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Mercury
November 21, 2019

The planet Mercury was captured on November 21, 2019, at 6:00 am EST from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Canon 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens. It's a single frame automatically exposed 1/40 second at f/2.8, ISO 12,800, daylight white balance, then cropped to 48% of the original linear dimensions for a field 9.9 wide x 6.6 high. Mercury was easily visible with unaided eyes and it was my first sighting since the solar transit on November 11. It's also the first sighting for the sixth and final elongation of 2019, which is also the fifty-seventh elongation in a row, starting in January 2011, that Mercury has been seen. Both Mercury and Mars were spotted with unaided eyes as soon as I arrived at 5:49 am, which additionally completed a sweep of seeing all seven non-earth planets overnight, Nov 20/21, starting with Venus & Jupiter at 5:20 pm and Saturn at 5:22 pm, with unaided eyes, then Neptune at 8:36 pm and Uranus at 8:40 pm with 15x56 binoculars.

 

 

Transit of Mercury
November 11, 2019

The Transit of Mercury on November 11, 2019, was observed initially at Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, and then at Merchantville, NJ. This is the first November transit I've seen, previous November transits have been obscured by bad weather. Here's a report (edited 17-Nov-2019). Also refer to the Mercury 2019 page for transit time and circumstance predictions.

 

 

The Old Crescent Moon
October 26, 2019

The old crescent Moon, filled with earthshine, was captured on October 26, 2019, at 6:17 am EDT from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Sigma 70 to 300 mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens set to 108 mm focal length. It's a single frame exposed 1.6 seconds at f/5.0, ISO 1600. The original raw image was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional, and white balance was set to 4000 K. It was cropped to 85% of the original linear dimensions for a field 16.1 wide x 10.8 high. Mouseover for labels.

At the time, the 4.2% illuminated Moon was 27.66 days old following New Moon on September 28, 2019 (2:26 pm) and is 1.72 days (41 hr 21 min) before New Moon on October 27, 2019 (11:38 pm). This morning, the Moon rose at 5:16 am, astronomical twilight began at 5:51 am and the sun would rise at 7:22 am. Tomorrow morning, October 27, the Moon will rise about seventeen hours before new, which would be a challenging sighting and a personal record for me, but the weather forecast is bleak. Update Oct 27: It was indeed raining in this area this morning, so no sighting was possible.

The forecast for Monday evening, Oct 28, looks more promising when the post-new Moon will be 18 hr 25 min old at sunset (6:03 pm EDT for 40N-75W). However, the tilt of the ecliptic at sunset is much shallower in the evening than it is in the morning this time of the year, so the Moon will be 7 altitude at sunset (and sinking). Update Oct 28: It was decidedly overcast at sunset, so there was no opportunity for a crescent moon sighting.

 

 

Mira Brightens
October 24, 2019

This image of the long-period variable star, Mira (Omicron Ceti) was captured on October 24, 2019, at 12:38 am EDT from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ (mouseover for labels). Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Tamron 45 mm f/1.8 lens with a Hoya "Diffuser" filter attached to the front. It's a single frame exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400, in a dark, moonless sky. The original raw image was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional, and white balance was set to daylight. It's uncropped for a field 29.9 wide x 43.5 high.

Mira has a period of 332 days and varies from about magnitude 2 to 10, although its typical peak brightness is around magnitude 3. Mira estimates by AAVSO (slow to load) at the end of October have already seemed to peak around magnitude 2.5, and by October 26, may be trending back to magnitude 3. Bob King has an observing article at Sky & Telescope online (posted 16-Oct-2019) that includes Mira. Wikipedia (citing SEDS as a reference) lists 24-October-2019 as the date for the current peak, while the RASC Observer's Handbook 2019 lists 13-Nov-2019 (pg 299). So take a look and keep looking!

