrogen on it's surface. The hydrogen ignites and causes an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction and explodes in a powerful outburst. White dwarves are stellar remnants. They are the last phase in the stellar life cycle when a star does not have sufficient mass to go supernova and become a neutron star or black hole. Most stars will become a white dwarf, including our own Sun. 

 Most, if not all novae, are though to happen in binary star systems that include a white dwarf and a larger companion star. If the stars are very close, the strong gravitational influence of the dwarf can rip off stellar material from the companion and deposit it on it's surface. This material becomes compressed and heated until it undergoes nuclear fusion. This reaction can become unstable and lead to a massive explosion on the dwarf's surface. This is what causes the star to become much brighter than normal.

 A nova should not be confused with a supernova. A supernova results when the entire star explodes, whereas a nova is just a explosion on the surface. A white dwarf involved with a nova will still be intact and can repeat the process many times. In some cases, a white dwarf can accrete too much stellar material and explode as a type of supernova.

 Currently Nova Delphini 2013 is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye in dark sky areas. It's brightness is between magnitude +4 and +5 and is steadily brightening. For more information about this nova and how to find it in the sky, follow this link:Bright New Nova In Delphinus — You can See it Tonight With Binoculars

 Finally, here is an image of Delphini 2013 that I've recently taken:


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Perseids are coming!

  Wow it's been a while since I've put up a new post, been busy with a bunch of stuff over the past few months. I hope to be able to start posting on here a lot more often, we have some cool astronomy happenings coming up later this year. More on that in a later post.

 For now lets focus on what's going on in the near future: the Perseid meteor shower. It's that time of year again for one of the most spectacular meteor shows of the year, perhaps second only to the December Geminids. The Perseids run from mid July to late August, and peak on August 11-13. They originate from the tail remanents of Comet Swift-Tuttle and are notable for producing very bright meteor streaks in the sky. The Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, from which they get their name, and the expected hourly rate this year is anywhere from 60 to 100 per hour.

 So when and where to look? Start this weekend on the night of the 11th/morning of the 12th. The young crescent moon will have set before midnight, so begin your search then. The radiant in Perseus will be low in the sky toward the northeast, but the meteors can and will appear from anywhere in the sky. The best times to watch will be in the early morning hours of the 12th and 13th.

 Have fun and get out your cameras. You might be able to get a quick pic of a meteor. Because it is impossible to anticipate when and where a meteor will appear, you will have to take many pictures over a long period and hope to capture one. Use a wide angle lens or set your zoom to it's widest point. Use a tripod or lay your camera on a flat surface pointing up. Set it to take several 10-20 second exposures at a high ISO setting. Afterwards, you can look though your images and hopefully you'll have a nice meteor surprise!