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Sky Alerts

Dr Ian Musgrave  - iTelescope Science Advisor

An avid amateur astronomer, Ian writes the weekly sky updates for ABC Radio Science and is science adviser to iTelescope. When not staring at the sky he is an equally enthusiastic molecular pharmacologist at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

You can follow Ian Musgrave on his Astroblog for daily posts about astronomy, biology and life, the Universe and everything.

"Over at Astroblog I largely guide people to the view of the sky as seen with the unaided eye. But I’m also an iTelescope.Net user, and I’m very honoured to have been invited to highlight some of the interesting objects that can be seen through the iTelescopes.

While many people are familiar with the larger, more glamorous objects in the night sky that make good iTelescope targets, there are a host of lesser known, interesting objects that are well worth chasing such as fast moving Near Earth Objects, Novae and Comets."  Twitter @ianmusgrave


ALERT! Comet C/2017 O1 ASASSNat closest approach to Earth (and a rare opportunity)

Comet C/2017 O1, discovered by the ASASSN supernova survey, as seen from the Mayhill New Mexico  scopes at transit (4:06 am, local time Mayhill).

Comet C/2017 is a surprisingly bright comet which was discovered by the ASASSN supernova survey. It is currently around magnitude 8.3, reasonably bright but well below its predicted magnitude of 7.5 at maximum.

The comet will be closest to Earth on the 18th, but will not get significantly brighter. However, this is a opportunity for an interesting and unique opportunity. Stereo imaging of the comet.

Simon White has done the work of sorting this out. I quote his recent Facebook post.

"The local constraints are as follows (based on iTelescope’s observatories in New Mexico and Nerpio):

➤ In the USA, 2017 O1 will be rising in the 18 October evening sky. At 2200 in New Mexico, it will have reached 27° and will continue to rise with Camelopardalis (confirmed - IFM).

➤ In Europe, 2017 O1 is high, almost at zenith, in the pre-dawn sky of 19 October, so elevation is not a constraint. At 2200 18 October in New Mexico, clocks in Spain will be at 0600 19 October, in the last hour before dawn.

I have booked time on telescopes in New Mexico and Nerpio, with the intention of taking 60 minutes of 120 second exposures from 2200 to 2300 (New Mexico) and 0600 to 0700 (Spain).

As always, there is a risk that local conditions - the weather - will intervene to spoil this enterprise. If you have any plans to image 2017 O1 overnight 18-19 October, please try and do so within these time intervals - UT 0400 to 0500 on 19 October. As long as the time stamp of one of your stacked frames overlaps one of mine, we can collaborate on a stereoscopic image. Do please get in touch through this post if you’re interested."

You can see the post here. More Information here with great 3D images.

Comet C/2017 O1, as seen from the Mayhil New Mexico  scopes at transit (4:06 am, llocal tme Mayhill). The small rectangles are the field of view of T5, T3 and T11, the learge that of T14/T20. Click to embigen. T7 an T18 are good matches for the narrow field imagers. Click to embiggen.

Currently The comet is in Camoleopardis, heading towards Ursa Minor. It is currently only seen in the Northern scopes, from aroun 10 pm local time until astronomical twilight in the morning, transiting around 4 am local time.

MPEC one line ephemeris:
    CK17O010  2017 10 14.7849  1.498711  0.996568   20.9079   25.8102   39.8491  20170904  11.0  4.0      C/2017 O1 (ASASSN)


ALERT! Close Approach of Near Earth Asteroid 2012 TC4, 11-12 October

left - Path of Asteroid 2012 TC4 as seen from Mayhill NM on the evening of October 11 at the start of astronomical twilight. Position ticks are every 15 minutes, click to embiggen.

The 22 meter wide asteroid 2012 TC4  will pass within 0.13 Lunar Distances (0.00034 AU) of Earth on the evening of October 11-12, being closest at October 12, 5:42 UT.

