The best observing conditions for Jupiter in 2015 were expected to take place in February, as it would reach opposition on the 6th. Currently the gas giant is roaming constellation Cancer at a declination of about 17°, which produces rather favorable observing conditions for northern hemisphere mid-latitudes with a maximum altitude above the horizon of about 62°. Unfortunately it is heading towards the descending part of the ecliptic, so that the situation is bound to gradually worsen over the next years. However, the conditions will still be quite favorable in 2016 and for Southern Europe probably in 2017 as well.
Mar 02 2015
Jan 20 2015
Here’s another image of comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy: I’ve got more of them on my processing backlog but I picked this one because it’s the one with the longest sub-exposures. It was taken from my backyard, in a heavily light-polluted area close to Varese, Italy.
Longer sub-exposures tend to show the comet’s tail better, but at the expense of a sky background that’s way more difficult to tame because of light pollution. And indeed, it turned out to be a pain to process, but I think the result is rather pleasing. I did my best trying to bring out the faint wisps and jets in the comet’s tail. Hope you like it!
Exposure info: 78 x 90 s taken on January 11, 2015 with a Canon 6D DSLR through a Pentax 105 SDHF refractor; processing with Maxim DL, PixInsight and Photoshop. Click on the picture for a larger version; more details available in the caption.
Jan 06 2015
Discovered in August 2014 by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy (at its fifth comet discovery), this comet is putting on a nice show. It is now shining at magnitude 4, therefore within naked-eye visibility, but only under a dark sky, in the constellation Eridanus. During the month of January, the visibility conditions will improve further, as it is rapidly heading towards more northern declinations. (For more info, please check out e.g. Sky & Telescope’s website).
I imaged comet Lovejoy on December 27th, 2014, from the Apennines (Northern Italy), when it was very low in the sky at -27° declination. For this reason, I had a hard time processing the raw frames, because of strong light pollution gradients.
The best conditions will occur between the 15th and the 20th of January, where the New Moon will not hinder observation and the comet will most likely be shining brighter at 4 or even 3.5 magnitude. It is worth noting that this comet is not really a memorable object, but nevertheless those who will be patient enough to drive to a dark location and point a pair of binoculars at it, will not be disappointed.
The pictures in this post were taken with a Canon 6D and a Pentax 75 refractor; please see their respective captions for more technical info. The first picture is more realistic, in that it clearly shows the motion of the comet through the stars, while in the one below, which is a bit more processed, the comet is shown “still” with respect to the background stars. Enjoy!
Dec 26 2014
Imaging the Sun in a very narrow band centered on the h-alpha emission line (656.3 nm) yields some of the most stunning images of our star, which show a wealth of details and features on the solar surface which are not visible in white light. I have recently built a so-called “modified PST” solar telescope from a used Coronado PST. The instrument is still “work in progress” and I will most likely report on its construction in another article.
I left my solar telescope to collect dust for a quite a while, but in the month of October 2014 a huge sunspot group, called “AR 2192” (see for example here), put on a really impressive show. This revived my interest in solar imaging and kind of “forced” me to find the time to acquire some images. Unfortunately not under the best observing conditions, because it was very close to the solar limb and it would very soon disappear from view into the invisible side of the Sun.
Oct 15 2014
As everybody knows, the fall Milky Way offers several among the most beautiful objects in the northern hemisphere sky. Most often, the attention will focus mainly on the most prominent objects, such as the Double Cluster in Perseus, the Heart Nebula, the California Nebula, etc. However, there are a host of less famous objects (open clusters, nebulae, etc.) which are real gems. The constellation of Cassiopea, despite its small size, is replete with such gems. These objects, if taken individually, are generally suitable for relatively long focal lengths, but they can also make very nice targets for medium-field astrophotography.
In my opinion, one such gem is NGC 654, an open cluster located at about 2 degrees NE of delta Cassiopeiae. This open cluster, which shines at magnitude 6.5 and has an apparent diameter of about 5’, can boast a really nice treat: a very elusive reflection nebula, Vdb 6, snaking along its southwestern border.