 I made my first observation of Mira for the coming peak on 11-Oct-2019 from my suburban backyard. It was easy to see in 10x42 binoculars (showing a definite yellowish-reddish color), and I could also see it with unaided eyes (but no particular color) if I blocked the nearly-full moon with my hand and outstretched arm. I've repeated the sighting in suburban skies several times since then. In contrast, it was easily seen with unaided eyes on October 24 in the dark sky at Carranza. Here's a labeled version of the image showing the path I use to find Mira starting at the easily-seen Aries stick figure.

 

 

C/2018 W2 (Africano)
September 26, 2019

Comet C/2018 W2 (Africano), in the constellation Pegasus, was observed again on September 26, 2019, at 1:55 am EDT from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, initially with 15x56 binoculars and then with a Kowa 88 mm apo spotting scope at 25 to 60x. This nominal magnitude 8.5 comet was not difficult to see with either the binoculars or the scope, and movement was clearly noted in the binoculars during the approximate hour from the first to last observation. This image was captured at 2:11 am with a Canon EOS RP full-frame, mirrorless digital camera and a Canon EF 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single frame exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6,400, 3,800K white balance. It was cropped to 72% of the original size for a field 7.4 wide x 5.0 high, then reduced in size for this page. The raw image was mildly processed and saved as a JPEG in Canon's Digital Photo Professional. Mouseover for labels.

 

The graphic below is a screen clip from SkyTools showing the position of comet C/2018 W2 (Africano) at hourly intervals beginning 12:50 am EDT at the top. The middle position represents my initial sighting (about 1:50 am), the bottom position my final sighting (about 2:50 am). The image above would be between the middle and bottom. The center-to-center span from the top to bottom comet positions is about 18 arc minutes from NNE to SSW.

 

 

Venus and Mercury
September 15, 2019

 Although they can't be seen in this full-frame image of the planets Venus and Mercury, they were revealed on enlargements shown further down the page (mouseover for labels). It was captured on September 15, 2019, at 7:17 pm EDT, shortly after sunset at 7:09 pm. Taken from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ, with a Canon EOS RP full-frame, mirrorless digital camera and a Canon EF 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame exposed 1/400 second at f/3.5, ISO 100, in full auto mode. It's uncropped and unprocessed, just saved as a JPEG in Canon's Digital Photo Professional. At the time of the image, Venus was at 3.1 altitude, magnitude -3.9, and Mercury was at 3.2 altitude, magnitude -0.8. They were 1.2 apart in a nearly horizontal line; the full frame is 10.3 wide x 6.9 high. Venus was first spotted visually at 7:09 pm with 15x56 binoculars and last seen at 7:23 pm. It was never seen with unaided eyes. Mercury was never seen visually, not even with binoculars. This time of the year at our 40N latitude, the ecliptic presents a shallow angle to the horizon (at the time of the image, the angle was just 27). The sun was 9 from Venus and 10 from Mercury respectively at the approximate 4 o'clock position.

Venus was at superior conjunction on August 14, 2019, and was first seen for this elongation on August 24, 2019, at 2:07 pm EDT with 15x56 binoculars when it was 3.2 east of the sun (the sun was blocked by a solar panel on a utility pole at the baseball field complex). Mercury was at superior conjunction on September 3, 2019, and has not been seen visually yet (and I wouldn't count this vague image capture of it for my Mercury sighting streak). Update, Sept 17: Ay 7:15 pm EDT, Mercury was spotted visually at the baseball field complex with an 88 mm apo spotting scope set to 25x; see the Mercury 2019 sighting page.

 

This is a 30% crop of the original raw image providing a field 3.1 wide x 2.1 high (no other adjustments besides resizing for this web page). Venus is now visible, but not obvious (mouseover for labels). The dark specks below the light fixture are probably birds or bats in the distance.

 

This is a 6% crop of the original raw image providing a field 0.6 wide x 0.4 high (again, no adjustments besides cropping and resizing). Mercury is now just barely visible (mouseover for labels). I could not find the speck of Mercury on this image just by inspection, I had to use a ruler and measure its position left of Venus by the proportionate amount of their angular spacing and the angular width of the image.

