While a couple of promising comets have fizzled out this spring, the slow and steady Comet C/2017 T2 (PanSTARRS) is keeping astrophotographers happy as it moves through the northern constellation Ursa Major. On May 24, the comet passed the lovely pair spiral galaxies M81 and M82 near the bowl of the Big Dipper. The event was framed spectacularly in the above image by Terry Hancock and Tom Masterson using the Takahashi E-180 Astrograph at Grand Mesa Observatory in Colorado. This image is a testament to a high level of expertise and it shows how astrophotography at the hands of skilled and talented practitioners can approach high art [Read more…] about Galaxies and Comet C/2017 T2 (PanSTARRS)Share This:
Recent Astronomy Articles at Cosmic Pursuits
The galaxy M61 has done it again: it’s produced another supernova, the eighth such event since 1926. That makes this lovely face-on spiral galaxy in the Virgo cluster one of the most prolific supernova producers of the past century.
The supernova, cataloged as SN2020jfo, was discovered on May 6, 2020 at the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory near San Diego. Upon discovery, the exploding star was magnitude 14.7. It’s since brightened to about 14.3. To see it visually requires at least a 10″ telescope, but it is relatively easy to take a snapshot with an astronomy camera and a much smaller scope. I took the 20x10s stack of images at the top with an 85mm Tele Vue refractor, an 0.8x focal reducer, and an inexpensive ZWO ASI290MM camera.
One of the more prominent members of the Virgo cluster, Messier 61 is a lovely barred spiral with winding arms knotted with star-forming nebula and clouds of blue-white stars. It’s a starburst galaxy, one wracked with prodigious star formation which explains why so many supernovae have been seen here. With lots of massive, fast-burning young stars forming, it’s inevitable that they reach their spectacular end as a Type II supernova during which the star, as it runs out of fuel, collapses and snaps back in a spectacular explosion. It releases as much energy in a few weeks as our Sun releases in its entire 10 billion year life span.
M61 is about the same size as our Milky Way and lies about 52 million light years away, so the progenitor star detonated when Earth was in the Eocene period back when Australia and Antarctica were still connected and most of the planet was covered in lush forest.
And since astronomy is not just a matter of contemplating space but also time, keep in mind that the light from thousands more supernovae from M61 are on the way to us now, events to be detected by generations of Earth-bound astronomers yet to be born.Share This:
The great amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier once suggested a cure for many of the world’s problems is simply “one gentle dose of starlight to be taken each night just before retiring”. If you feel the need for a little starlight these days, there is no better bang for your buck than looking at galaxies. Northern spring is the perfect time for observing these immense collections of billions of stars, hundreds of which lie within easy reach of a small telescope (thousands if you’re using a camera instead of an eyepiece) [Read more…] about Edge-On Spirals Galaxies in the Northern Spring SkyShare This:
At any particular time, a half-dozen or more comets are visible with a good-sized amateur telescope. But a bright comet is a once-in-a-decade event at best, and a Great Comet, one that grows bright enough to capture wide attention, is rarer still. Recently there have been two Great Comets visible to observers in the southern hemisphere, Comet McNaught in 2007 and Comet Lovejoy in 2011. But it’s been a long drought for stargazers in the northern hemisphere, where no spectacular comet has been seen since 1997 when the mighty Comet C/1995 O1, better known as Comet Hale-Bopp, barreled in from the outer solar system and put on one of the most watched celestial shows in modern history [Read more…] about A Look Back at Comet Hale-BoppShare This:
When time is tight and the weather turns cold, I turn to a class of celestial objects that are very forgiving of observing conditions, light pollution, and telescope aperture: double and multiple stars. There are thousands of these objects visible during the year. Many are run-of-the-mill sights. But many more present a lovely appearance in a small telescope, revealing color, brightness contrast, and a jewel-like appearance that appeal to the artistically inclined while also packing plenty of physics and sheer challenge to the observer.
In this instalment of Cosmic Pursuits, I share with you three double and multiple stars in and around the throne of the legendary Ethiopian queen (along with a couple of extraordinary ‘bonus objects’). So grab a small telescope and head out to see them for yourself. The map above shows you where to find these relatively bright star systems and ‘bonus objects’… [Read more…] about Hopping Double Stars in CassiopeiaShare This: