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Asteroid (8) Flora & Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS)
November 9, 2020

The minor planet, informally an asteroid, (8) Flora was observed on the evening of November 9, 2020, from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, with 16x70 binoculars. It was not a difficult visual target in the constellation Cetus. Bob King has an online article at Sky & Telescope about Flora and Uranus, which are currently about 11 apart, with Uranus in the constellation Aries. This view of them was captured at 9:59 pm EST with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. Exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400, 3800K white balance, then no further adjustments. It was cropped to a 4:3 ratio for a field 6.9 wide x 5.2 high (roughly 70% of the original frame). Mouseover for labels.

 

While not seen visually with 16x70 binoculars, I took a snapshot in the direction of comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) on the evening of November 9, 2020, from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, at 10:06 pm EST. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. Exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 12,800, 3800K white balance, with some mild adjustment in Canon's Digital Photo professional 4, then cropped to a 4:3 ratio for a field 6.9 wide x 5.2 high (roughly 70% of the original frame). Mouseover for labels.

I went back to Carranza on November 10 to try a visual sighting with my 88 mm apo spotting scope at a later hour so Orion would be higher in the sky. Using 25x, I picked it up at 11:30 pm EST without too much difficulty. When I got out my 15x56 binoculars about 15 minutes later, I was again able to spot it without too much difficulty. While still faint, the comet was certainly easier to see than it was at my initial sighting on October 22, 2020 (see the second image below). With both the scope and the binoculars, I checked my finder chart after making a sighting to reduce the possibility that my mind was filling-in the supposed object. The COBS database shows that C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) is currently a little brighter than magnitude 8, but its full diameter is reportedly close to that of the moon, so it has a low surface brightness.

 

 

Venus and Mercury
November 8, 2020

Venus and Mercury were 14 apart, both in the constellation Virgo, at 5:25 am EST on November 8, 2020, when this view of them was captured from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 100 mm f/2.8L macro lens on a fixed tripod. Exposed 2 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 1600, auto white balance with some slight adjustment in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. It's uncropped for a field 13.7 wide x 20.4 high. At the time, Mercury was about 4.3 altitude, Venus about 17 altitude. Mouseover for labels.

On the morning of November 13, 2020, around 5:30 am EST for a nominal location of 40N-75W, these two planets will be about 13 apart with the 5% illuminated crescent moon about 6 above Mercury.

 

 

Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS)
October 22, 2020

A wisp of Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) was captured in the image above on October 22, 2020. It was initially observed with 15x56 binoculars and an 88 mm apo spotting scope at 25x on the morning of October 18 at Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, but I wanted to confirm the sighting of such a vague hazy patch, so I went back to Carranza, this time to the railroad crossing, on October 22. Despite frequently passing through fog on the way there, I continued to the RRX where it was relatively fog-free. I made a finder chart on the evening of October 21, but did not use it initially, I just recollected that it was a couple of degrees above (north of) the magnitude 3.2 star, Epsilon Leporis. After a brief scan with the 15x56s, I saw a vague patch of haze at 3:40 am EDT, the location of which then matched the comet's position as shown on my SkyTools finder chart. The COBS database indicates it is approaching eight magnitude now.

The image above is a single frame captured at 3:58 am with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It was exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 12,800, with white balance set to 3800K. It was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, then cropped to about 60% of the original frame (and a 4:3 ratio) for field 5.9 high x 4.5 wide. Mouseover for labels.

The image below is a further crop, to a field 1.2 wide x 1.6 high, of the previous image to better show the faint haze of the comet's coma. Mouseover for label.

 

 

 

Young Crescent Moon
October 17, 2020

New Moon was on October 16, 2020, at 3:31 pm EDT, so on October 17, 2020, the Moon was roughly 27 hours old after sunset at 6:17 pm for this location, Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. I was able to spot the thin crescent, 1.9% illuminated, at 6:25 pm with 15x56 binoculars when it was at 7.3 altitude in the WSW. I subsequently saw the crescent with unaided eyes at 6:44 pm, although I might have seen it sooner if I wasn't preoccupied with my camera in the interim. The picture above was captured at 6:45 pm (3.9 altitude) using a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera with a Canon 400 mm f/5.6L telephoto lens, on  a fixed tripod, providing an uncropped field 5.1 wide x 3.4 high. It was exposed 1/125 second at f/5.6, ISO 1600 using automatic white balance. Besides size reduction for this web page, no processing was applied.

  

  

Looking South towards Wallops Island, VA
from North Cape May, NJ
October 1, 2020

I travelled to Cape May, NJ, on October 1, 2020, with the hope of seeing the Antares rocket launch from Wallops Island, VA, carrying the Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station. It was scheduled for 9:38 pm EDT, so I figured in the meantime, I would take a crack at spotting Mercury after sunset, so I went to North Cape May for a view to the west over the Delaware Bay. The spot was about half a mile north of the Cape May Canal and the NJ terminus of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. This picture, taken with an iPhone 11, looks south about 7 pm and shows the cloud cover moving in. These clouds precluded spotting Mercury, and ultimately, the Antares launch, which was fortunately (for me) scrubbed by a technical problem a couple of minutes before the scheduled ignition.

However, the weather was ideal for the rescheduled launch at 9:16 pm on October 2. This time, I observed from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, which is about 152 miles from the launch pad at Wallops, vs. 83 miles for Cape May. Nevertheless, we had a fine view of a bright orange dot rising from the tree line in the SSW, which was a spectacular plume in 15x56 binoculars. It followed an arc to the left, crossing the meridian and reaching an maximum altitude of about 20 before the orange rocket exhaust extinguished for a minute or so as it coasted between the first and second stages. It reappeared as a bright white dot that started to arc downwards and vanish behind the trees in the SE. Of course, the descent was a matter of perspective since the rocket was still gaining altitude vs. the earth's spheroidal surface as it headed in the direction of Africa.

On the evening of October 3, around 7:45 pm, I was able to spot the now-orbiting Cygnus cargo spacecraft as it trailed the ISS by about 2 minutes. I used my 15x56 binoculars mounted on a tripod, spotted the ISS, locked the position and waited for the Cygnus to cross the same field. While considerably dimmer than the ISS, the Cygnus was still bright enough (around magnitude +2, roughly the same as Polaris), that it should have been visible to unaided eyes had I known better where to look for it. Weather permitting, I hope to give it another try on the evening of October 4. It should be closer to the ISS as it is scheduled to dock on October 5. Alas, the weather did not allow a sighting on October 4.

 

 

 

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Last Update: Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 07:25 AM Eastern Time