Sep 15 2014
The 2014 opposition of Mars was due to take place in mid-April, with the planet in the constellation Virgo at a declination of about -5 degrees. Mars was expected to peak at -1.5 magnitudes with a maximum diameter of 15.1 arcseconds. For Northern Italian mid latitudes (~ 45 degrees N), this yields a maximum height of 40 degrees at the local meridian. Considering the average seeing conditions in the area, the geometric circumstances were not super-favorable, but nevertheless fair enough be worth a try. After all, the next Mars opposition with good observing conditions for the northern temperate latitudes will only take place in 2020.
Therefore, I grabbed my good ol’ C11, a couple of high-quality planetary cameras, and I kept patiently waiting for the right moment to image the planet. Let’s see how it worked out!
Apr 20 2014
Shooting auroras was one of the (few ) things still missing from my hardcore amateur astronomer checklist. Back in 2012 and 2013 some friends of mine, among whom Lorenzo Comolli, had gone on aurora-chasing trips with very encouraging results. The auroral activity is not always present, or, better, it is rather frequent but highly unpredictable, with a higher probability of events in the years around solar activity maximum and in the months around the equinoxes (February, March, September and October). It was something I’d been thinking about for a long time, but I’d never managed to find a good opportunity and the right people with whom to share this experience. Moreover, the solar activity was slowly fading and for this reason I had to hurry up.
In late 2013, I finally got around to organizing an “expedition” with some good friends of mine (Paola Battaglia, Filippo Riccio e Stefano Magni of the “Circolo Astrofili di Milano”) from Saturday, January 25, 2014 till Saturday, February 1st, 2014.
Our choice got almost immediately in favor of Tromso, in Northern Norway, for some very good reasons. It is a rather big, modern and organized city lying at the right latitude (around 70° N) on the shores of the Northern Atlantic Ocean, with a climate largely mitigated by the Gulf Stream. The downside to this is that the whole area is exposed to cloud fronts and low pressure areas coming from the Atlantic: hence the high cloud cover figures typical of this area. My proposal to go to Lapland got turned down right away, because in exchange for unquestionably clearer skies, it has a much harsher climate (average temperatures from -20 to -15 °C vs. -6 °C of the Tromso area).
Mar 14 2014
On January 21st, 2014, reports began circulating that a new supernova had just been discovered in M82 the “Cigar Galaxy”, close companion to the more famous “Bode Galaxy”, aka M81. Unfortunately my aurora-chasing trip to Norway from January 25th to February 1st (of which a detailed report will soon be published on my website) prevented me from spending any time on the observation of this interesting event. After all, this supernova blew up in a relatively nearby galaxy!
Jan 19 2014
During the last bit of 2013, comet ISON was not the only comet visible… Thank God, I’d say, because ISON turned out to be a real dud. Around late November there were four comets visible in the sky at the same time, the brightest of the pack being Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy, that went on to put on a really good show.
Discovered on September 7 by the Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, this comet kept very well visible during the second half of the night, first zipping through the winter constellations of Monoceros and Cancer between October and November, then moving into Canes Venatici and Bootes between late November and early December, and finally ending up into Hercules during the second half of December.
The peak brightness was reached between late November and early December, when the comet passed closest to Earth at about 0.4 AU and reached at least magnitude 5. Perihelion took place on December 25th, but by then the distance to Earth had increased to 0.8 AU. At the time of writing this (mid-January 2014), the comet is still visible in Ophiucus but has since grown fainter at mag. 7.
Jan 01 2014
Discovered in September 2012 by two Russian Astronomers (Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok) with the 40-cm reflector of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) at the Observatory of Kislovodsk (Russia), this comet soon catches the attention of the scientific community, because its perihelion is expected very close to the scorching solar surface at 0.012 AU, i.e. less than 2 million km.
From the comet’s path and brightness curve in the months following its discovery, some people suggest that it might get very bright around perihelion (mag. -6 to -10), thus becoming visible even in daylight.