Although it is starting to fade now, Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is continuing to give us a great display.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s my latest YouTube video on finding the comet:
So as long as you are looking in the right direction, you should not miss it.
Before it got properly dark last night, I stepped out into the garden and was amazed to see that the comet is now so far north, that it was visible from my usual viewing spot by my shed. So it was a mad scramble to get out the mount, quickly polar align and take a few DSLR images of the coma through the scopes. I tried the C11 and the Mak-Newt. The Mac-Newt gave better images, due to it’s wider field of view and brighter image.
By the time I finished that, the comet was just about to disappear behind the neighbours roof.
So it was time to dash out to my darker site to capture more details in the dust and ion tails.
This comet has been depriving me of sleep, conditions were fairly appalling, and the surrounding towns were throwing loads of light up into the sky.
So I only did a quick imaging run before finishing by 12:30am before returning home to try and catch up on some much needed sleep.
Both images taken using a Nikon D750 DSLR.
First image of the core taken through my 190 Mak-Newt. Second image using my 72mm refractor.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you probably realise that there is a spectacular comet on display at the moment.
It’s Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE).
It’s so far north that it is visible from the UK throughout the night.
As the evening gets dark, the comet can be seen in the north-north-west, fairly low down, but a very easy naked eye object.
Here’s my latest YouTube video on finding the comet:
So as long as you are looking in the right direction, you should not miss it.
The comet is currently in the lower part of the constellation of Ursa Major, The Great Bear just by the front paws.
On the 17th of July, it clouded over in the northern sky just before the sky started to darken. Typical!
So instead of staying close to home, I packed everything into the car and ventured out south to hopefully get a view of it and bag some more images.
Only 7 miles from home, I found myself parked up at the side of a country road within the North Bedfordshire villages area with a clear view towards the north.
The comet was now well above the low clouds, so I very quickly setup the two driven mounts, doing a very rough and ready polar alignment on each one. The sky still wan’t totally dark, but I I started capturing subs.
As the sky darkened the extent of the dust tail could be seen. It was so long.
One the sky was totally dark, I could follow it for at least 8 or 9 degrees, using averted vision.
It was a fine sight through binoculars, the pseudo-nucleus appearing star-like and the tail visible across the whole field of view and just outside, so probably about 6 degrees or so. Funny that the naked eye could see a lot more.
There were still some interfering clouds, but I started rattling off shot after shot.
The main driven mount was carrying a 72mm refractor with my Nikon D750 full-frame DSLR capturing close shots to try and capture detail in the ion tail. This had shown some lovely red colouration a few days ago.
The second more flimsy driven mount had a Nikon D5100 DSLR with a variety of fixed and zoom lenses to capture wider fields of view to capture the complete extent of the dust and ion tails and some wide angle star fields around the comet.
The sky seemed to go very clear at one point, but there was always some thin cloud hovering around the comet, and scudding in front of the comet, making it a real challenge to capture really clean subs. But I persevered.
I was absolutely gob-smacked at how long the tail was coming out in my images.
This confirmed what I thought I could see with the naked eye.
I continued a variety of shots until by 1am the clouds finally won the battle.
I watched and imaged the ISS pass over and then packed up for the night.
Now hours of processing follow…
The animation at the bottom shows material moving along the ion tail.
This was created from 40 reasonably clear subs.
The subs were stacked in groups of 10 to create 4 individual images.
The four images were then put together into the animated GIF.
Being circumpolar means that the comet is visible throughout the night as it never sets from our latitudes.
The comet starts to become visible in the North-north-western sky as the sky gets dark, easily visible to the naked eye.
The comet is sporting a very bright dust tail, but it has also developed a very nice ion tail.
Some images, including a couple of mine, showing not only the expected blue colour within it, but there is red as well.
The tail is now at least 8 degrees in length and the tail/s should get longer as our perspective changes as the comet passes Earth later this month.
The image below shows the progression of the comet across the sky.
It is moving away from the area close to Auriga.