 

 

C/2018 W2 (Africano)
September 4, 2019

 Comet C/2018 W2 (Africano) in the constellation Perseus was observed again on September 4, 2019, at 12:25 am EDT from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, with a Kowa 88 mm apo spotting scope and a 25 to 60x zoom eyepiece (best view at 40x). This magnitude 10 comet was barely detectable as a very dim patch of haze, but I was able to pinpoint the location before I looked at my finder charts prepared that afternoon, so I'm confident I really did see it. This image was captured at 12:58 am with a Canon EOS RP full-frame, mirrorless digital camera and a Canon EF 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single JPEG frame exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 12,800, 4,000K white balance. It was cropped to a little less than 50% of the original size for a field about 4.9 wide x 3.1 high, then reduced in size for this page. It was otherwise unprocessed. At the time of the sighting, and this image, the comet was in Perseus' cap, a triangle marked by the stars Gamma, Eta and Tau Persei. Mouseover for labels. Here's a real astrophoto of Comet Africano in the same area taken 12 hours earlier by Mikhail Maslov. It moved about half a degree during the interval.

 

 

C/2018 W2 (Africano)
August 29/30, 2019

This is not my image of comet C/2018 W2 (Africano), which at the time was in the constellation Camelopardalis, not far from Perseus' triangular cap. As indicated at the bottom of the image, it was captured by Eric Bryssinck on August 29, 2019, at 23:05 UT (7:05 pm EDT) from Belgium. However, it does show the starfield near the comet as I observed it on August 29/30, 2019, around midnight, at the Barnegat Rd site with my 16-inch Dob. The comet was just a faint patch of haze, first seen at 11:45 pm with an 18 mm eyepiece (101x, 0.81 TFOV). Mouseover for labels, which shows the observed position at 12:30 am. Motion could be detected during the period of observation; at the time, it was moving at a rate of 1.7"/minute. This comet was discovered on November 27, 2018, by B. M. Africano of the Mt. Lemmon survey. Comet Africano is mentioned in Bob King's online Sky & Telescope article, Comets to Catch in 2019 (scroll down).

 

 

Mercury
August 10, 2019

This image of planet Mercury in the constellation Cancer was captured on August 10, 2019, at 5:12 pm EDT from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, with a Canon EOS RP full-frame, mirrorless digital camera and a Canon EF 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single JPEG frame exposed 1/8 second at f/8.0, ISO 12,800, uncropped and unprocessed. At the time of the image, Mercury was at 6.1 altitude, 70 azimuth. The field of view is 10.3 wide x 6.9 high. Mercury was not difficult to see with unaided eyes, and this is the second sighting of the fourth elongation this year (the 55th elongation in a row overall, starting in January 2011).

In the foreground, there are nearby, out-of-focus tassels at the top of the corn crop currently planted in the fields around the Swede Run public area, with some more distant trees behind them. The corn must be six feet tall now, and to some extent, blocks the view along the horizon. In previous years, they planted soybeans, which only get a couple of feet high.

 

 

An Unusual ISS Pass
July 15, 2019

The chart above was generated by Heavens-Above and shows the International Space Station (ISS) pass as seen from 40N-75W (close to my Maple Shade, NJ, home) on Monday evening, July 15, 2019, with Eastern Daylight Time indicated (nominally around 10:30 pm EDT). I describe it as "unusual" because I do not recall in the past having seen the ISS disappear into the earth's shadow shortly after rising, and then reappear from the shadow shortly before setting on the same pass. I've seen it disappear into, or appear out of the earth's shadow many times, but to my best recollection, never both on the same pass!

 Anyway, about 10:28 pm, SkySafari on my iPad popped up a notice that the ISS was rising, so for a change, I actually opened SS and took a quick look. I saw it rising on-screen in the southwest, so I decided to go outside for a visual check. I stepped out the front door at 10:29 pm and had to walk a couple of houses down the street to avoid trees and get a decent view towards the southwest. I looked and looked (hopefully for a bright object), then finally found a relatively dim satellite rising from the southwest, roughly at 35-40 altitude. There were thin broken clouds, but by comparison to visible stars, I estimated it to be around first magnitude (perhaps +1 to +1.5). It continued upwards and peaked in Lyra near the Hercules border, then descended towards the northeast, but disappeared into clouds. Ironically, the ISS was only seen between the track segments on the H-A chart above, not on them.

