Friday, April 29, 2011

Four planets (and the Moon) in action in the May morning sky - and a nice supernova!

While the play of the planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars & Jupiter - is best seen from moderate Northern and esp. Southern latitudes, the supernova in the Big Dipper is ideally placed for Northerners. It was discovered very early, at 14th magnitude, and could rise to 12th - which would be pretty rare - during the coming week. Of all planets still only Saturn (a nice April 19 pic and several of the ongoing storm) is easily seen from everywhere, while the other four naked eye planets are so close to and west of the Sun that you need a either a steep ecliptic (like in this Australian view from April 26) or binoculars to see them and esp. the various conjunctions of between them, listed below. Some key dates:
  • April 30 & May 1: The waning crescent Moon joins the morning planet line-up - simulated April 30 sky views for Australia and later California and the view on May 1 for Germany. On May 1 Mars is 21' north of Jupiter.

  • Around May 3: Possible 12 mag. peak of Supernova 2011by in NGC 3972 in UMa; here are the Chinese discovery picture and a color view.

  • May 6: Peak of the Eta Aquarids, like the planet show something great only for Southern observers.

  • May 8: Mercury 1.5° south of Venus.

  • May 11: Mercury 2° south of Jupiter and Venus 34' south of Jupiter (thus a planet trio).

  • May 18: Mercury 1.3° south of Venus.

  • May 21: Mercury 2° south of Mars.

  • May 23: Venus 1° south of Mars (another planet trio, with Mercury).

  • May 31: The Moon is once more close to the morning planets.
In other news comet Hale-Bopp has been seen at 30.7 AU from the Sun, a new distance record, there is a 2nd paper on the Scheila outburst (discussed here, here, here and here together with the first), and the outburst of comet 240P is ongoing, in different phases. • Asteroid 2011 HS showed a wild lightcurve (pics one, two and three) and is probably tumbling while features on Lutetia has been named. • A meteorite shower helped finance a school, while meteorite collectors claim they are good guys. • A report on a reference observation for (not) understanding a 1963 TLE, the Sun's AR 1195 on April 23, yet another huge sky mosaic (discussed here; two from 2009 were compared here), a sunset movie with several green segments - and the ISS in recent days, in high resolution, also animated and as trails.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Solar activity up sharply - and spots so big you can see them on simple sunset pictures!

Solar activity is now really taking off, and the monthly sunspot number values are up sharply in the NOAA diagram here - but since cycle #24 took off so late (as did important precursor events) the prognosis is still for a rather shallow maximum around 2013. There was a lot to see in recent days (and this forum alone is overflowing with images): On April 23 AR 1195 was so big that it appears inadvertendly in this simple sunset picture by yours truly! Also various hi-res H-Alpha scenes and AR 1193 in hi-res on April 20, the white light Sun on April 17, more sunset spots on April 15, a great prominence animation of April 10 and R.A.S. press releases on a coronal mass ejection on March 20, the big solar flare of Feb. 15 (also discussed here and here), the birth of a sunspot, analysis of SDO data and the solar eruption process (also discussed here); at the meeting where these came from the chance of a new Maunder minimum was also discussed. There is also a weird paper on how bacteria in India enjoyed the 2010 annular eclipse, while the webzine TOTALITY! #10 has some 40 pages on the 2010 total eclipse, including a report by yours truly.

In other solar system news here's Saturn on April 17 and April 16 and the - again very big - full moon of April 17 rising and setting. The tables here are helpful in finding future perigee and apogee full moons. • A paper and another one on carbon monoxide in Pluto's atmosphere, also discussed here, here, here, here, hier, hier and hier. • Of the 2011 GP95 NEA fly-by a newer and an older video - and another interesting case coming up on June 2! • Regarding comets, a mini-video of 249P in STEREO's FOV, ideas on Main Belt Comets and the poor show so far by comet Elenin (which also got an article and a FAQ debunking related BS). This blogger also became aware of this 2007 report from the ISS where sensational comet McNaught was apparently only seen "by chance": This is a scandal, plain and simple!

Beyond the solar system recurrent nova T Pyxidis has now settled around 7th mag. after brightening steadily and may yet reach 6th mag.! There are also some spectra - and IR photometry of Eps Aurigae. • The STEREO spacecraft has found a lot of new variable stars, also hailed in this and this press release. • Back on Earth three more great timelapse videos: from Tenerife (mentioned here; the light pollution is quite obvious), Mauna Kea (night of April 23 - great mountain shadow triangle and lens flares, also hailed here) and the continental U.S. (with a moving dolly). • What the AIM satellite found out about noctilucent clouds. • The ISS, imaged from Witten passing high on April 24 (parallel shot from Bonn) and rising vertically on April 23 by yours truly. • The NanoSail D is still up and seen occasionally (see also the Cosmic Mirror #341 header), sometimes pretty bright - and the reentry may not come before July. • And a long table of Easter dates: While having E Sunday on the 2nd-latest date (April 24 as this year) is twice is frequent as hitting the very last day, the two 24 Apr dates framing 2011 are in 2095 and were in 1859, the two 25 Apr dates are in 2038 and 1943, resp. - small number statistics.

