Comet Wirtanen (46P)

   Comet Wirtanen (69P) has brightened enough to be seen with binoculars and easily captured with a camera. This picture was taken around 6:30 pm CST on December 15th while the skies were hazy with high cirrus clouds and a first quarter Moon over the southern horizon. That combined with light polluted skies of the Kansas City metropolitan area brightened the skies and made the comet not visible with the naked eye but easy to find as it was near the Pleiades open star cluster.
   The picture was taken with a Canon Rebel EOS T7i camera with the following settings: 135 mm lens; 13 second exposure time; aperture 5.6; and ISO 32000. The 13 second exposure time was long enough to show short length star trails as the Earth rotated.
   This evening, December 16th Comet Wirtanen will still be within a few degrees from the Pleiades again making it fairly easy to locate.

   With the Moon waxing from first quarter through full Moon phase and moving past the comet over the next few days means that the comet will not be too visible until the Moon passes by and rises after the comet does. The animated graphic, below, shows the motion of the Moon and the comet between December 15th through December 24th. By the 23rd the comet will be within a few degrees from the bright star Capella in Auriga the Charioteer.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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The Geminids-2017

   A few hours after sunset local time, on Wednesday December 13th, look toward the west for ‘shooting stars’, or meteors coming from the area around the constellation the Gemini Twins. These are the annual Geminid Meteor Shower – one of the best meteor showers each year, and at times rivaling the August Perseid Meteor Shower. The calculated peak time for the meteors is December 14th at 7 UT (2 am CST), but this does not mean that is the only time to view them. The Geminid Meteor Shower is named for the constellation that the meteors radiate outward from. This is the same for all meteor showers, and the ‘spot’ in the sky is known as the radiant. The Geminid radiant is just above the ‘twin’ star Castor, and under ideal viewing conditions an average of about 70 meteors per hour could possibly be seen. This year without the interference of moonlight will increase the chances of seeing the meteors.
   Meteor showers result from the Earth’s orbital path intersecting areas of comet debris. Comets, as they orbit the Sun, leave behind pieces of their icy, dirty, selves. If these debris clouds happen to be along the Earth’s orbital path then the Earth will regularly pass through the comet debris cloud. As this happens the small comet pieces hit our outer atmosphere and vaporize from the friction generated heat. We then see these as the shooting stars that make up meteor showers.
   There are, however, two exceptions to this. The January Quadrantid Meteors and the Geminids each come from their own respective asteroid rather than a comet. The source for the Geminids is Asteroid 3200 Phaethon

   
   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month

Orinids Meteor Shower 2017

   The Orionid Meteor shower reaches its peak on the morning of Saturday October 21st. Best viewing is looking toward the east to south part of the sky after midnight and before sunrise. Look for the stars of Orion – most find Orion from the 3 bright stars forming his belt. Look to the left from the belt stars for the bright reddish-orange star Betelgeuse (often pronounced ‘beetle juice’) that represents Orion’s right shoulder. A little further to the left from Betelgeuse is the radiant, the area where the meteors or shooting stars will seem to be radiating outward from.
   All annular meteor showers, like Orionids, and the more well-known August Perseids, are named for the constellation the radiant is located within. Meteor showers are the result of several factors including the reaction between the comet’s dirty, icy surface with the Sun’s radiant energy and the orbital path the Earth and comets follow around the Sun. All comets leave behind clumps or clouds of comet debris, their surface material, as they come closer to the Sun’s heat energy. Some of this comet debris is left along the Earth’s orbital path such that the Earth regularly passes through these debris clouds. As the Earth passes through the debris the small bits of rock enter the Earth’s atmosphere and as they heat from friction and melt they glow briefly appearing as streaks of light. Some meteors leave a bright glowing trail, called a train, for a few moments. The Orionids average around 20 meteors per hour, however this year estimates are that that number may go up to as many as 60 per hour.
   How the number per hour can increase is based on the debris cloud and where the Earth passes through it. The debris is cloud-like in its shape and there are parts of the ‘cloud’ where the particles are more numerous – the thicker parts of the debris cloud. Meteor showers, like the Earth’s orbit are pretty well known so part of the equation for determining the number per hour is based on knowing what part of the debris cloud the Earth will pass through. This year we apparently pass through a thicker part of the debris cloud.
   Hang on to your hat!

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Moon, Mars, and Uranus


   After sunset on Wednesday evening March 1st watch for the 3.5-day young waxing crescent Moon to be within about 5o from Mars and Uranus.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

A Comet Comes This Way

   Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková is a short period comet having an orbital path that takes it from beyond the orbit of Jupiter around the Sun approximately every 5.25 years. This current apparition has the comet starting to become brighter and more visible as it approaches its closest to the Earth on February 11th. On that date it will be visible in the morning skies before sunrise at a distance of 0.084 AU (7,808,288 miles; 12,566,221 km) from the Earth with an estimated apparent magnitude of 8.0.
   Click here to read more and see some viewing graphics.
   An important caveat about comet predictions:
“A comet is like a cat. Both have tails and both do what they want.”

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Venus and A Comet


   Wednesday evening November 23rd the inner planet Venus will pass within about 0.1o from Comet 45P Honda-Markos-Pajdusakova. However seeing the comet may be a challenge given how close Venus will be and the great difference in apparent magnitudes.

venus-comet-tele    Venus has an apparent magnitude of -4.1; the comet is 13.35; nearby star Nunki is 2.0, and close to Venus is a 5th, and a 6th magnitude star.

   Seeing the comet may not be possible even with a telescope as this simulated view through a 25mm eyepiece on a 6″ reflector suggests. However a camera with the right settings may be able to capture some of the reflected light from the comet.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

3 Pairs or A Tale of Two Tails

   For the past month or so Comet Catalina (C/2013 US 10) has been moving in a northeast direction across my morning skies. It has hovered at around 6th or 7th magnitude making it somewhat visible in binoculars and obviously visible with telescopes. Sadly with my meager photo equipment this comet has so far eluded my efforts. There are some spectacular pictures showing a comet with a greenish tinge and two tails. However that is not the point of this posting.
Bootes, Arcturus and the comet   Over the next several mornings the comet will pass by the reddish star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes the Herdsman. To many the star pattern for this constellation resembles a kite shape and Arcturus is at the bottom of the kite where the kite tail is attached. The animated graphic shows the comet in motion for December 31st and January 1st.
   The morning sky, in addition to the comet – Arcturus pair, also contains two other pairs, or conjunctions. Jupiter has the Moon for a one-day partner and further east toward the horizon is Mars and the bluish star Spica in Virgo.

   
   
   
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.