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Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
October 18, 2021

The image above shows the field around the foot of Castor, one of the Gemini twins. It was captured on October 18, 2021, from Wharton State Forest, NJ. It was taken at 5:10 am EDT with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame manually exposed 2 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 12,800. It was cropped to 58% of the original linear dimensions (for a filed 6░ wide x 4░ high), converted to monochrome, the brightness and contrast were lightly adjusted and then saved as a JPEG with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. Mouseover for labels. The triangular shape near 67P is simply for reference in the close-up image below.

The most prominent object is the open cluster, Messier 35 (M35), but the primary objective was comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, about 2░ ENE of M35. I had observed 67P visually the previous morning, October 17, with my 88 mm apo spotting scope from the same site. Although it was only about magnitude 10.5, I saw not just the coma, which I estimated at 2 arc minutes diameter, but also a tail, about 10 arc minutes long. It was faint, but clearly there in the very position indicated by my SkyTools chart (I didn't refer to the detailed chart until after I established an exact position). Afterwards, I swung to Hassaleh (Iota Aur) and observed nearby comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. It too was nominally magnitude 10.5, but it was just an amorphous glow at the limit of visibility. I had seen 29P more easily about a week earlier with my 16-inch dob at Belleplain State Forest, NJ. As the moon and weather permit, I'm anxious to get the 16-inch on 67P.
 

The image below is from the same raw frame with the same adjustments, except it was cropped to 13% of the original linear dimensions for a field 1.3░ wide x 0.9░ high to better show the comet, albeit, very dimly. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

 

Jupiter and Saturn in Capricornus
September 26, 2021

Jupiter and Saturn were both in the constellation Capricornus the Goat when this image of them was captured on September 26, 2021, from Wharton State Forest, NJ. These two planets were in close conjunction on December 21, 2020, when they were just a tenth of a degree apart. In this view, they're 16░ apart. Both are in retrograde (westward) motion following solar opposition on August 1 (Saturn) and August 19 (Jupiter). They will be stationary on October 10 and October 18 respectively when direct (eastward) motion resumes. The span between them will then grow as Jupiter moves eastward faster than Saturn. Mouseover for labels.

Taken at 9:38 pm EDT with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Art lens. It's a single raw frame manually exposed 2 seconds at f/2.0, ISO 6400 and 3800 K white balance. It was cropped to 80% of the original linear dimensions for a field 32░ wide x 22░ high, then converted to a JPEG, with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. No other adjustments were made.

 Alpha and Beta Capricorni...

This view comes from the same raw image as the one above, but is cropped to 20% of the original linear dimensions for a field 5.1░ wide x 3.4░ high and centered on the upper-right-hand (western) tip of the Capricornus "bikini bottom" stick figure. It shows a pair of wide-spaced double stars that are easily resolved in binoculars. One of them, Algedi, is a moderate challenge for unaided eyes with magnitude 3.6 and 4.3 stars separated by about 3.4 arc minutes. The other, Dabih, would be a considerable challenge for unaided eyes since the magnitude 3.1 primary has a magnitude 6.2 secondary separated by 3.1 arc minutes; the brightness of the secondary is at the threshold of normal human vision from a dark site (even when it's not next to a companion three magnitude brighter). Mouseover for labels.

Jupiter with Deneb Algedi and Nashira...

Jupiter was at the upper-left-hand (eastern) tip of the Capricornus stick figure when this image of them was captured on September 26, 2021, from Wharton State Forest, NJ. The field here is similar to that which would be seen in ordinary binoculars, which provide a lovely view of this current scene. Depending on the ever-changing positions of Jupiter's Galilean satellites, they are often visible when the binoculars are held steady (a couple of the satellites are visible here). Mouseover for labels.

Taken at 9:51 pm EDT with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Tamron 150 to 600 mm f/5.6-6.3 zoom lens set to 300 mm focal length. It's a single raw frame manually exposed 2.5 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 6400. It was cropped to 61 x 91% of the original linear dimensions for a field 4.2░ square, set to daylight white balance (color saturation increased to +4) then converted to a JPEG, all with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. No other adjustments were made.

 

 

Recurrent Nova RS Ophiuchi
August 12, 2021

The recurrent nova, RS Ophiuchi, was captured on August 12, 2021, from the West Jersey Astronomical Society's Barnegat Road Observing Site in the New Jersey Pinelands. On August 8, 2021, Irish amateur astronomer Keith Geary was the first to notice a sharp increase in its brightness from magnitude 11 to magnitude 5. RS Oph ultimately reached magnitude 4.5, bright enough to see with unaided eyes. Here's a Bob King article at Sky & Telescope online.

I observed it with 8x42 binoculars from home on August 9, 2021, with 8x42 binoculars and I estimated it was about magnitude 4.6, but the hazy, light-polluted suburban skies precluded any sighting with unaided eyes. The first opportunity for me to see it under a clear dark sky was on August 12 at Barnegat, but it had faded significantly by then. It was easy to see with the 8x42s and I estimated it to be about magnitude 6.2, too faint for my unaided eyes. Current magnitude estimates are available at AAVSO. On September 10, I estimated magnitude 9.1 using my 16-inch Newtonian telescope, in which it looked reddish. I observed RS Oph again on October 2, from the WAS Barnegat Road Observing Site in the dark NJ Pines. Using my 88 mm apo spotting scope at 40x, I estimated it was magnitude 9.8. Contemporaneous estimates at AAVSO were also running about magnitude 9.8.

This snapshot was taken at 10:26 pm EDT on August 12 with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 100 mm, f/2.8L macro lens on a fixed tripod. This is a single raw frame exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400 and 4200K white balance. It was minimally processed with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4; shoadow intensity reduced by 4 of 5 steps and color saturation was increased by 4 of 4 steps. It was cropped to a 4:3 ratio (50 x 56% of the of the original dimensions) for a field 10.3░ wide x 7.7░ high (similar to the 9.1░ field of the 8x42s). Mouseover for labels.

Note: I posted this image on October 5, 2021, replacing the previous image which had been taken a few minutes late with the same equipment and settings, except using a diffusion filter which puffs up the stars making the brightness and color differences more apparent, but causing fainter stars to fade away. Here's the previous diffuser version.

The graph below is a light curve of RS Oph from AAVSO (visual estimates with a smoothed mean), generated at noon EDT on August 17, 2021.

 

 

The Smoke-Enshrouded Sun & Moon
July 20-21, 2021

The brightness of the Sun was considerably weakened and reddened by smoke from distant forest fires on July 20, 2021, when this snapshot of it was captured without a filter at 7:40 pm EDT, 44 minutes before sunset at 8:24 pm, from Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 24 to 105 mm, f/4.0L zoom lens set to 105 mm focal length. It's a single handheld raw frame automatically exposed (minus one stop) 1/250 second at f/5.6, ISO 100 and daylight white balance. It was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 and cropped to a 38% of the of the original dimensions for a field 7.5░ wide x 5.0░ high. At the time of the picture, the Sun was at 7.1░ altitude.

 

Overnight, the Waxing Gibbous Moon was also affected by the hazy smoke and visually, it displayed an amber color. This image was captured on July 21, 2021, at 1:14 am EDT from the railroad tracks in Maple Shade, NJ. At the time, it was 89% illuminated and 13.2░ altitude in the constellation Ophiuchus. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 400 mm, f/5.6L telephoto lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame automatically exposed (minus three stops) 1/6 second at f/8.0, ISO 1600 and daylight white balance. It was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 and cropped to a 4:3 ratio (26% x 29% of the of the original dimensions) for a field 1.3░ wide x 1.0░ high.

The orange moon as shown was captured with daylight white balance. I tried adjusting it to tungsten white balance in Canon's DPP 4, but the moon was still an amber color. I then dropped the color temperature to its minimum 2000 K setting and a rosy cast remained. Finally, I used the monochrome setting (converted to a grayscale) and it produced the fairly normal view shown on mouseover. Click the image for a enlargement of the monochrome version  (cropped to 12% wide x 18% high = 0.62░ square).

Although dimmer than usual, the moon was still obvious to unaided eyes at 1:15 am, as was the planet Jupiter. After locating it with 10x42 binoculars, I was able to spot the planet Saturn with unaided eyes. Overhead, the normally bright star Vega could be seen with unaided eyes. That was it.

 

 

Mars, Venus and the Crescent Moon
July 11, 2021

The planets Mars and Venus were joined by the young Crescent Moon on July 11, 2021. When this image of them was captured at 9:15 pm EDT from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, Mars and Venus were 1.0░ apart, while the two-day-old, 4.0% illuminated Moon was 5.8░ northwest of Venus. Note the delicate earthshine on the non-crescent area of the Moon. Despite l haze and some scattered clouds, Venus and the Moon were easy  to see with unaided eyes around the middle of twilight, but Mars was not seen, and they slipped into the cloud mass below them before binoculars could be utilized. At the same time on the evening of July 12, the span between Mars and Venus will have shrunk to half a degree, while the Moon will have moved to a position about 7░ above-left of the planetary pair.

This snapshot was taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Tamron 150 to 600 mm, f/5.0 to 6.3 telephoto lens on a fixed tripod, set to 188 mm focal length. It's a single raw frame exposed 1/2 second at f/5.0, ISO 1600. It was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 and cropped to a 16:9 ratio, 92% of the width x 78% of the height, for a field 10.0░ wide x 5.7░ high. At the time of the picture, the Moon was at 7.8░ altitude, Venus was at 8.9░ altitude and Mars was at 9.0░ altitude. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

Mars and Venus
July 7, 2021

The earth's two closest planetary neighbors, Mars and Venus, were observed from Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ, on July 7, 2021. Despite less-than-ideal sky conditions (it was hazy to cloudy in their direction to the northwest), brilliant Venus, magnitude -3.9, was easy to see with unaided eyes (until it slipped behind the clouds), but Mars, about 200x dimmer at magnitude +1.8, required binoculars (I used a pair of 8x42s). As seen here, they're about 3╝░apart. On the evenings of June 12 & 13, the pair will be little more than a half degree apart as Venus passes Mars. Currently, Venus is moving eastward about twice as fast as Mars, 1.2░/day vs. 0.6░/day respectively. Since the sun is now moving eastward at about 0.95░/day, Venus' elongation from the sun is increasing while Mars' is decreasing. The thin crescent moon will join them on July 11 & 12.

This snapshot was taken at 9:11 pm EDT with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 100 mm, f/2.8L macro telephoto lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame exposed 1/10 second at f/2.8, ISO 1600. It was adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 and cropped to 50% of its original linear dimensions for a field 10.3░ wide x 6.9░ high. At the time of the picture, Venus was 9.9░ altitude and Mars was 11.3░ altitude. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

Mercury
July 5, 2021

The innermost planet of the solar system, Mercury, was spotted at 4:35 am EDT on July 5, 2021, as it emerged from a veil of fog & haze along the eastern horizon at Laurel Run Park in Delran, NJ. Mercury was at greatest western elongation the day before, July 4, and this was the second sighting this elongation, the 67th elongation in a row that I've spotted Mercury. This snapshot was taken two minutes later, at 4:37 am, with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 200 mm, f/2.8L telephoto lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame exposed 1/13 second at f/2.8, ISO 12,800. It was lightly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 and cropped to a 16:9 ratio, 95% of its original width and 80% of the height for a field 9.8░ wide x 5.5░ high. At the time of the picture, Mercury was 3.2░ altitude and magnitude +0.4. Mouseover for a label.

 

 

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Last Update: Sunday, November 21, 2021 at 11:23 AM Eastern Time