I've never seen a high pass of the ISS that wasn't bright (often brighter than magnitude -3), so seeing it at magnitude +1 overhead was truly unusual (this four-magnitude difference is equivalent to a 40x difference in brightness). I suppose it was skimming along the edge of the earth's shadow to remain relatively dim, but still easily visible at first magnitude. Normally, the ISS enters the earth's shadow at a steep angle, then the brightness ramps down quickly as it fades and disappears.

 

 

The Moon and Jupiter
July 13, 2019

This image of the gibbous Moon and the planet Jupiter, both in the constellation Ophiuchus, was captured on July 13, 2019, at 9:13 pm EDT from Maple Shade, NJ, with a Canon EOS RP full-frame, mirrorless digital camera and a Canon EF 400 mm f/5.6L lens on a fixed tripod. It 's a single raw frame exposed 1/1000 second at f/8.0, ISO 1000, then minimally processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (the only adjustments were cropping the height to produce a 16:9 ratio and selectively brightening Jupiter, then conversion to a JPEG). At the time of the image, the Moon was 92% illuminated, 3.3 from Jupiter (center-to-center) and both objects were at 25 altitude in the south-southeast. The field is 5.1 wide x 2.9 high.

 

 

Neptune
July 1, 2019

This image with the planet Neptune in the constellation Aquarius was captured on July 1, 2019, at 1:52 am EDT from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, with a Canon EOS RP full-frame, mirrorless digital camera plus a Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Art lens on a Skywatcher Star Adventurer Pro equatorial mount (tracking, but unguided). It 's a single raw frame exposed 10 seconds at f/1.4, ISO 800, adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional software, then saved as a JPG. It was cropped to about 59% of the original width x 88% of the original height producing a field about 24 square. At the time, Neptune was at 21 altitude. Mouseover for labels. Bob King posted an online S&T article about observing Neptune in mid-September 2019.

The image below is a magnifying crop of the original image to better show Neptune (25% of the original linear dimensions for a field 6.4 wide x 4.3 high). Mouseover for labels.

 

 

Test Image from Carranza
July 1, 2019

This image of the star field from Aquilla (left), Ophiuchus (right) and Scutum (bottom) includes several notable objects (mouseover for labels). It was captured on July 1, 2019, at 1:44 am EDT from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, with a Canon EOS RP full-frame, mirrorless digital camera plus a Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Art lens on a Skywatcher Star Adventurer Pro equatorial mount (tracking, but unguided). It 's a single uncropped raw frame (25 wide x 17 high) exposed 20 seconds at f/2, ISO 800, mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional software, then saved as a JPG. This is first light for the mount and it seemed to work well with a minimum of fuss. However, the lens produced some unusual distortions towards the edges of the fame at the f/2 setting here, even worse at f/1.4. More study is needed, e.g., trying the same camera and lens at smaller lens openings, and then the same lens on my EOS 6D at a range of lens openings, to see if it's the camera (EOS RP) or the lens (50 mm f/1.4), or the combination of the two.

The image below shows the magnified upper-right corner of the image above (cropped from the full-size JPG). The brightest star is Rasalhague (Alpha Oph), which marks the head of Ophiuchus. It displays a bird-in-flight shape while middle brightness stars are Saturn-like, each with a pair of projecting ansae.

 

The image below is a magnifying crop from the upper-right quadrant of the original image that includes Barnard's Star, the star with the highest-known proper motion (10.3"/year). Mouseover for labels. Here's a previous SJAstro page about Barnard's Star.

 

 

 

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Last Update: Tuesday, December 31, 2019 at 09:26 PM Eastern Time