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Venus after Sunset at East Point
December 26, 2021

Looking over the Delaware Bay from East Point, NJ, Venus appears in bright twilight on December 26, 2021, at 5:07 pm EST, 23 minutes after sunset at 4:44 pm. Crepuscular rays are also visible radiating from the solar point below the horizon and fiery orange clouds along it. Taken with a handheld iPhone 11, it was exposed 1/82 second at f/1.8, ISO 125. It was cropped to 69% of the original width and 54% of the height and mildly adjusted with Adobe Photoshop Elements. Mouseover for a label.

At the time, Venus was about 11.9 altitude in eastern Sagittarius. At magnitude -4.4, it was spotted with unaided eyes at 4:30 pm, and being 58″ diameter and 5.8% illuminated, it displayed a bright thin crescent in 15x56 binoculars. Venus will be at inferior conjunction on January 8, 2022. Mercury was 6 below Venus, but it could not be found in this image. It was seen with with the 15x56s at 5:00 pm when it was at 7.0 altitude and then glimpsed with unaided eyes at 5:24 pm, 3.4 altitude. The ultimate target of the trip, comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard), was spotted with an 88 mm apo spotting scope at 5:45 pm, and shortly after 6 pm, comet 19P/Borrelly was spotted with the same scope. Uranus and Neptune were seen with the 15x56s.

 

 

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)
December 23, 2021

This snapshot showing Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) through thin clouds in the evening sky was taken on December 23, 2021, at 5:43 pm EST from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ, with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 400 mm f/5.6L lens (on a fixed tripod). It's a single raw frame manually exposed 0.3 second at f/5.6, ISO 6400. It was mildly adjusted and set to 4000 K white balance, then cropped to 48% of the original linear dimensions with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. The resultant field is 2.5 wide x 1.7 high.

Comet Leonard was initially spotted at 5:33 pm EST, about 8.1 altitude in Microscopium, about a degree southwest of Gamma Mic, with 15x56 binoculars and followed to about 5:50 pm, all the while, thin clouds partially obscured the view. While at the baseball field, Mercury was spotted with the 15x56s at 5:08 pm when it was at 3.7 altitude. The thin crescent of Venus could also be seen in the 15x56s, aided by the thin clouds tempering the brilliance. Venus is 16 days from inferior conjunction on January 8, 2022, and is now 55.8″ diameter and 8.2% illuminated.

The image below is a further crop, 14% of the same original raw frame, to better show the coma; the field is 0.75 wide x 0.50 high.

 

 

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)
December 20, 2021

This snapshot showing Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) in the evening sky was taken on December 20, 2021, at 5:45 pm EST from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ, 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 1/2 second at f/2.8, ISO 1600. The brightness and contrast were mildly adjusted, it was set to 5000 K white balance and cropped to about 72% of the original linear dimensions with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. The resultant field is 6.9 wide x 5.2 high.

Comet Leonard was initially spotted at 5:29 pm EST, about 8.5 altitude in Sagittarius (close to the Microscopium border), with an 88 mm spotting scope at 25x; it was subsequently seen with 15x56 binoculars. The comet was lost behind tree branches at about 4 altitude around 6:05 pm. While at the baseball field, Mercury was spotted with the 15x56s at 5:01 pm when it was around 3 altitude (in a "notch" of the tree line). The thin crescent of Venus was also observed in the spotting scope, at 60x. It's 19 days from inferior conjunction on January 8, 2022, and is now 53.5″ diameter and 11% illuminated.

The image below is a further crop, nominally 20% of the same original raw frame, to better show the coma and a faint wash of the tail; the field is 2.0 wide x 1.5 high.

 

 

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)
December 7, 2021

This snapshot showing Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) was taken on December 7, 2021, at 4:39 am EST from Atsion Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ, 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 3.2 seconds at f/2.0, ISO 3200. It was mildly adjusted and set to 3800K white balance with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. This uncropped field is 39.5 wide x 27.0 high. Mouseover for labels.

The image below is the same raw frame with the same adjustments, but cropped to 19% of the original linear dimensions (to better show the comet) for a field 7.9 wide x 5.3 wide. Mouseover for labels. Comet Leonard is sinking quickly in the morning before sunrise above the eastern horizon. Here's a table of altitudes for the mornings of December 7 through 11, 2021. Here's an MPC ephemeris for Dec 12 (perigee) through Jan 5 (perihelion Jan 3, 2022). At the time of this image, 4:39 am, Leonard was at 24.5 altitude. It was not visible with unaided eyes, but it was an easy object in 8x42 binoculars, showing a pale greenish coma and a diaphanous, colorless extending a degree or so vertically. It was seen again during the pre-dawn hours of December 9. In my 115 mm (and even the 8x42s), its 19 arc sec/minute movement was quickly apparent.

 

 

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) near Messier 3
December 3, 2021

This snapshot shows Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) near the globular cluster Messier 3. It was taken at 4:13 am EDT on December 3, 2021, from Wharton State Forest, NJ, 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 4 seconds at f/3.2, ISO 6400, 3800K white balance. It was not processed, except for cropping to 67% of the original linear width and 76% of the height, yielding a 4:3 ratio and a field 6.9 wide x 5.2 high. This is a correct view, the width of the image is parallel to the horizon and the zenith is up. Mouseover for labels.

Comet Leonard and M3 were visually observed with 15x56 binoculars, after the sky cleared around 3:30 am; the field of view was roughly comparable to the picture above. They were also observed with a 115 mm apo spotting scope at 30x, which provided a 2 true field of view, as shown in this second labeled version of the same image. I watched the comet with the scope until about 5:45 (about 18 minutes after the start of astronomical twilight) am (except for 20 minutes around 4 am when I was taking pictures). During those two hours, motion of the comet was clearly detected as shown on the mouseover of the image above. The MPC Ephemeris indicated the comet moving at a rate of 6.8"/minute at the time, which would produce about a quarter of a degree movement during the two hours of observation. This rate of movement was confirmed with SkyTools, by measuring the observed positions of the coma against the background star field, in particular, the two stars just left of the coma in the picture; their proximity produced a large swing in the relative position angle.

Besides the coma, which visually had a pale greenish color in the scope view that was in distinct contrast to the white color of M3, there was a colorless, gossamer tail visible in the binoculars, but especially in the spotting scope. It extended faintly to just left of M3. The span between the coma and M3 was about half a degree at 3:30 am, increasing to about three-quarters of a degree at 5:45 am. During that time, the comet's altitude increased from 24 to 49.5.

Finally, just before the start of astronomical twilight, we noticed some vague zodiacal light extending up through Virgo. We remained on the field until 7 am hoping to spot the sublimely thin crescent of a nominal 20-hours-before-new moon. Sunrise was at 7:05 am, but variegated clouds along the horizon in the direction of the rising moon and sun precluded a reasonable chance for a sighting, but they did exhibit a beautiful deep orange color on their undersides, almost as if the distant forest was on fire.

 

 

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)
November 30, 2021

This snapshot showing Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) was taken on November 30, 2021, at 3:24 am EST from Wharton State Forest, NJ, 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 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400. The brightness and contrast were mildly adjusted, it was set to 3800K white balance and cropped to 80% of the original linear dimensions with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. The resultant field is 8.2 wide x 5.5 high. The 21% illuminated crescent moon was about 33 south of the comet.

As soon as I arrived at 3:05 am, before the clouds had started to cover the comet, I grabbed my 15x56 binoculars and was able to spot Comet Leonard about 3 to the left of Beta and 41 Comae Berenices. It was not difficult to see the fuzzy comet, unlike previous attempts on Nov 19 and 23 when it was barely visible in the binoculars. I then looked with my 115 mm apo spotting scope and the coma was obvious, with a fainter extension upwards (the tail).

 

 

The Partially Eclipsed Moon
November 19, 2021

There was a near-total partial lunar eclipse on the morning of November 19, 2021. At its 4:03 am EST peak, the earth's shadow covered more than 97% of the apparent face of the moon. This snapshot of the eclipsed moon was taken at 3:54 am from Wharton State Forest, NJ, with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera and a Canon 400 mm f/5.6L lens (on a fixed tripod). It's a single raw frame manually exposed 1/8 second at f/5.6, ISO 2500 with daylight white balance. The brightness was lightly adjusted, it was cropped to a 5:4 ratio (29% x 35% of the original linear dimensions) then converted to this JPEG with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. The field is 1.5 wide x 1.2 high, the moon is 29.7 arc minutes diameter.

While a dark sky isn't necessary to see such a lunar eclipse, viewing from a dark site is a wonderful experience because the starry sky, washed out by the bright, non-eclipsed full moon, becomes star studded as the eclipse deepens. In this case, a cold front passed through overnight. Temperatures dropped from the low 70F range at home in the suburbs on the afternoon of Nov 18 to the upper 30F range while viewing the eclipse in the Pines. Despite some rain overnight, after the clouds fully cleared around 3 am, it was bone dry with absolutely no dew and the transparency was about as good as it gets in New Jersey. Alas, the seeing wasn't that good. In my 88 mm apo spotting scope at 25 to 60x, the limb of the eclipsed moon wiggled conspicuously.

In any case, at 2:50 am, more then an hour before maximum eclipse, I was able to spot comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) in the constellation Coma Berenices with relative ease using 15x56 binoculars, then confirmed it the 88 mm scope. The latter showed a hint of a tail extending vertically. Comet Leonard was the subject of the APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) for November 21, 2021, although the image was captured November 13, about 4 am PST (12 UT) based on comparison to a SkyTools chart.

 

This is a wide-field view taken at 4:18 am EST on November 19, 2021. The eclipsed moon is on the right, but it's greatly overexposed, +6.7 stops or 100x as much light compared to the above moon-only shot (mouseover for labels). Taken with the Canon EOS RP on a fixed tripod using a Canon 24-105 mm f/4L zoom lens set to 24 mm focal length. It was exposed 5 seconds at f/4, ISO 3200 and 3800K white balance. Cropped vertically to a 16:9 ratio for a field 75 wide by 47 high.

 

Finally, I wasn't going to use this picture from November 19, 2021. It shows a tighter view of the eclipsed moon along with the Pleiades and the Hyades star clusters at 4:10 am EST. However, the moon was overexposed to begin with, washing out most of the orange umbra, then made worse because I had to increase brightness by 1.5 stops in Canon's Digital Photo Professional for the stars to show decently. The only redeeming value of the picture is that the asteroid (1) Ceres is visible in the Hyades (mouseover for labels).

Compare the position of Ceres here to the picture below from November 10. Ceres has moved almost 2 since then and over 3 since November 3 when I saw it just 7 arc minutes from Aldebaran. Ceres will be at opposition on November 26, outside of the Hyades. Taken with a Canon EOS RP on a fixed tripod using a Canon 24-105 mm f/4L zoom lens set to 70 mm focal length. It was exposed 2 seconds at f/4, ISO 3200 and daylight white balance. Cropped to about 72% of the original linear dimensions yielding a field 21 wide by 14 high.

 

 

(1) Ceres in the Hyades
November 10, 2021

This image with the asteroid (1) Ceres was captured on November 10, 2021, as it mingled with the Hyades star cluster, which marks the face of Taurus the Bull. Ceres is the largest asteroid (or minor planet) and is also categorized as a dwarf planet. It shines here at magnitude 7.6, so it wasn't a difficult binocular object. Ceres will reach opposition on November 26, magnitude 7.2. Taken at 9:35 pm EST 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 3200. It was cropped (to 80% of the original dimensions) and mildly adjusted, then converted to this JPEG, with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. The field is 8.2 wide x 5.5 high. Mouseover for labels.

Besides my general interest in spotting asteroids, especially those with single-digit numbers, I wanted to unambiguously check the position of (1) Ceres. Earlier in the week, while at a friend's home observing from his backyard, I tried to spot Ceres with binoculars; however, I mistakenly left my smartphone at home, so I didn't have access to SkySafari to establish the position. My friend was using his Win 10 laptop to operate his astro-camera and he had Stellarium on it (version unknown). We looked up Ceres, but alas, I couldn't find an object at the indicated position with my 8x42s. Was there too much light pollution in the suburban backyard to see it with them?

When I returned home, I double-checked Ceres' position with Stellarium 0.19.0 and SkyTools 3 & 4 on my Win 10 laptop. as well as SkySafari 6 and Stellarium Mobile Plus v1.7.6 on my iPad. SkyTools, SkySafari and Stellarium Mobile all had Ceres in the same spot, Stellarium 0.19.0 was alone with Ceres in a different, and apparently wrong spot. I needed a field check. On November 10, my visual observation with 15x56 binoculars and my 88 mm apo spotting scope at 25 to 60x, as well as this photo, showed that the SkyTools et al. position is correct and Stellarium 0.19.0 is not. I suspect that it has outdated orbital elements. I don't use Stellarium that often, so I don't know what provision there is for updating elements, and it's not a high priority for me to find out. Perhaps I should just download the latest version, Stellarium 0.21.2.

 

 

The Old Crescent Moon and Mercury
November 3, 2021

At 6:31 am EDT on the morning of November 3, 2021, the 28.0-day-old Crescent Moon joined the planet Mercury above the treetops before sunrise in Wharton State Forest, NJ. At the time, about an hour before sunrise at 7:30 am, the Moon was at 7.5 altitude, 2.8% illuminated (but filled with earthshine) and 34.7 hours before new. Magnitude -0.9 Mercury was at 3.5 altitude and 15.3 from the sun. It will reach superior conjunction on November 28, 2021. Taken 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 1/2 second at f/2.8, ISO 1600 and 3600K white balance. It was not cropped or adjusted, just converted to this JPEG with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. The field is 10.3 wide x 6.9 high. Mouseover for labels.

 

Here's another image, taken at 6:40 am EDT on November 3, 2021. In addition to the Crescent Moon and Mercury, the first-magnitude star Spica (Alpha Virginis) can be seen above the treetops at the right edge of the frame. I was lucky to catch it because I wasn't paying much attention to the field stars at the time. By then, the Moon reached 9.0 altitude, Mercury 5.1 and Spica 5.5 altitude. Taken 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 1/4 second at f/2.8, ISO 400 and 3600K white balance. It was cropped to two-thirds of the width and almost all of the height for a field 6.8 square. Brightness and contrast were lightly adjusted, color balance was set to 4800K, then it was converted to this JPEG, all with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

Zodiacal Light
November 3, 2021

On the morning of November 3, 2021, the Zodiacal Light rose up from the eastern horizon (where the constellation Virgo was rising) and then extended up under the belly of Leo towards Regulus. The Zodiacal Light is a faint glow from sunlight reflected off interplanetary "dust" in the solar system. It shows best on fall mornings (or spring evenings) when the ecliptic is at a relatively steep angle to the horizon for those of us at 40N latitude. Unfortunately, this morning didn't have great transparency, there was a lot of moisture remaining from the previous day's rain and I went through many patches of fog as I drove there and back. It was also chilly, just 32F when I left the field at 6:45 am EDT. As a result, the direct visual appearance was weak and the photo not much better. Bob King has a nice image of the ZL at the end of this online Sky & Telescope article. Mouseover for labels.

Taken at 5:49 am EDT, 9 minutes before the start of astronomical twilight, with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera (on a fixed tripod) and a Sigma 20 mm f/1.4 Art lens. It's a single raw frame manually exposed 8 seconds at f/2.0, ISO 3200 and 3800 K white balance. It's uncropped for a field 62 wide x 84 high. Contrast was increased with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, then it was converted to this JPEG, but no other adjustments were made.

 

 

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Last Update: Thursday, April 14, 2022 at 03:30 PM Eastern Time