The bright yellow star Capella and Beta Aurigae, visible lower left are your best guides to find the comet.
Once Capella is visible in the fading twilight, start hunting for the comet.
Move left to find the beta star, then extend the line outwards and slightly upwards to find the comet.
It should be at least 15 degrees above the horizon at this time.
At it’s lowest at around midnight, it is still 9 degrees above the northern horizon.
By dawn it is visible low down in the north-north-eastern sky, but be quick, the brightening dawn from 3:30am BST will drown out the comets glow.
At the time of writing (15th July) the comet is in the constellation of Lynx.
Unfortunately this constellation is small and fairly indistinct, so it doesn’t have any bright stars within it, so Capella and beta are still your best guides.
By the 19th of July, the comet has moved further north and will be located right by the forelimbs of Ursa Major, The Great Bear, very close to the third magnitude star Iota (Talitha).
As the comet is getting closer to Earth it should be looking a lot bigger. How bright it will be at this stage no-one knows. but being closer to Earth it should hold its brightness quite well. At this time the comet will still be in Ursa Major, located directly below familiar seven stars of The Plough.
The direction the tail is pointed would have turned slightly anti-clockwise and should also appear a lot longer as our perspective changes.
On the 23rd of July Comet NEOWISE will be at its closest to Earth when it will be 103m Km distant, ~40x the distance of The Moon.
Will the comet fragment and fade long before then? Or will it get brighter?
The only way to know for sure is to get yourself out at any possible opportunity and have a look at this magnificent object.
Sleep’s for wimps!!
It could be more than 25 years before we see another comet as bright as this.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is now visible from the UK.
Unlike Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) and C/2020 F8 (SWAN) which both failed to perform, this comet looks like it will make up for those and could be a real stunner.
Spurred on by images folks across the world had posted online, I decided to make the effort to get up early and get out and see it.
I had to drive a little bit away from home at about quarter to 2, to get a low view towards the north-east, where I knew the comet would be located, below Capella in Auriga.
There was a consistent band of cloud just in the area the comet should have been. It looked like it was going to clear, so I persevered and waited.
I watched Venus rising a little bit towards the east, but the area around the location of the comet stayed consistently cloudy.
Behind me, The Moon, Jupiter and Saturn were very prominent. I was also surprised how high Mars was.
I really ought to get my self up earlier more and get out to do these planets one morning…
The sky was really starting to brighten by this time.
At about 10 past 3, it really looked like the clouds were not going to reveal the comet, so I threw my camera and binoculars into the car and headed where I thought I would get a clear view. After about 5 miles, I found a turn off with a clear view in the comets direction. A quick squint and I could easily see the comet with the naked eye, despite the brightening sky.
I scrambled to get the camera set up and focussed before rattling off a number of images.
This was a very nice looking comet, looking absolutely stunning in 10×50 binoculars and was well worth getting up for, before it started fading into dawns glow.
Here are a couple of the images I took.
The map below shows the path of the comet during July.
Click on the map for a bigger view.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is currently below Capella in Auriga and visible low down in the north-eastern sky a little while before sunrise.
After about a week, it passes through Lynx and you should also be able to see it low in the north-western sky just after sunset, so we should have two opportunities to see it each day.
By mid July, the comet will be moving in the lower part of Ursa Major below The Plough.
By the end of July the comet will be moving through galaxy fields in the constellation of Coma Berenices.
How bright it will get, who knows? It’s a comet after all.
But do make sure that you get yourself out there to have a look at what could turn out to be a long awaited and magnificent comet.
One Million Interactions – Inspiring the next generation of space scientists.
The One Million Interactions programme is a partnership between the UK Space Agency, ESERO-UK, STEM Ambassadors and the Careers and Enterprise Company to support the UK space sector to deliver 1,000,000 interactions per year with young people. Each time you speak to one young person that counts as one interaction, so if you speak to a class of 30, that is 30 interactions. The programme will offer volunteering opportunities and bespoke training for STEM Ambassadors from the space sector. We wish to re-engage with space employers to increase the number of volunteers and active engagement events within the Space Sector.
