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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

Entries in alert (148)


Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring Meets With Mars (19 October 2014)

Binocular scale image showing the path of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars during October.  Click to embiggen and print.

The pair are at their closest on October 19, when at 18:51 UT they will be a mere 1' 51" apart. Unfortunately, this will only effectively be seen from Africa. From the SSO scopes the closest the pair get is 18' 38" before the limit of western travel is reached.

Unless you have been living in a cave this past year you will know this October is the month that comet Siding Spring comes close to Mars.


Simulated view in Celestia of Siding Spring passing Mars. Although the tail appears to pass beteen Mars and Phobos this is a rendering artifact. The comet is well beyond Demios (the dot near the centre).

Passing 138,800 Km from Mars, comet Siding SPring comfortably misses the red planet. For comparison. Mars's outermost Moon Demios circles the planet at around 20.000 km from Mar's surface (on the other had, the average Earth-Moon distance is 384,400 Km). 

A small flotilla of spacecraft are getting ready to either observe or avoid the comet. While the comet itself will miss Mars, the planet may be enveloped in its coma, and there is the possibility that cometary dust and debris will damage the spacecraft. Nonetheless, we are preparing for a bonanza of space based observations.

Chart of the path of C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) from 29 September to 13 October, as seen from the SSO scopes at the end of Astronomical twilight. The large rectangle is the field of view of T12 and the small that of T9. Click to embiggen and print.

As well as all these spacecraft, amateurs and professional alike are eagerly watching the comet. in the lead-up to the encounter, and will be watching the encounter itself and its aftermath.

The comet would be interesting in its own right being relatively bright (around magnitude 9) and passing through some stunning astronomical territory.

Indeed, this very plethora of celestial gorgeousness can be a problem, the rich stellar backgrounds make seeing the comets tail somewhat difficult.

Comet Siding Spring near the globular cluster NGC 6496 on 26 September. 10x60 second luminance  exposures on T12, SUMMED in ImageJ.

You may need to do a MEDIAN combine when stacking images to bring the tail out at its best (messes up the pretties but you can do a separate image emphasising the clusters and so on).

As well as the standard Luminance exposures, if you can take some RBV images that would help the science missions as well (allowing definition of dust to gas ratios etc).

Chart of the path of C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) and Mars from 13 September to November, as seen from the SSO scopes at the end of Astronomical twilight. The large rectangle is the field of view of T12 and the small that of T9. Click to embiggen and print.

The biggest challenge will be getting images of Mars and Siding spring in the same frame.

With the comet around magnitude 9, and Mars at magnitude 0.9 the difference is enormous. As well, the CCD's on the iTelescopes are highly sensitive. To take an image of Saturn on T27, ype de Lang used an exposure of 0.009 sec (!!!). Other approaches are to use a shorter exposure combined with an extreme filter like a hydrogen filter. Even then Mars will be tiny in all the iTelescopes!

Mars imaged for 1 second using the Ha filter on T9.

Whichever approach you use, you can't get the comet without over-exposing the planet, so you will have to assemble images from separate exposures (ie maybe shoot 10x60 second exposures for the comet and say 2-3 0.009 second exposures of the planet). Obviously some practise will be required to the the exposure parameters right before the night of the actual encounter. 

Outside of the big day there are several nice encounters with clusters and such.

On October 3 the comet is around one degree from the open clusters  NGC 6400 (Mag 8.8) and Cr 338 (Mag 8.0). Outside of T12 a mosaic may be the best way to approach this.

On October 4-6 the comet is within T12 distance of the large and beautiful open cluster Ptolemy's cluster (and a number of smaller ancillary ones). This is best taken as a T12 mosaic with come judicious exposure juggling.

On the 8-9th the comet is within 30' of the Butterfly Cluster M6 (it actually crosses the cluster, but this won't be seen from the SSO scopes) and NGC 6416. However, the Full Moon will be a problem (except early on the 8th, during the total Lunar Eclipse :-)

On the 11-13th the comet is within T12 distance of the open clusters Tom Thumb Cluster (Mag 8.2), Cr 347 (mag 8.8) and Cr 351 (Magnitude 9.3). The comet is fading so longer exposures or more stacking shots will be needed to bring out the comet, but will also bring out the background stars, obscuring the comet tail.

Large mutipanel mosaics with T12 will bring in the Triffid and Lagoon nebulas, however, the shortening length of time before the comet goes below the travel of the itelescopes limits these kinds of mosaics.

On the 21st the comet will be within 19' of the globular cluster NGC 6401 (Mag 7.4).