Friday, April 15, 2011

50-meter asteroid close to Earth now - with 2 mag. brightness changes

As this posting goes online, 50-meter NEA 2011 GP59 is closest to Earth at 530,000 km, one week after its discovery by an amateur-run sky survey in Spain. This is (or rather was; the optimal visibility was yesterday, with 13 mag. as compared to 14 mag. now) the best NEA Earth visit in several years, and the object has been observed a lot in the past days: Of particular interest were strong brightness fluctuations every four minutes, due to the - probably non-trivial - rotation of the elongated body.

• This is a NEA visit worth of some headlines, but most aren't as small ones come close all the time. The November visit of big 2005 YU55 is a different case, of course. • An asteroid on a long-lived horseshoe orbit 'around' Earth has been identified (another and another press release; some coverage here, here, here and hier. • A story on shady meteorite deals [alt.] has been attacked. • And yet another U.S. fireball that may have dropped.

Comet C/2011 C1 (McNaught) looks like a tiny Hartley 2, making it interesting for photographers: April 10 [alt.], April 5 and April 3 pictures. • The expectations for comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin) are still not clear (another and another story, a light curve with Russian debate - and it won't destroy Earth ...). • New comet C/2011 G1 (McNaught), more on the funny Holmes paper (more and more), a page with light curves and a paper on main-belt comets.

Tonight from 19 to 21 UTC photograph the Moon and the Aristarchus region in particular which was the location of a famous Transient Lunar Phenomenon in Oct. 1963. (And if you check the ground-to-air of Apollo 11 at 076:57:07 and 077:12:51 you see that an alleged Aristarchus TLP even played a little role in the famous mission and also featured in sect. 7:17 of the astronauts' debriefing.)

Great - literally! - Moon mosaics of April 10 (also 2 details by someone else), April 9 and April 8, the young crescent of April 4 from Germany (more) and Portugal, plus the waning crescent of March 3 from Cairns. • The Jovian moons in SOHO's view (animated; STEREO had a better view in the past). • And Saturn on April 3 and - hold your breath! - March 28!

More action on the Sun on April 11/12 (CME video), April 11 (H-Alpha edge), April 10 (hi-res mosaic; also a detail; the fish was gone soon :-), April 6 (prominence video); also various April prominences, a March SDO timelapse movie and March 21 H-Alpha hi-res views. Plus the general rise in solar activity, and the little ice age. • Lots of solar eclipse stories in the Feb. 2011 Practical Astronomy, a great totality earthshine from 2008 - and total eclipses of the next 50 years in one map.

T Pyxidis is in outburst, the first time since 1966 (more, more and mehr). • The brightness of Eps Aur is rising steeply now (also the 8th newsletter). • Also stories on SN 2011az and the Z Cam campaign by the AAVSO. • And an article on a Deep Sky meeting in Linz.

A collection of great aurora pictures from the AuroraMAX camera system (discussed here), an aurora timelapse from an airplane (discussed here) and yet another aurora video. • Without aurorae night timelapse clips from India and South Dakota. • And the analysis of the Iceland volcano ash [Deutsch] over Europe a year ago.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Saturn reaches opposition, brightness of rings may surge

About 24 hours from now - around 0:00 UTC on April 4 - Saturn reaches the opposition point to the Sun: several effects conspire now to brighten the rings, and some observers claim the phenomenon is already detectable. Some recent amateur observations of March 30, 25, 23, 22, 21/22 (with spokes), 21 and 20, plus a mid-March Hubble image with more storm detail. • Other sky sky highlights in April include Uranus' crossing of the celestial equator - but this is purely academic as the planet cannot be observed right now. And the visibility of all planets except Saturn is very poor to non-existent this month. There is another opportunity to observe a pretty young lunar crescent on April 4 for Northern hemispherians, however.

A look back at Mercury (and Jupiter) low at dusk on March 23 (Germany), March 22 (AZ and Austria), March 19 (Germany: Cologne and herten and March 16 (Sweden), plus a note on Jupiter's SEB return. • Lots of fine pictures of the March 19 perigee full moon are linked here, some collections included.

In small bodies news an analysis of Elenin (still mildly optimistic for fall) and a March 25 picture, some jets of 29P in outburst, new comet C/2011 F1 (LINEAR), a funny paper on the Holmes outburst, a serious paper on the Scheila outburst, a bolide on March 23 (more), a claim of more fireballs in Northern spring and a call for observations regarding a possible Southern stream.

From the Sun a nice March 27 H-Alpha mosaic, SDO action on March 24, various March pics, a claim that maxima are always double and a good solar April fools joke (more space-related jokes of note here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, hier, here and here :-). • Some light intensity data from the 2009 TSE in India and a contemporary documentary (part 2 with the actual event) about TSE expeditions in 1973.

Elsewhere in the Universe the brightening of Epsilon Aurigae has begun. • A deeep image of the Virgo cluster. • Excellent aurora videos from Norway have turned up on Vimeo here, here (background) and here, also great stills from Norway again and Finland (another trip report, a big panorama and an allsky series). • A fine green flash and another one through a tree. • And finally the ISS in front of the Sun in new images here (with spots), here and here.