If you are blessed with clear skies (yeah right!) over the next few mornings there will be a nice display of planets and The Moon in the morning sky.
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and The Moon are all visible low down in the south-eastern sky a little while before dawn.
You will have to get up and be out looking by about 5:30am UT to get the views shown in the diagrams below.
Tomorrow 18th March. 5:30am UT. The Moon will be close to Jupiter and Mars.
Thursday 19th March. 5:30am UT. The Moon has moved away below Saturn and will be visible as a thinner crescent very low to the horizon.
Jupiter and Mars have moved a little bit closer together.
Friday 20th March. 5:30am UT. Jupiter and Mars are at conjunction. Mars, with its fast apparent motion overtakes Jupiter as it moves eastwards along the ecliptic. The two planets will still be fairly close together on the 21st, but Mars will soon move away over the next few days.
The Moon is now a lot lower down that morning and rises a little later.
So stay out there to give yourself the challenge of spotting The Moon in the brightening sky after you have spotted the conjunction.
Due to cloud cover I missed the Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) passing close to The Owl Nebula a short time ago.
But the excitement is building.
This comet has started to surprise us.
In the last week or so it has brightened significantly.
I took this image of the comet on the 22nd of March 2020.
The comet has started to produce a tail.
Currently around 8th magnitude the comet is passing south of M81 and M82 in Ursa Major over the next few days.
The map below shows a close up of its path at this time. Click on the chart for a closer view.
The full path of the comet during this apparition is shown at the bottom of the page.
During the month it moves very slowly westwards through Ursa Major toward Camelopardalis.
It finally reaches that constellation , which it reaches by the end of April.
It crosses towards Perseus, which by this time, (mid May) its apparent speed will have started to accelerate and the comet should brighten even more as it approaches The Sun.
Unfortunately it is now heading towards the evening twilight as it passes through Perseus as it approaches perihelion.
At this time it will be visible fairly low down in the north western sky, above and to the right of Venus just after sunset.
How bright it could be at this time remains to be seen. It has the potential to become a naked eye object.
But we all know just how unpredictable comets can be.
Here’s one of my old images of Hale-Bopp put into a Stellarium view of the sky on the 18th of May 2020 at about 22:30 UT.
We can only keep our fingers crossed that it does give us a very nice display like this (or maybe better?) in the evenings fading light.
Of course I have used an extreme amount of artistic license here. But hey, we can always dream.
The comet reaches perihelion on the 31st of May, when we will definitely be lost from view in the northern hemisphere.
The map below shows the full path of the comet during the apparition.
On Monday the 27th of January Venus passes just 4 arc minutes south of Neptune in the evening sky.
Venus is moving much faster than Neptune, so you may be able to see the movement over an hour or so, if you observe carefully.
Images taken at intervals will certainly reveal the changing angle and distance between the two planets during the early evening.
The map below shows the movement of the two on the 27th & 28th of January.
The positions of the planets are marked at 0h UT.
The planets are fairly close to the bright 4th magnitude star phi (φ) Aquarii, which Venus passes on morning of the 28th.
By the time the sky is dark enough on the 28th, Venus already well clear on the other side of the star.
It will come to perihelion in early May, when it will be in the constellation of Camelopardalis.
It will be at its brightest around this time and moving fairly fast. It was predicted to become as bright as magnitude +8.5. However, the brightness comets can achieve are always fairly difficult to predict, it certainly seems to be exceeding expectations and has already reached a magnitude of +10.8.
Below is an image I took of the comet on the 29th of November.
(Notice the track of the small asteroid moving just above the comet at the time).
If this brightening continues, it may (or may not) get a lot brighter than +8.5.
So how bright could it become?
The only way to know for sure is to get out and keep having a look at it.
It is certainly a very nice comet already with a distinct dusty tail visible.
This comet is going to favour northern hemisphere observers and is heading north.
It will also maintain a high northerly altitude throughout its apparition, taking us right the way into the Summer.
The maps below show the path it will take amongst the stars.
It is currently in the head of Perseus. As it tracks across its path, it passes a few notably bright objects.
These should make for very nice images with the objects being so close together on the following dates:
The Sword Handle Double Cluster in Perseus.
Between the 25th of January and the 2nd of February.
Open Cluster NGC 886 and The Heart & Soul Nebulae.
13th March and a week either side for the larger nebulae.
11th & 12th of April.
A nice cluster of galaxies including NGC 2633 and 2643.
15th & 16th of May.
Galaxies M81 and M82.
23rd to the 25th of April.
25th & 26th of April.
4th & 5th of June.
15th & 16th of June.
24th & 25th of June.
Coma Berenices Star Cluster.
17th, 18th and 19th of July.
The 14th of February marks the 30th anniversary of Voyager 1’s Pale Blue Dot Image.
The image below is the image in question, showing the distant speck of light, which is The Earth floating in a shaft of sunlight.
This iconic image illustrates the unique astronomical perspective on Earth: when observing our home planet from space, national boundaries disappear and the fragility of Earth becomes evident. This perspective is pertinent to remind ourselves to treat each other with kindness and take care of our home planet together.
Looking at events unfolding across the world, the awareness of our impact on the environment is becoming more and more marked.
The anniversary will be celebrated on the by a number of events organised across the world between the 13th and 20th of February.
To see what it is all about and how to get involved, see the Pale Blue Dot Web page:
So, the social media frenzy starts again!
We have had an ideal Christmas and New Year break for doing astronomy. Lots of spare time, and no Moon to blot things out. But it wasn’t to be. Of course, the always unpredictable (or should that be predictable?) UK weather has decided that we couldn’t see anything at all up in the sky over the holiday period.
Now everyone is now starting to go back to work. They have much less time to do the hobby and the bright Moon is back blotting out the fainter objects. People’s astronomy kit, a lot of it brand new after their Christmas presents were opened, itching to have first light on at least something.
As a result lots of people are wondering why they have all this lovely equipment standing around gathering dust.
Like many hobbies the equipment can cost a lot of money, depending on how deeply you get involved, and it is a real waste if it stands in the corner of the room and doesn’t get used.
There is a long-standing joke in astronomy that any newly delivered piece of astronomy equipment becomes a cloud magnet, attracting clouds for weeks after it arrives.
“What a stupid Hobby. I’m giving it up” is the main cry heard. “I’m selling all my gear”.
But what are they really saying?
Any hobby has its frustrations.
Take ballooning for example. Fantastic if you do that sort of thing, but, as anyone knows who has booked a balloon flight, it does require fair weather for a smooth flight. That leads to many days of frustration I’m sure. But when they do get good weather and launch they enjoy the flight and the hobby.
Astronomy is the same.
Yes, it can be extremely frustrating, especially if the weather prevents you seeing something that only happens very rarely.
Like me, if you have a real passion for the subject you persevere with it. You take the ups and the downs. Anyone who has learnt a musical instrument will know just how difficult and frustrating that can be. But those who have a real passion for it will battle their way through the pain barrier and master their chosen weapon.
Astronomy is very much the same. Yes, it can feel like the elements are conspiring against you. Yes, it does feel that your equipment is feeling very much unloved, sitting gathering dust week after week.
But, when the weather is fine, the skies clear and the stars are out in all their glory, there is nothing to beat it.
It takes you away from all of life’s stresses as you peer across the universe and enjoy everything it and your dusted-off equipment can offer.
So please do persevere with it because astronomy really will be much the worse for your departure.
If you do give it up, maybe the interest was definitely there, but certainly not that passion that really does help carry you through the pain.
As the final days of 2019 count down, later this evening The Moon and Venus are still fairly close together.
So as the sky darkens, look towards the south-western sky at about 17:00 UT to catch this lovely view.
The Moon should show very strong earthshine as the night side of The Moon is illuminated by sunlight reflected off Earth.