Imaging this asteroid will be a significant challenge, it will be moving an astonishing 22.4" a second near closest approach. The asteroid wll be around magnitude 13.5 when visible from iTelescope scopes, so while not bright it is not dim enough to be a problem with 60 second exposures.

The asteroid is effectively visible only from the northen scopes (unless you want to have a go at it from SSO when it is mag 20). As well, after astronomical twilight for the northen scopes, the asteroid rapidy drops below the iTelescopes limit of travel, so there is approximately only three hours for imaging.

You won't see it at closest approach, that occurs when the asteroid has set from the point of view of the New Mexico and Spanish scopes. But it will be moving at a fair clip even before this, so still a challenging capture. 

left - High power view showing the fields of view of T14/T20 (large rectangle). The tick marks are 15 minutes apart. The track is the geocentric position, which is very removed from the Topocentric position, indicated by the labelled dot (click to embiggen, but use a proper topocentric ephemeris or the 2012 TC4 comet/NEA dialog, rather than this chart, for indicative purposes only).

None of the iTelescope scopes can track this asteroid, and it is moving so fast you will need a wide field instrument. T14 is nice wide-field instrument that performs well, but you can't drive it faster than sidereal rate. T20 is also wide-field, although slightlynarrower than T14.

As the asteroid is quite close to Earth, there will be a significant parallax error between geocentric ephemeris and the position as seen from Mayhill (see chart above for an example), most astromomy programs will give misleading positions when an asteroid approaches this close to Earth.

Use a proper topometric ephemeris instead (eg using the MPEC ephemeris generator, if you enter the observatory code for Mayhill - H06,  into the box in the ephemeris generator, and make sure the Epoch is set to October 11, 2017, choose 500 dates to output and an inteval of 5 or 15 nimutes and it will create a topocentric ephemeris for Mayhill). The position of 2012 TC4 is being continually refined, so use the latest elements.

If you take this approach, remember that it takes time for the iTelescope  scopes to get to tracking position. T14 can take up to 5 minutes (depending on there being reliable stars in the field for tracking), so offset you inital position by around 4 minutes or so (this will be a significant distance) so the asteroid will be in field. I used this technique to image 2011 MN on T12, which was moving at about 10" per second.

The planning guides to viewing a previous close approach asteroid, YU55, here gives step by step instructions for this approach.

If you use the one line MPEC elements and the comet/NEA option for the iTelescope systems (for the iTelescope 05/04 instruments, you can choose the track option so the instrument will track the asteroid) this will be less hassle, but at the risk that the positioning may be off for such a close object.

While this is challenging, iTelescope users have captured rapidly moving faint asteroids before, 2010 TD4 and 2011 MD.

Current ephemeris for 2012 TC4 inn UT

Date       UT      R.A. (J2000) Decl.    Delta     r                  El.      Ph.      V     Sky Motion Object        Sun   Moon                Uncertainty info
            h m s                                                                                          "/min    P.A.        Azi.    Alt.  Alt.  Phase Dist. Alt.    3-sig/" P.A.
... Suppressed ...
2017 10 12 003000 22 00 45.5 -20 11 34   0.00092 0.999  126.2  53.7  13.5  272.99    223.3    313  +20   +00   0.56   136  -38         1 075.9 
2017 10 12 004500 21 57 14.7 -21 03 16   0.00088 0.999  125.1  54.9  13.4  299.12    223.9    317  +22   -03   0.56   137  -38         1 077.5 
2017 10 12 010000 21 53 19.4 -21 59 24   0.00084 0.999  123.9  56.1  13.3  328.60    224.6    321  +24   -07   0.56   138  -37         1 079.3 
2017 10 12 011500 21 48 55.8 -23 00 27   0.00080 0.998  122.5  57.5  13.3  361.98    225.3    326  +26   -10   0.56   139  -37         1 081.3 
2017 10 12 013000 21 43 59.0 -24 06 59   0.00076 0.998  121.0  59.0  13.2  399.89    226.0    331  +27   -13   0.55   140  -36         1 083.8 
2017 10 12 014500 21 38 23.4 -25 19 35   0.00072 0.998  119.3  60.7  13.2  443.06    226.8    336  +28   -16   0.55   142  -35         1 086.7
2017 10 12 020000 21 32 02.0 -26 38 55   0.00069 0.998  117.4  62.5  13.1  492.34    227.7    342  +28   -19   0.55   143  -34         1 270.2 
2017 10 12 021500 21 24 45.9 -28 05 38   0.00065 0.998  115.4  64.6  13.0  548.70    228.6    348  +28   -22   0.55   145  -32         1 274.5 
2017 10 12 023000 21 16 24.2 -29 40 23   0.00061 0.998  113.0  66.9  13.0  613.17    229.8    354  +27   -25   0.55   147  -31         1 279.7 
2017 10 12 024500 21 06 42.9 -31 23 44   0.00058 0.998  110.4  69.5  13.0  686.88    231.1    000  +26   -29   0.55   149  -29         1 286.4
2017 10 12 030000 20 55 24.7 -33 16 00   0.00055 0.998  107.5  72.5  12.9  770.89    232.7    006  +24   -32   0.55   150  -27         1 294.7 
2017 10 12 031500 20 42 07.4 -35 17 02   0.00052 0.998  104.2  75.8  12.9  866.01    234.7    012  +21   -35   0.55   152  -25         1 305.0 
2017 10 12 033000 20 26 23.7 -37 25 57   0.00049 0.998  100.5  79.5  12.9  972.54    237.0    018  +17   -38   0.54   154  -23         1 317.3 
2017 10 12 034500 20 07 40.0 -39 40 33   0.00046 0.998   96.4  83.6  12.9 1089.79    240.0    023  +13   -41   0.54   155  -21         1 331.1 
Below telescope travel
2017 10 12 040000 19 45 18.0 -41 56 38 0.00043 0.998 91.7 88.3 13.0 1215.40 243.7 028 +07 -44 0.54 156 -19 1 345.2 2017 10 12 041500 19 18 38.7 -44 07 16 0.00041 0.998 86.5 93.4 13.1 1344.71 248.2 033 +01 -46 0.54 155 -16 1 358.2 ... Suppressed ... 2017 10 12 111500 11 24 02.6 -03 13 02 0.0010 0.997 26.8 153.2 20.8 238.23 314.0 275 +01 -23 0.51 064 +64 8 302.1 2017 10 12 113000 11 21 16.1 -02 33 03 0.0010 0.997 27.6 152.3 20.7 223.34 313.7 276 +05 -20 0.51 063 +67 7 302.7 2017 10 12 114500 11 18 39.1 -01 55 46 0.0011 0.997 28.4 151.6 20.6 209.86 313.4 278 +09 -17 0.51 062 +69 7 303.1 2017 10 12 120000 11 16 10.6 -01 20 54 0.0011 0.997 29.1 150.8 20.5 197.60 313.0 280 +13 -14 0.50 061 +72 7 303.5 2017 10 12 121500 11 13 49.9 -00 48 16 0.0011 0.997 29.9 150.1 20.4 186.41 312.7 282 +17 -11 0.50 061 +74 6 303.9 2017 10 12 123000 11 11 36.4 -00 17 39 0.0012 0.997 30.5 149.4 20.4 176.16 312.3 285 +21 -08 0.50 060 +75 6 304.2 2017 10 12 124500 11 09 29.3 +00 11 06 0.0012 0.997 31.2 148.8 20.3 166.74 312.0 287 +25 -05 0.50 059 +76 6 304.4 2017 10 12 130000 11 07 28.3 +00 38 10 0.0012 0.997 31.8 148.2 20.3 158.04 311.6 289 +28 -01 0.50 058 +76 6 304.6

ALERT! URGENT! Comet 29P monitoring requested for Outburst capture (1-3 September)

Location of comet 29P as seen from the SSO scopes at  10:34 pm local time as it transits the meridian. The large rectangel is the field of view of T12, the small rectangle is the field fo view of T17. click to embiggen.

Comet 29P is known for it irregular outbursts. It has recently undergone a series of four outbursts in 13 days, reacing magnitude 13.5 (from magnitude 15.7!).  there was a major outburst on August 27, reacting magnitude 12 from magnitude 14.


Comet 29P recent out bursts (taken from the comet and asteroid FB group)

Richard Miles has called fro observations of 29P for possible new outbursts.

"Observers should be alert for a possible third outburst of 29P between now and 2017 September 03.0"


We now have strong evidence of two cryovolcanoes erupting twice on consecutive rotations (local days) of the nucleus during June 27 to August 27.

Looking at the entire dataset spanning 15 years (1 orbit of the Sun = 1 local year), there have been 130 outbursts detected and timed accurately. Of these there have been 14 instances of pairs of eruptions on consecutive rotations, and 10 instances when the same sources have erupted three times - each separated by one rotation. So that amounts to 45% of all outbursts happened on consecutive rotations from a small number (<10?) of cryovolcanic vents. It is this characteristic that makes it possible to predict some outbursts.

In addition, there have been 30 outbursts (23%) that have triggered a further outburst in their vicinity, i.e. within about 60 degrees longitude of each other.

That leaves only 25 events (19%) which are either isolated ones, or are repeat events from the same source but spaced in time by two or more local days on the nucleus. P.S. There are two other factors - one is that during the early years lots of outbursts were missed - second is that outbursts are missed very early on (and late on) in each apparition as the comet is close to solar conjunction."

Recent images of the comet from the Liverpool and Faulkes telescopes are here.

The comet is in Capricorn, between  iota Capricornii and Theta Capricorii, not far from 29 Cap. The comet is visible from both southern and northern scopes, although the Southern scopes have the best view. The comet transits at around 10:30 pm local time, however the waxing Moon will make observations increasingly difficult. On the 3rd the comet is just 6 degrees form the nearly full Moon. Narrow band observations will be required, R band observations may be best.

MPEC one line ephemeris:

0029P         2019 03 07.7582  5.766822  0.043032   47.7745  312.3946    9.3683  20190318   4.0  4.0    29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann


ALERT NEO 3122 Florence has a close pass 1 September (UT)

Path of NEO 3122 Florence as seen from SSO from 28 August (click to embiggen).

NEO 3122 Florence makes an historic approach in early September. This will be the closest this asteroid, named after reforming nurse Florence Nightingale has come since 1890.

While not a particularly close approach (September 1, 12:06 UT, 0.047 AU, around 18 Earth Moon distances), this will be the closest a large NEO has come to Earth since the class of objects were first described.

With a diameter of about 4.3 km, Florence ranks fourth in diameter of those NEO's classified as potentially hazardous. It is also the brightest of the Large NEO's, brighter than 3200 Phaeton.

Chart showing the track of 3122 Florence in greater detail, the rectangle is the field of view of T12 (click to embiggen)

The asteroid will range from magnitude 9 up to around magnitude 8.7 then fading down to 10. It is initially only visible from the SSO scopes, but by closest approach it is high in both northern and southern skies passing through Capricornius and Delphinus.

Many instruments will be watching this approach, including the Goldstone radar to try and capture its shhape and possible satellites. Light curve data are requested to compliment these observations.  Being bright it requires only short exposures, previous studies suggest a rotation period of 2.4 hours and an amplitude of 0.2 magnitudes.

There is little parallax dispacement of the asteroid, and is moving at 23.86 "/min at closest approach, so tracking should not be an issue. However, at closest approach the waxing Moon is 36 degrees away, so narrow band imaging, preferably r band, is desirable.

While not spectacular, this will be an historic pass to witness, the next closest approach of Florence is in 2057.

The MPEC one line ephemeris is:

3122   14.1   0.15 K1794 351.43853   27.84690  336.09520   22.15080  0.4233003  0.41885479   1.7691326  0 MPO412190  1951  24 1979-2017 0.42 M-v 3Eh MPC        0000   (3122) Florence           20170703