The MPC one line ephemeris is

CK13A010  2014 10 25.3017  1.398713  1.000431    2.4225  300.9763  129.0428  20141209   8.2  2.4      C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)


ALERT! NEO 2014 RC on 7-8 September, 2014

UPDATED AGAIN! JPL and MPC postions are now converging.

NEO 2014 RC as seen from Siding Springs Observatory from 1:15 am 8 September - 5:15 am (15:15 - 19:15 UT 7 September). The crosses mark the position of the asteroid every 5 minutes. Positions calculated in Horizon Track from JPL horizons data. click to embiggen.

Near Earth Asteroid  2014 RC will  come close to Earth on 18:00 UT 7 September at distance of 0.0003 AU (around 0.15 Earth-Moon distances). It has an estimated diameter of  20m. It is brightest at 17:15 UT though.

The asteroid is currently magnitude 19, and will be a reasonably mag 11.2 at closest approach, despite its small size.

However, it is only reasonably visble from the SSO scopes at its brightest.

At magnitude 13-11 60 second exposures may be reasonable in the latter stages but there will be substantial trailing, shorter exposures may be too dim.

NEO 2014 RC as seen from Siding Springs Observatory from 2:50 am 8 September - 3:50 am (16:50 - 17:50 UT 7 September). The crosses mark the position of the asteroid every 5 minutes. Positions calculated in Horizon Track from JPL horizons data. The circles mark the different location of the Asteroid im MPC (2014 RC) and JPL (2014 RA) data click to embiggen.

NEO 2014 RC is visible for a reasonable time from the southern iTelescopes as it passes from Aquarius through Sculptor and Phoenix to Eriadanus.

The asteroid is visible from start of astronomical twilight in the evening of the 7 September local time (magnitude 14) until end of astronomical twilight on the 8th (local time). It is moving very fast, and is outside the reach of  the tracking capability of the iTelescopes. You will need to use a topocentric ephemeris and camp out on the asteroid track.

There is a substantial parallax effect (> 1 degree), so unless your planetarium program is able to cope with close parallax (most can't), you will need to work from topocentric coordinates.

For topocentric ephemerides you normally would go to

 MPC Siding Spring Code Q62.

UPDATED! JPL and MPC positions converging. But the MPC and the the JPL ephemeris (which can be generated from here, see below for more details) give substantially differnt positions at the moment, I have no idea which to trust.

Always use the latest possible orbital elements and ephemeris. The positions have changed sunbstantially from last night when I first posted this. They should settel down with a longer observing arc. The planning guides to viewing YU55 here and here will help organising topocentric ephemerides for close approaching NEO's.

You will need to use unguided exposures. Choose a point where the asteroid will pass and aim at that. Remember that it takes time for the iTelescopes scopes to get to tracking position. T12 can take up to 5 minutes (depending on there being reliable stars in the field for tracking, check your logs to see what the average slew time is), so offset you initial position by around 4 minutes or so (this will be a significant distance) so the asteroid will be in field. The asteroid will cross the T12 FOV in about 5 minutes.

The JPL ephemeris can be generated from here. You will need to use the Siding Spring Lat Long

31° 16' 24" South, 149° 03' 52" East -  Elevation: 1165m

When imputing them the form has to be 31 16 24, 149 03 52, adding the degree sign crashes the input process. Here is the current ephemeris for the brightest times.

******************************************************************************************************* Date__(UT)__HR:MN R.A._(ICRF/J2000.0)_DEC APmag delta deldot S-O-T /r S-T-O *******************************************************************************************************

 2014-Sep-07 14:00  m  23 05 40.40 -27 29 12.6  12.80 0.00098618354309  -9.8617067 158.5461 /L  21.4330
 2014-Sep-07 14:15  t   23 08 20.88 -28 13 57.1  12.69 0.00092700172968  -9.8107937 157.7736 /L  22.2062
 2014-Sep-07 14:30  m  23 11 26.01 -29 04 14.4  12.57 0.00086814519887  -9.7532934 156.8862 /L  23.0941
 2014-Sep-07 14:45  m  23 15 01.94 -30 01 09.7  12.45 0.00080965956160  -9.6870991 155.8582 /L  24.1227
 2014-Sep-07 15:00  m  23 19 16.99 -31 06 05.3  12.33 0.00075160560961  -9.6092133 154.6561 /L  25.3253
 2014-Sep-07 15:15  m  23 24 22.56 -32 20 45.2  12.20 0.00069406590587  -9.5153055 153.2357 /L  26.7462
 2014-Sep-07 15:30  m  23 30 34.82 -33 47 22.4  12.06 0.00063715475652  -9.3990076 151.5378 /L  28.4446
 2014-Sep-07 15:45  m  23 38 17.29 -35 28 45.8  11.92 0.00058103363336  -9.2507680 149.4820 /L  30.5010
 2014-Sep-07 16:00  m  23 48 05.45 -37 28 27.1  11.77 0.00052593555736  -9.0559518 146.9573 /L  33.0261
 2014-Sep-07 16:15  m  00 00 54.81 -39 50 39.4  11.63 0.00047220443938  -8.7916557 143.8086 /L  36.1753
 2014-Sep-07 16:30  m  00 18 15.99 -42 39 46.7  11.49 0.00042035947923  -8.4213950 139.8172 /L  40.1671
 2014-Sep-07 16:45  m  00 42 42.49 -45 58 20.8  11.36 0.00037120056808  -7.8866305 134.6762 /L  45.3086
 2014-Sep-07 17:00  m  01 18 37.88 -49 40 28.8  11.27 0.00032597479235  -7.0952183 127.9694 /L  52.0158
 2014-Sep-07 17:15  m  02 12 57.52 -53 14 12.0  11.24 0.00028660796405  -5.9137019 119.1911 /L  60.7944
 2014-Sep-07 17:30  m  03 32 08.38 -55 08 40.8  11.35 0.00025590660833  -4.1926727 107.9047 /L  72.0813
 2014-Sep-07 17:45  m  05 08 03.25 -52 58 54.4  11.67 0.00023735963613  -1.8843332  94.1767 /L  85.8097
 2014-Sep-07 18:00  m  06 33 44.03 -45 55 12.4  12.30 0.00023394768992   0.7691758  79.1136 /L 100.8732
 2014-Sep-07 18:15  m  07 34 41.80 -36 15 15.7  13.25 0.00024629558786   3.2689450  64.6494 /L 115.3377
 2014-Sep-07 18:30  m  08 15 15.63 -26 44 21.8    14. 0.00027218402669   5.2355403  52.3521 /L 127.6354
 2014-Sep-07 18:45  m  08 42 46.64 -18 41 26.5    16. 0.00030809892763   6.6153112  42.6975 /L 137.2904

C/2013 V5 Oukaimeden near the Rosette Nebula (morning August 23-25)

C/2013 V5 Oukaimeden near the Rosette Nebula as seen from the SSO scopes from 23 August on. The large rectangle is the field of view of T12 (click to embiggen).

C/2013 V5 Oukaimeden is currently visible from both the northern and southern iTelescopes, but in the northern scopes it is just at the limit of lowest travel at the start of astronomical twilight, while in the Southern scopes it is well above the horizon (around 27 degrees) at the start of Astronomical twilight.

The comet is around magnitude 9, and on the mornings of August 23 and 24 it is within T12 distance of the Rosette Nebula, which will make for a splendid composition.

C/2013 V5 Oukaimeden as seen from the SSO scopes from 23 August on. (click to embiggen).

The comet will rapidly brighten, possibly reaching a peak magnitude of 5.5. It quickly becomes too low for the northern scopes, but remains within the SSO sights until mid September. At this time it should be around magnitude 6.

After the 25th, it only has a few encounters with bright objects. The most notable being the magnitude 6.5 open cluster NGC 2530, when the comet is around magnitude 6.5 as well on the 9th of September.

The current MPC one line ephemeris is

CK13V050  2014 09 28.2244  0.625504  0.998675  314.5738  278.6157  154.8845  20141209   9.0  4.0      C/2013 V5 (Oukaimeden)





Another potential bright comet for 2015, C/2014 Q1 PanSTARRS

Chart of comet C/2014 Q1 PanSTARRS in July as seen from the Southern Hemisphere (click to embiggen).

Another new comet that has the potential to be quite bright is C/2014 Q1 PanSTARRS. It comes within around 0.3 AU of the sun (although the orbit needs further refinement, it is close enough to get brigh, but far enough to be unlikley to disintegrate).

While the comet may become as bright as magnitude 3 at closest approach, this is a very unfavourable apparition from the point of view of the Earth.

Prior to closest approach the northern hemisphere has a very restricted view, at closest approach in July the comet is hidden by the Sun.

After closest approach the comet is only readily visible from the Southern Hemisphere. For iTelescopes, the comet is only accessible in late July when it will have faded to magnitude 6 or less (still impressive in the scopes, if all goes well, but you know what they say about comets).

The current MPC one line ephemeris is

 CK14Q010  2015 07 02.3553  0.348075  1.000000  117.3089    9.9740   41.5510             8.0  4.0      C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS)