Attempts at Comet Lovejoy: From my backyard

This new year gifted us with many great opportunities to see something truly unique. It’s called C/2014 Q2, also known as, Comet Lovejoy.

Comet Lovejoy was first discovered by Terry Lovejoy in Australia in August 2014. Ever since that time, it has brightened significantly, and has now crossed the celestial equator becoming visible for the Northern Hemisphere. Since the start of the new year, I’ve been trying to image the comet. The next few posts will chronicle my attempts to image the comet.

 

My First Attempt

On January 6, 2015, I started my journey on my front yard, freezing myself in sub-zero temperatures. I opted to use my tripod instead of my telescope. I started taking pictures of the full moon. It was magnificent!

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The Full Moon

After capturing a number of good images, I went on to image the Orion Nebula. That took more effort, but it was all for naught, as my images were not focused enough. It was heartbreaking but there was no point sulking on it.

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Orion Nebula Out of Focus

 

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Cropped_Orion_Nebula

I then decided to try my hand at imaging the comet, and I was dealt a good hand. Using my father’s telephoto lens, I was able to image the comet near Orion. I took a number of two second exposures of the image, adjusting the image to get the comet at the center of the frame each time until it was just right. I was able to stack them together to reduce the noise. The final image was dim, but I have, indeed, caught a comet.

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Comet Lovejoy – Highlighted

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Comet_Cropped

My camera’s memory was filling up, and I decided to end the session with a few images of the Pleiades. Those were one of the best images I had captured that night. The seven sisters were shining beautifully that night with all their grace.

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M45/The Pleiades

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The Pleiades_Cropped

That night was a successful night. I was able to image many celestial objects. It served as the start of my journey to image the comet, and other Deep Sky Objects. I continued my journey in the next few days.

 

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Early Morning Conjunction

On August 18, 2014, I learned that there would a conjunction of two very bright planets, Venus, and Jupiter. Luckily, it was a clear night, and I decided to stay awake until morning to observe that event.

Around 2 am, I looked around the viewing location, but I wasn’t able to find a good place to view the conjunction. Despite that, I decided to try and observe the event.

At 4:40 am, I began to take my telescopic equipment outside and I prepared my telescope to view the conjunction. I quickly aligned to the Moon, and got it ready to observe.

Looking at the Moon, I see it is a waning crescent, past the last quarter. After that, I noticed that the Pleiades were visible, and I aimed my telescope at it. It was great to see it again with and without my telescope. This deep sky object has an interesting mythology associated with them.

In the most famous myth, there were seven daughters of Atlas and the ocean nymph Pleione: Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno, and Merope. They were minding their own business, when Orion the hunter saw them and started chasing them. Luckily, Zeus intervened and turned the seven sisters into stars. Unfortunately, Zeus did the same for Orion, allowing Orion to chase the seven sisters until the end of time. That is why the Pleiades are also called the seven sisters.

After observing that deep sky object, I started to look for the spot where the conjunction will rise. Looking at at the horizon, and comparing it to the image on my phone, I realized that the conjunction will not be visible from where I was. I looked at another location, and I saw both planets rising above the horizon, through the trees. I quickly brought my telescope to that location and looked around for the planets. After a lot of fidgeting, trying to find it through the trees, I saw two dots in my telescope. I took a picture of it, but I wasn’t sure if it was the conjunction. Moving the telescope around, I was able to see both dots clear enough to reveal one of the dots moons. This confirmed that I was, in fact, seeing the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter.

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. The planet with the Moons is Jupiter.

It felt great to be able to see a unique event such as this meeting of two planets. I took many pictures of that event using my point and shoot camera. If anyone wants to see a conjunction as well, it’s not too late. There will be two more conjunctions, and both conjunctions will feature three celestial objects.

On August 23, 5:30 am, it will be the best time to see the conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon. Here is an image of what it should like provided you have a clear view of the horizon. VJM conjunction Aug 23 2014

One week later, on August 31, at 9:20 pm, Saturn, Mars and the Moon will also meet up really close to each other. Here is an image of what it should like provided you have a clear view of the horizon. SMM Conjunction Aug 31, 2014

It is definitely worth viewing, especially if you can view the sun at the horizon. After I finished imaging the conjunction, I decided to pack up my scope and bring it inside. Once that was done, I decided to stay up and watch the sunrise.

With a foldable chair in hand, I went to a small cliff near my house, where there was a clearer view of the conjunction, and the night sky. It was beautiful. The factories beyond the cliff were covered in fog, and the rest of the cliff had a stream of fog surrounding it. It felt surreal. I spent an hour there watching the fog come and go, watching the planets hide behind a brightening sky, and watching the sun rise. It was worth staying up to see. After watching the sun rise, I went back home and soon after went to bed.photo 2

photo 4photo 5It was a wonderful night. I was able to see the late night Moon, a mythical set of stars, and the close encounter of two notable and bright planets. As a bonus, I saw the sun rise above the horizon, and bring an end to the night. I encourage anyone that wants to try and observe these night sky objects and events to do so. If you have any questions for me, please let me know in the contact form at: https://jolyastronomy.com/contact-me/

Good Luck and Happy Observing!

A Cold Christmas Night

Last night, three days after the Toronto Ice Storm, Santa brought us astronomers a Christmas gift: Clear Skies! Therefore, I decided to take advantage of it.

My goal for this session was to view a rare astronomical event: the occulation (blockage) of a star by an asteroid. The star was a 10.4 magnitude star (not very bright). The asteroid was a 15.4 magnitude asteroid (dimmer than the star). To see it is a slim to nil chance, but I tried.

At 10:50 pm, I took my telescope out in the bitter cold and got it ready to view the stars in the snow. For the first time, I was able to align the telescope using the SkyAlign feature. In previous sessions, I failed to align the telescope using the SkyAlign feature. Yesterday, I succeeded in that. After aligning the telescope, I got the coordinates for the star in Ra/Dec and Alt/Az coordinates. When the telescope slewed to it, it was behind the trees. I had to readjust the telescope to view it away from the trees. When it came time, I looked into the telescope and I saw small stars. However, I don’t think I saw the star that was to be occulted. It was disappointing, but I wasn’t surprised. I was not prepared or experienced enough to find such a small and unknown object. I decided to move on to other objects on my list.

I first slewed to the bright object in the sky, Jupiter. I saw the beautiful stripes, and its 4 beautiful moons. It’s always a sight to see Jupiter. I can check it off my list now.

The next object I saw is Sirius. One fact about Sirius is that it is a double star system, with a star 2 times the size of the sun, and a white dwarf that already died. Looking at it myself, I saw the star, and I think I saw a bulge from one side of the star, which is probably Sirius B. I can’t be sure until I view it closer. I can now cross the constellation Canis Major off my list.

The next objects I observed are the two brightest stars of Orion: Betelgeuse, and Rigel. I first slewed to Betelgeuse, the bright red supergiant. It was magnificent. I next slewed to Rigel. I had to move my telescope a bit, but I was able to find it. It wasn’t as bright as Betelgeuse though. I was able to cross of Orion off my list of constellations.

I looked into the sky and saw a small cluster of stars, and I saw M45 also known as the Pleades, or the Seven Sisters. It is a star cluster that is visible to the naked eye, and is made up of 7 stars. I decided to  look at it through the telescope. Doing that, I saw the magnificence of the 7 sisters in its formation. It was awe-inspiring. I crossed it off my list under the Deep Sky Objects Category.

Remembering my previous session where I could not see the horsehead nebula due to the battery dying on my telescope, I decided to slew towards Orion’s sword, a collection of three stars that represent the sword of the mythological hunter, Orion. The vicinity of those stars are quite interesting. I see dim stars close together and in interesting patterns that one can’t see without a telescope. The most notable one that I saw was at the middle star. There I saw a dim green-tinted cloud of sorts in the sky. I have never seen that before, but I learned about it in the first few lecture videos in my Astronomy class. I believe I saw M42, otherwise known as the Orion Nebula. This was my first sighting of a nebula. I was very excited, and will explore further in the future.

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The Orion Nebula through my telescope imaged using an iPhone 5s.

Continuing my journey, my telescope started to become sluggish and unresponsive, which lead me to conclude that the batteries died once more. With that, I decided to call it a day… but not before manually moving my telescope to the rising Waning Gibbous Moon through the trees. It was a very nice sight and another addition to my list.

After that, I packed up my telescope and decided to call it a night.

Overall, it was a very eye-opening experience. I tried to find a unique star event, however, I failed to find it. I was able to observe Jupiter, Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel, The Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, and the Waning Gibbous Moon. It was truly an interesting and productive night, which took me a step further in my astronomy adventure. I hope you will come with me.

WORK CONSULTED

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirius

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleiades

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_%28constellation%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betelgeuse