Purity and Pollution. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) floats serenely above clouds illuminated by ground-level light pollution.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was, for us in North America, a predawn object requiring exceptional dedication for observing. See a previous post. In the second week of July, the comet had moved enough in its orbit to become visible in the evening sky — from late twilight to about 11 p.m. Unfortunately, cloudy nights have been the rule lately so opportunities have been few.
On Wednesday night, July 15, the sky forecast was a bit shaky but it turned out the sky cleared enough to allow C/2020 F3 to be seen. I raced off to an observing site some 25 minutes away from home, popular with sunset watchers and, occasionally, comet spotters. Arriving at the site I found the place mobbed, the parking lot nearly full, by scores of would-be comet viewers. Unfortunately, the comet was pretty much at the low end of naked-eye visibility. Light pollution reduced contrast between comet and background sky to make the object nearly invisible. It’s likely most of those in attendance never saw the comet.
Binoculars quickly revealed “NEOWISE,” and a reference exposure I made of the area I expected to find the comet showed I was on target. I shot a number of photos but had problems with focus using the 400mm telephoto; I’m not happy with my “closeups.” As with my predawn photo experience, I found a wider view was much more interesting anyway and that’s what I’ve posted here.
Entitled “Purity and Pollution,” this picture (a single exposure of 8 seconds) shows a pristine wonder of the night sky floating serenely amongst the stars, clouds glowing brightly below illuminated by artificial light pollution. If we were only more careful with our artificial light, we’d save gobs of energy and gain back our starry skies as a bonus!
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) will be gracing our skies for the next week or so and I hope to have more than one opportunity to record the event before it is gone. The next apparition of this comet is expected in about 6,800 years.
November: Looking East. This is a view of the sky from our back yard. That little smudge just below and left of center is the Pleiades star cluster.
After months of searching and work (a story unto itself) we located and purchased an older ranch-style house on a large lot in Medina, Ohio. We had been living in the house for one week and I decided it was high time I take a look at the night sky! The weather was clear and cold Friday night — about 40 degrees when I ventured outdoors — so I had a look around.
The house is situated one mile from the old town square of this small city on a street lit by two orange, low-pressure sodium lights. A big-box shopping district is located about two miles north of the house with a neighboring city beyond. There’s plenty of light pollution and, to the unaided eye, the clear night sky is gray. I could make out the brightest stars of some constellations, however, and easily spotted the Pleiades star cluster rising in the east. I believe I also made out a wisp of Milky Way, as well! I set up my camera on its tripod and did some test shots to assess the photographic sky.
Stars Struggle to be Seen. Regional light pollution drowns out most of the night sky’s glory.
As you can see by the photos here, the camera easily detects stars we can’t visually pull out of the urban nighttime glow. As expected, more stars can be seen overhead — through less atmosphere and less illumination — than near the horizons. While this isn’t a very good spot for astronomy, it’s not impossible. And while the nighttime conditions may not support stargazing, they do offer some artistic potential.
Firetree. Light-polluted night sky, a neighbor’s bonfire, and a small pond combine to make a pretty scene with a touch of mystery. You work with what you’ve got! Photo by James Guilford.
In any event, you work with what you’ve got!
The Moon: Mare Serenitatis (left) and Mare Iridium (right)
I can’t say as I blame them, the people who didn’t show for our observatory open night Saturday. After all, the temperature was about 19 degrees (F), damned cold! But the sky was clear and the waxing Moon was high in the sky. Both Moon and Jupiter were sharing constellation Cancer with The Beehive star cluster (M44). Still, those sensible people who stayed home and warm missed a glorious view of old Luna, especially half-lit Mare Iridium — the Sea of Rainbows. In my idle time waiting for visitors, I tried out a little afocal astrophotography using the observatory’s 9-inch Warner and Swasey telescope (ca. 1901) and my little Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 all-in-one. Most shots were a little shy of sharp, and all had some degree of chromatic aberration, and all had a big chunk of image missing where our century-old star diagonal is missing a bit of glass. One shot, however, did work out well, especially after a little fix-up including conversion to monochrome to eliminate color fringing. Not long after our seven brave visitors left, I caught sight of the indistinct reappearance of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and that was it… time to close up and go home. My toes needed to be thawed.
Sunspots, including the group AR1476, blemish the face of the Sun.
Sunday, May 13 dawned reasonably clear and so, with cloudy skies anticipated, a few rushed photographic observations were made of our Sun. I had to fit that in before visiting Mom for Mother’s Day! Active Region1476 (a huge sunspot group) continued to dominate the solar disk though it had been joined by several smaller but notable sunspots blemishing old Sol’s face. Also visible in this photo are granulation and other disturbances — the chromospheric network — in the solar atmosphere. Notes on the photo, the best image I’ve done of the Sun so far: Canon EOS 50D, ISO 400, f/8, 1/1,250 sec., 400mm Canon telephoto, AstroZap white light film solar filter, May 13, 2012 at 9:15 AM. The sky was reasonably clear though this image was captured through a thin cloud, the remains of an aircraft’s vapor trail.