Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Comet ISON on 11-20-13

Five days have passed and this is the first morning it's been clear enough to try and grab photos of Comet ISON again. On the one hand Stellarium says that ISON has increased in brightness to mag ~3.75. On the other hand, it will be lower in the sky, arriving closer to dawn and combating a nearly full moon. All this means that it's effective brightness (measured as apparent extinction) will be about mag 4.75. So effectively it will be no better than five days ago, just lower in the sky. Which means that, given light pollution and haze, it's still not visible to the naked eye.

The good news is that I was able to photograph it back then, so I had high hopes for today. I trudged out at 5:45 (trying really really hard not to wake my fiance) pointed the camera in the right place and immediately started taking photographs. When the photos didn't show anything obvious I trudged back inside for the laptop and Stellarium to figure out exactly where to point the camera.

Because there are trees to the east I figured I had a relatively small window of opportunity - about 10 minutes around 6am before dawn started to interfere with my observing. I quickly found where I needed to be and starting snapping photos. I played with several settings from about 15 sec to as little as 2 seconds. I got my best results with my canon t5i at a 2 sec exposure with an ISO setting of about 1600. More than that and there was too much noise and background brightness. Go in the other direction and you get too much movement (long exposure time) or simply not enough photons (too low ISO). The camera also has a zoom lens (faux telephoto) which allowed me to get closer. I'll have to look up the specs on that if asked.

Anyways, here's the best of the bunch from this morning, courtesy of Flickr.  They are considerably embiggened there. Enjoy!

Comet ISON on 11-20-13

Comet ISON on 11-20-13

So basically, you can see the greenish coma and a little bit of the tail. Not bad for obviously hazy skies. I don't know if I'll get clear weather again, so this may be the last I see of ISON prior to its solar encounter.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Comet ISON on 11-15-13

This is my observation of ISON at about 5:45 ET from the light-polluted city of Morgantown, WV. The conditions were a hazy pre-dawn (the sword in Orion's belt was difficult to see through binocs. ISON was not visible to the naked eye, but photographable. Attached is said photograph. ISON is circled in red. Kudos, as always, to Stellarium for helping me star-hop to find the comet.

comet ison 11-15-13

Based on the surrounding stars in the photograph I estimate the brightness of ISON's head to be about 4.75 mag. Which is awesome for a comet that was about Mag 8 a week ago and Mag 5.5 a day ago. I was not able to observe any sort of tail.

Here's a link to the photo on flickr:

Photographic details:

Camera: Canon T5i
ISO: 800
Exposure time: 15 seconds
Aperature: f/3.5

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Finding Uranus with my 10" Meade and Stellarium

So tonight was the first night I've had to go star gazing in over a week. In the interim there's been some excitement about it being November and there being multiple comets out there either within the range of a small aperture telescope or almost within the range. Of course all those are early morning objects and I can't get up that early... instead I decided to focus on something actually in the night sky. Uranus. Uranus is currently in pisces, which is a portion of the night sky where the stars are mostly obscured by the glare of the city lights. From my backyard there are no nearby stars that I can pick out as guide stars. Star-hopping is therefore required. Which means I get to bring my laptop and Stellarium outside.

Stellarium is an open source software that is pretty darn good when it comes to star locating. Its not perfect, but it comes close. And the price is right. So, laptop in hand, I picked out the most obvious nearby star I could see and started star-hopping. About ten minutes later and only a few wrong turns I was looking at Uranus.

So I should say right now that Uranus isn't much to look at. There's a reason it was never identified as a planet in antiquity. Its small. Its 3 arc-seconds in total size right now. At about 30x that makes it just slightly larger than a point of light. Kicking it up to about 60x and you can clearly see a tiny, nice, sky-blue sphere. Atmospheric turbulence meant that it was a blurry sphere - but that's the atmosphere.

So that's it. Short and sweet. Picked up a nice planet tonight - and one not visible with the naked eye. Nice.