Today is a good day to get out the solar glasses if you own them and take a look at the Sun. Sunspot region 11654 is large enough to be seen without magnification. It goes without saying that you MUST have specially manufactured solar glasses or film to try this...do not look at the Sun otherwise.
Noting how large the spot complex was, I attempted to take a few pictures of the Sun in white light using my TEC 140 refractor, a Lunt Solar Systems Herschel Prism, and my Canon T2i. Despite passing clouds and a very unstable atmosphere, I ended up with three usable images- one of the whole Sun, one with a 2x Barlow lens to double the magnification, and one with the Barlow attached directly to the camera (without its normal extension) which results in something like a magnification factor of 1.6. To acquire the images, I used the software program BackyardEOS. For reference at left, is today's image from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory labeled with the active spot region numbers. Click the images below to enlarge them.
Comets are engaging objects to observe, particularly as the come through the inner solar system nearer the Earth and Sun. They can be quite rewarding to the observer who, following them from night to night, will see subtle changes in brightness and shape along with the occasional outbursts and dramatic changes. I enjoy reading the blog of Carl Hergenrother, The Transient Sky, as he regularly observes comets as part of his professional and personal work as an astronomer. In December and again this month Carl wrote about comet 2012 K5 (Linear) noting that 2012 K5 "is a long-period comet discovered by the LINEAR near-Earth asteroid survey program on May 25, 2012. At the time the comet was around magnitude 17-18. Though it passed through perihelion on Nov. 28 at a distance of 1.14 AU, the comet reached its brightest last month as it rapidly approached Earth. Close approach occurred at the very end of December at a distance of 0.29 AU (27 million miles or 44 million km). Recent visual observations place the comet around magnitude ~8.6 at the end of December. Since the comet is now moving away from the Earth and Sun this month, it should rapidly fade to magnitude ~11.4 by the end of the month. The comet is now an evening object as it moves from Auriga through Taurus into Eridanus."
Last night was the clearest night we have had in about a week at the observatory, and I took advantage of the moonless sky to take a look at this outbound comet while it is still bright enough to appreciate. Using the Minor Planet Ephemeris and Comet Service I generated coordinates for the comet and directed the telescope to the specified location. (Note that this comet is moving rather quickly to the southwest, at a rate of 11.38 arcseconds per minute last night, so it is important that if you plan to observe this comet that you generate ephemerides for very close to the time you will be observing.) Currently, the comet is in Taurus and during the time of my observation was approximately .326 AU from Earth, which is about 2.7 light minutes. The comet was immediately visible in an 8mm eyepiece (122X) using my TEC 140mm refractor. Below is my sketch of the comet from approximately 0440 UT on the 5th of January.
I have a difficult time estimating the brightness of diffuse objects, yet I would suspect that the comet is somewhere between magnitude 10 and 10.5. The nucleus is somewhat condensed and the coma fades quickly. There did appear to be a brighter section of a tail stretching out to the northeast, as I tried to capture in the sketch. This "brighter" ray was best seen with averted vision, but was not a difficult feature to note.
While I enjoy the conveniences of using the internet to generate precise coordinates as well as a "go-to" mount, if you are the type that enjoys the hunt, there is a detailed .pdf finder chart here that shows the comets path through late January. Whichever method you prefer, I encourage you to observe this interloper while you can!
Happy New Year! Today is a day of celebration at the Lost Pleiad Observatory. Not only is it the New Year, but it is the third birthday of this blog, and Beth and I are happily celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary! (No wonder I can hardly remember watching the Rose Bowl over the last 17 years... fortunately, Arizona has never played in that "granddaddy of them all"...).
As is my tradition, I like to observe the Sun on holidays- see this post from last year. Today I made a white light sketch of the Sun, complimented by an image of the Sun, taken using the Canon T2i DSLR camera I acquired earlier this year to photograph the Transit of Venus.
They make a nice pair, although looking at the image from the camera is nowhere near as satisfying as the eyeball view I had. The image was taken first, at 11:58 AM (1858 UT) through my TEC 140 and a Lunt Solar Systems Herschel Prism. There was a bit of high cirrus which helped to steady the image, yet there was also a lot of sunlight being diffused by the clouds...thanks to Photoshop that diffuse light is no longer an issue! Click to enlarge:
After taking the above image, I made a sketch using a 17mm Delos eyepiece and a single polarizing filter. Again, the high level cirrus helped the seeing and I was able to see many spots in the active regions. According to spaceweather.com today's sunspot number is 87. You will quickly notice that the sketch is reversed horizontally from the image- I flipped the image as just about any image of the Sun you look at will have north at the top and west to the right. The sketch below represents the eyepiece view with west to the left. Click to enlarge:
The sketch was completed at 12:15 PM local time (1915 UT) and it a fairly accurate representation of the spot regions...other than I have drawn them a little too large and slightly out of place. No surprise, considering I am slightly out of practice!. While I made between 75 and 100 sketches of the Sun in 2010 and again in 2011, I only made about 30 sketches in 2012. This is a result of working more, and also of acquiring the camera. While it is quick and easy to take a solar picture, I was reminded today how much more I see when I spend the time observing and sketching. I guess if I was the type to make New Year resolutions, one of mine would be to spend more time doing astronomical sketching in the coming year....and that is certainly easier and more rewarding than trying to drop the 5 pounds that seem to have shown up in my early 40's!