Well Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has, unlike many recent comets, exceeded expectations and is putting on a modestly spectacular celestial display for northern-hemisphere stargazers. Earlier this month, it appeared low in the pre-dawn sky. For the rest of July NEOWISE moves into the evening sky and quickly climbs higher as it passes under the bowl of the Big Dipper. By month’s end, the comet will also become visible to southern-hemisphere observers. Under clear sky, the comet is an easy object to see with the unaided eye and surely ranks as the best comet visible north of the equator since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1996-1997. [Read more…] about Comet NEOWISE UpdateShare This:
Many casual observers get hooked on amateur astronomy after a first look at Saturn through a telescope. More than a few have looked through my small refractor on a night of good seeing and asked of Saturn, “Is it real?”
Oh, it’s real, all right. And incredibly beautiful… the color, the proportions, the apparent 3D perspective of this grand icy world. It is arguably the finest sight accessible with a small telescope. The planet reaches opposition on July 20, 2020 and will remain bright and large in a telescope over the next few months. Here’s how to find it and see it in a small telescope.
The planet Jupiter is always one of the brightest objects in the night sky. It’s brighter than any star, and is only outshone by the planet Venus and the Moon, and, very rarely, by Mars and Mercury. Jupiter reaches a position for optimum viewing in a telescope once every 13 months, roughly, and it makes its latest closest approach to Earth on July 14, 2020 when the planet appears in the eastern part of the constellation Sagittarius along the southern ecliptic. A couple of months before and after this date, Jupiter is in perfect position for viewing with a small telescope, or even a pair of binoculars. You can’t miss it: the planet is by far the brightest object in the southeastern sky as night gets underway in the northern hemisphere and nearly overhead in the southern hemisphere. The visible face of Jupiter reveals so many interesting features in a small telescope that the planet is a favorite target for new and experienced stargazers [Read more…] about A Guide to Observing the Planet Jupiter – 2020Share This:
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:
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: