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2023 Messier Marathon

 

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The Moon and Jupiter
November 25, 2023

The rising, nearly-full Moon was close to Jupiter on November 25, 2023, when this snapshot of them was captured from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. This is a single  frame taken at 4:46 pm EST, 9 minutes after sunset at 4:37 pm, with a handheld iPhone 11. It was exposed 1/83 second at f/1.8, ISO 125. A piece of foreground trash was erased and it was cropped to a 16:9 ratio in MS Photos, then mildly adjusted with Adobe Photoshop Elements (Jupiter's brightness was selectively enhanced). At the time, the Moon was at 79 azimuth (≈ENE), 14 altitude and 8 east of Jupiter. It was 97.5% illuminated, 1.5 days before Full Moon on Nov 27 at 4:16 am. The darker horizontal band along the treetops is the earth's rising shadow and the slightly pinkish band along its upper edge is the Belt of Venus. Mouseover for labels. Just after taking this picture, I headed to nearby Bishops Gate in Mt Laurel and spotted Mercury.

 

 

Comet C/2023 H2 (Lemmon)
November 12, 2023

This snapshot of Comet C/2023 H2 (Lemmon) was was captured on November 12, 2023, from the Barnegat Road Observing Site in Greenwood Forest WMA in the New Jersey Pines. That evening, Lemmon was was an easy target with 12x50 binoculars and an 88 mm spotting scope. The motion against the background sky, about 0.4 per hour, was also readily apparent (it passed closest to earth on November 10, about 0.193 au or 28.8 million km away; on November 12, it was about 0.206 au or 30.8 million km away). The concurrent brightness estimates at COBS were in the magnitude 6.x range. While examining Lemmon with the 88 mm scope at 60x, I thought I saw a thin, extremely vague tail extending about a third to halfway up and parallel to a line between the stars HD 184663 and HD 185423, but I suspect it was just an illusion.

This image is a single raw frame taken at 6:15 pm EST, two minutes before the end of astronomical twilight, with a Canon EOS RP DSLM camera and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It was exposed 2 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400. The image was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, then the white balance was set to 4500 K and it was cropped to 51% of the original linear dimensions for a field 5.3 wide x 3.5 high. The comet was at 43 altitude. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

The Crescent Moon and Comet 2P/Encke
October 12, 2023

This is the earthshine-filled Crescent Moon, captured on October 12, 2023, at 5:59 am EDT from Wharton State Forest, NJ, when it was 4.8% illuminated and two days before it will eclipse the sun on October 14, an annular eclipse, but only partial in the Delaware Valley area. The thin crescent with obvious earthshine was a lovely sight to the unaided eye, but it was also close to periodic comet 2P/Encke, as labeled in this image (visible in a telescope). The two objects were 1.7 apart, center-to-center, in western Virgo, near Nu Vir, close to the Leo border; the Moon was at 11.7 altitude and 2P/Encke was at 10.5 altitude. 2P was easily seen visually in a 12.5-inch Dob at 5:35 am after initially spotting it on the camera's viewing screen a few minutes earlier. Because of the low altitude and nearby Moon, I didn't think it would be visible, so I didn't look with my 88 mm spotting scope before I replaced it with the camera on the gimbal mount used for both instruments. The Moon rose at 4:53 am and 2P/Encke rose at 5:02 am.

This image is from a single raw frame taken with a Canon EOS RP DSLM camera and a Canon 400 mm, f/5.6L telephoto lens. It was manually exposed 2 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 1600, auto white balance. Using Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, the exposure was increased by 2.5 stops to bring out the comet, along with the blue color of the sky (23 minutes after the start of astronomical twilight at 5:36 am) resulting in a vastly overexposed Moon. Mouseover to see the original, unprocessed image. The original was cropped with DPP4 to 58% of the original linear dimensions for a field 3.0 wide x 2.0 high. Here's a similar shot taken from Utah on October 12 (MDT, so probably a couple of hours later; notice the change in both 2P's and the Moon's positions with respect to the field stars).

While at Wharton SF on the morning of Oct 12, two other comets were observed, 103P/Hartley was faint, but distinctly visible near the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) in Gemini (I think I might have seen a slight coma extension in the expected tail direction). C/2023 H2 (Lemmon) was very faint near M106 in Canes Venatici (here's an APOD of it on Oct 12). Each of these two comets was seen with both the 12.5-inch Dob and an 88 mm spotting scope. About 30 hours earlier, late on the evening of Oct 10, comet 12P/Pons-Brooks was observed with the 12.5-inch from the same site. Here's a composite image showing the evolution of 12P's outburst coma.

 

 

Comet C/2023 P1 (Nishimura) and M44, The Beehive Cluster
September 1, 2023

Comet C/2023 P1 (Nishimura) was discovered on August 12, 2023. My first visual sighting of it was on August 19. On September 1, 2023, I made my fifth sighting and captured my first snapshot, all from Wharton State Forest in the NJ Pines. On Aug 19, the comet was a dim patch of haze in my 115 mm spotting scope, but on Sept 1, when it was near Messier 44, the Beehive Cluster in Cancer, it was an obvious diffuse object with the 115 mm scope, perhaps showing a tinge of greenish color. It was also seen with 15x56 binoculars on Sept 1. Contemporaneous estimates at COBS were around magnitude 7.

This image is a single raw frame taken at 5:10 am EDT, 19 minutes after the start of astronomical twilight, with a Canon EOS RP DSLM camera and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It was exposed 2 seconds at f/4.0, ISO 3200. The image was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, setting the white balance to 5800 K and cropping it to 76% of the original linear dimensions for a field 7.8 wide x 5.2 high. At the time it was taken, there was a 97.5% illuminated Moon at 30 altitude in the southwest; the comet was at 16.4 altitude in the east-northeast. Mouseover for labels.

 

This is the same frame as the image above, except a deeper crop of the upper-left quadrant to better show C/2023 P1 (Nishimura) and its color. It's 29% of the original linear dimensions for a field 3.0 wide x 2.0 high. Star magnitudes are from SkyTools 4. Mouseover for labels.

 

 

The Crescent Moon and the Crescent Venus
July 24, 2023

On July 24, 2023, the 7.3 day old, thick Crescent Moon, 41% illuminated, was captured from Bishops Gate in Mt Laurel, NJ. This is a single raw frame taken at 8:49 pm EDT with a Canon 7D Mark II DSLR camera and a Tamron 150 to 600 mm, f/5.0 to 6.3, zoom lens set to 600 mm focal length. It was exposed 1/1600 second at f/11, ISO 3200 (one stop more than the "Looney Eleven" rule-of-thumb for a Full Moon). It was mildly adjusted in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, including setting to auto white balance and cropping to about 46% of the original dimensions for a field 1.50 wide x 1.13 high (a 4:3 ratio).

 

This is the Crescent Venus, 11.3% illuminated, on July 24, 2023, as observed from Bishops Gate in Mt Laurel, NJ, at 8:25 pm EDT, 4 minutes after sunset when Venus was at 10 altitude. At the time, Venus was 48.8″ apparent diameter and 26.9 solar elongation as it sinks in the west after sunset heading towards inferior conjunction with the sun on August 13, 2023. The shape looks remarkably similar to the 9.3% Crescent Moon in the picture below, although the Moon's apparent diameter is 36x greater.

It's a single raw frame taken with a Canon 7D Mark II DSLR camera and a Tamron 150 to 600 mm, f/5.0 to 6.3, zoom lens set to 600 mm focal length. It was exposed 1/1000 second at f/16, ISO 3200. It was set to 4200 K white balance and cropped to about 15% of the original dimensions for a field 0.50 wide x 0.38 high (4:3 ratio) using Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4.

 

 

The Crescent Moon and Venus
July 20, 2023

On July 20, 2023, 40 minutes after sunset at 8:24 pm EDT, the Crescent Moon hovered 8 above the planet Venus when this image of them was captured from Bishops Gate in Mt Laurel, NJ. The dim planets Mars, about 4 left of the Moon, and Mercury, about 11 to the right of Venus, were spotted visually with optical aide but are not visible in the image. Mouseover for labels.

Taken at 9:04 pm with a Canon EOS RP DSLM camera and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L telephoto lens on a fixed tripod.  It was exposed 1/6 second at f/5.6, ISO 1600 (automatic minus 2/3 stop) with auto white priority. It's unprocessed, except for eliminating a dust mote and preferentially brightening Venus a little with Adobe Photoshop Elements. It's uncropped for a field 6.9 wide x 10.3 high.

At the time, the 29′35″ apparent diameter Moon was a 9.3% illuminated crescent, 3.3 days after New Moon on July 17 at 2:32 pm EDT. Venus was also a crescent, 14.8% illuminated but only 46 arc-sec diameter (about three-quarters of an arc-min), so the crescent doesn't show in this image, but it was a splendid sight in an 88 mm spotting scope at 25 to 60x.

 

 

Sunset at Bishops Gate
July 2, 2023

On July 2, 2023, I went to Bishops Gate in Mt Laurel, NJ, to look for Mercury towards sunset at 8:32 pm EDT. Mercury was only 2.6 above the sun, but quite bright at magnitude 2.0, just 1.8 days after superior conjunction when Mercury is "full," so it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility. Alas, the clouds shrouding the sinking sun precluded a sighting (scanning with an 88 mm spotting scope at 25x). Taken at 8:05 pm, when the sun was at 4.1 altitude, using a handheld iPhone 11 with automatic settings (1/1604 second, f/1.8, ISO 32, 4.25 mm focal length). While there, I did see Venus, which showed a nice thinning crescent with the 88 mm scope, especially at 60x. As I was leaving, the somewhat ruddy full moon appeared briefly through a cloud gap in the direction opposite this view of the sun.

 

 

Some Double Stars in Lyra
June 14, 2023

Here's another snapshot on June 14, 2023, taken from Atsion at 11:03 pm EDT with a Canon EOS RP DSLM and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400, 4600K white balance. The raw image was cropped to a 5:4 ratio, about 67% x 81% of the original dimensions for a field 6.9 wide x 5.6 high, mildly adjusted then converted to a JPEG in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4.

Everyone is familiar with Epsilon Lyrae, the famous Double Double, and perhaps even the nice pair Zeta 1 & 2 Lyr, STFA 38 AD. These two doubles form a nearly equilateral triangle with Vega, nominally 2 on a side, such that at first glance, the Epsilon and Zeta pairs can be confused with each other while searching (neither are present in this image).

However, here are two other interesting pairs, the first is SHJ 282 AC, which is a junior Albireo (color contrast double) near the base of the Lyra parallelogram, about a degree north of the well-known Ring Nebula, M57. It's a mag 6.0+7.6 yellow and pale blue pair with a 45" separation. The primary is also a double, OΣ 525 AB, mag 6.0+9.3 with a 1.8" separation, so at best, it would be a challenging split under NJ skies. (SHJ = South & J.Herschel, OΣ = O.Struve)

The other is the Double-Double's Double, Σ 2470 & Σ 2474, about 3 northeast of Sulifat at the southeast corner of the Lyra parallelogram (Σ = F.G.W.Struve). The two pairs are about 10 arc minutes apart. Σ 2470 AB is mag 7.0+8.4, 13.8", 267 PA, pale yellow. Σ 2474 AB is mag 6.8+7.9, 16.0", 263 PA, blue-white. They are indeed closely matched in magnitude, separation and position angle, visually showing just a mild color difference.

 

 

Rho Ophiuchi, the Star(s)
June 14, 2023

While it's best known for it's association with vivid nebulosity in deep-sky images, Rho Ophiuchi is a fascinating multiple star in its own right. This non-nebulous snapshot of it was captured at 11:05 pm EDT on June 14, 2023, from Atsion Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ. It was taken with a Canon EOS RP DSLM and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L telephoto lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame manually exposed 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400 and 3800K white balance. Using Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, the raw image was mildly adjusted then cropped to a 5:4 ratio, about 77% x 92% of the original dimensions, for a field 7.9 wide x 6.3 high. Mouseover for labels.

Visually in a small telescope, even at modest magnification, Rho A, C, and D make a compact right angle with A at the corner. As is visible at the top of this image, C is above A and D is right of A. The separation of both AC and AD is about 2.5 arc minutes, which I have resolved with 10x42 binoculars resting on top of a tripod.

With higher magnification, and/or a larger scope, the tight AB pair, 3 arc seconds separation, can be resolved with B at a position angle of about 334 (towards the 1 o'clock position in this view with north at the 11:30 o'clock position). That's far too close to resolve in this photo, but I have resolved it visually with optics my 88 mm (3.5 inch) spotting scope at 96x.

The southern border of the constellation Ophiuchus is along the northern border of Scorpius. Rho ( ρ ) Oph is near the southern border of Ophiuchus, just 3 north of Antares, Alpha ( α ) Sco. At a declination of 23.5S, it transits at ~27 altitude for Southern New Jersey.

 

 

Supernova 2023ixf in M101
June 14, 2023

It's been almost a month since Supernova 2023ixf was discovered in M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy. This snapshot of them was captured under a moonless sky at 10:59 pm EDT on June 14, 2023, from Atsion Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ. It was taken with a Canon EOS RP DSLM and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L telephoto lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame manually exposed 3.2 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 6400 and 3800K white balance. Using Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4, the raw image was mildly adjusted then cropped to a 5:4 ratio, about 24% x 29% of the original dimensions, for a field 2.5 wide x 2.0 high. Mouseover for labels.

This was the ninth date I've observed SN 2023ixf since it's discovery on May 19, 2023 (observed on May 21, 22, 23, 25. 27, 28, 31, June 10 and 14), using 88 mm (3.5") and 115 mm (4.5") spotting scopes, and a 12.5" Dob. I have not been successful seeing it with 15x56 binoculars. June 14 was the first time I attempted a snapshot.

I am not even close to being an accomplished magnitude estimator, but the May dates I put it at mag 11, and now as we approach the middle of June, mag 11.5. This has corresponded reasonably well with visual estimates at the AAVSO. SN 2023ixf has become a popular target because reaching a nominal magnitude 11 peak, it's much brighter than the typical supernova and is located in a well-known galaxy, so it's readily accessible to visual observers with modest-sized telescopes.

I subsequently observed SN 2023ixf on June 17, 2023, sighting #10, at Batsto in Wharton State Forest with the 115 mm and 12.5" scopes. It was becoming a little tougher to see with the 115 mm, but still relatively easy with the 12.5". The latter also showed some spiral arm structure in M101 vs. being a mere haze in the 115 mm.

On the evening of June 28, 2023, I went to Atsion for some general observing. Although the Moon was bright when I left home, encroaching cloud cover dimmed it on the way down, so it was mostly cloudy when I arrived around 10 pm EDT. With a couple of other observers, we stuck it out working sucker holes with binoculars, until about midnight when finally cleared, although transparency wasn't ideal (still some smoke?) worsened by the 78% Moon that was still up. I was unable to positively identify SN 2023ixf with my 115 mm scope (it had dropped to near magnitude 12). However, with a 12.5 inch Dob, the SN was unambiguous and again, some of M101's spiral structure was evident.

 

 

Crescent Moon and Jupiter
June 14, 2023

The waning crescent Moon (14.5% illuminated) was 2.4 northeast of Jupiter on June 14, 2023, at 4:54 am EDT as seen from my front yard in Maple Shade, NJ. It was taken with a Canon EOS RP DSLM and a Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens on a fixed tripod. It's a single raw frame exposed 1/250 second at f/2.8, ISO 10,000 and daylight white balance. The raw image was cropped to a 16:9 ratio, about 90% x 76% of the original dimensions for a field 9.2 wide x 5.2 high, mildly adjusted then converted to a JPEG in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4.

 

 

Smokey Moon
June 7, 2023

Here's a "smokey" waning gibbous Moon (about 87% illuminated three days after full) on June 7, 2023, at 2:01 am EDT, as seen through a thick veil of smoke that had wafted over New Jersey from forest fires in Canada. Besides the Moon, no other celestial objects were visible at the time. If not for the Moon, one would think there was substantial cloud cover.

It was taken from the parking lot of the Cinnaminson (NJ) Middle School with a Canon EOS RP DSLM and a Tamron 150 to 600 mm f/5.0-6.3 zoom lens (on a fixed tripod) set to 600 mm focal length. It's a single raw frame exposed 1/125 second at f/8.0, ISO 6400 and daylight white balance (no physical filter was used). The raw image was cropped to about 35% of the original dimensions (to a 5:4 ratio) for a field 1.1 wide x 0.88 high, then converted to a JPEG in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4. The as-taken daylight color balance looked excessively orange compared to the visual view, so the color balance here was adjusted to 3400K to more closely resemble the visual appearance. This camera settings, plus a half-stop increase in brightness applied in processing, was effectively 7 stops more exposure than the "Looney Eleven" rule-of-thumb for the Moon.

 

 

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Last Update: Tuesday, November 28, 2023 at 06:40 PM Eastern Time