Author Archives: denholm

The Sky for January 2014

For those attuned to western numerology, they are finally out the year xx13. In Asian cultures 4 is considered unlucky, so perhaps xxx4 will not be a good year for some people.

Winter is upon us in Northern America and aside for short walks for the dog, venturing outside in -25c temperatures in the dark is only done as a necessity and not for the pleasure of viewing the winter sky. However, the winter sky in North America does offer some spectacularly sites.

January Sky 2013

January Sky 2013

Winter Hexagon

Winter Hexagon


Orion, one of the most recognizable constellations, is front and centre in January. Surrounding Orion is the “Winter Six” – 6 of the brightest stars in the northern hemisphere arrange in a hexagon. At 9pm mid-month, Orion is about south-east. The winter six – Sirius (m -1.6), Procyon (m 0.4), Pollux (m 1.2), Capella (m 0.1), Aldebaran (m 0.8) and Rigel (m 0.2) surround Orion.

Orion The Hunter is home to a number of interesting and very accessible night sky objects. The Orion Nebula (M42) is a very bright and large HA emission nebula surrounding the middle star or Orion’s sword.
Unadied, the middle star of the sword appears a bit fuzzy. With binoculars, its apparent that the “star” is actually several stars surrounding by a grey cloud. With a 4″ refractor, the “cloud” starts to take shape as a distinct luminous region. Careful oberservers will also note that the “star” at the centre of the nebula is actually a multiple star. Visually it appears as a group of 4 stars known as the “trapezium”. Even Galileo observed this multiple star system and even noted the 5th and 6th memmbers of this complex multiple star system.

Observing Report – 2014-01-14

After 8 weeks of almost no astronomy, i finally opened up the dome. In truth, i did take out the 3″ refractor a couple of times for a quick peek at things from the front porch. But for the last 2 months it’s either been cloudy or there was a full moon when clear so not worth getting out the big scope. There were 2 decent clear nights, but social engagements precluded spending an evening in the observatory.

Pyroclastic formation south east of Mare Vaporum

Pyroclastic formation south east of Mare Vaporum

On Jan 14th there was also an almost full moon. But i had a specific objective for looking at the moon when full. When doing a little research for my image of the pyroclastic formation near Mare Varopum, i found a reference that stated the dark pyroclastic formation could even be seen at full moon.

The forecast was for clear skies in the late evening with moderate to poor seeing. The skies were clear and quite transparent and the seeing on occasions was actually 4/5 – but only for a few seconds at a time. Mostly it was the predicted poor 2/5.

Using the HD11 and 24mm Hyperion (mag 116x and 35′ real FoV) i first checked out the double in Rigel. At first the glare from Rigel obscured the companion. But when the seeing stabilized, it was easy to see.

Betelgeuse was a beautiful orange. I half expected it to go supernova while observing it. It’s reported to be quite unstable and ready to explode sometime between now and the next million years.

Just for fun, i slewed to Alnitak – the left most star in Orion’s belt. And then down a half a degree to where the horse head nebula is. Of course i could not see it as it’s really an HA object and only visible in HA capable cameras.

trapezium 6 starsThe next target was the Trapezium in Orion’s sword. It’s at the centre of the Orion Nebula (M42). The centre of the nebula is visible in an EP as a distinct grey patch with well defined edges. Averted vision affords some structure to the otherwise smooth “cloud”. The 4 stars that form the bright trapezium – mag 4.96 to 7.46 – were of course obvious as the separations vary from 9″ to 19″. After a few minutes of observing, i also detected a 5th member – E – which is mag 10.3 and positioned between A and B. The 6th member F is mag 10.2 and should have been visible, but i did not see it. To my credit, i did not know where E and F were located, so the observation is by merit alone.

The image below captures what it’s like to try to see the faint E and F members. The tear drop shapes are due to atmospheric dispersion as the image was taken when Orion was quite low in the sky. (Note that this image is flipped relative to the graphic above.)

Trapezium with 6 members resolved

Trapezium with 6 members resolved – 2013-04-01

I took a quick look a Jupiter. The seeing wasn’t very good at the time so i could not make out any details expect for the major bands. There were 3 moons visible at the time of observation at about 9:30. These were Io, Europa and Callisto. Had i waited just a few more minutes, i would have seen Ganymede emerge from behind Jupiter.

The last target was the full moon. Even with a 10% neutral density “moon” filter, it is blindingly bright. After a few minutes to orient myself and get used to the flipped horizontal view with an SCT and diagonal, i was viewing Mare Varporum. The ridges on the formation of interest were just visible as bright jagged lines. I could not detect any darkening in the region even though at other lunations, this region is distinctly reddish in colour.

Observing Report – Mare Vaporum – 2013-12-12

I am pretty sure i was observing on the 12th, although it may have been Dec 11. It’s  important because the phase of the moon plays an important role in what can be observed on the lunar surface.  I do know it was clear and pretty $#^&* cold with temperatures below -20c at 10pm.

Pyroclastic formation south east of Mare Vaporum

Pyroclastic formation south east of Mare Vaporum

I had found statements that the dark pyroclastic formation to the south east of Mare Vaporum was observable even at a full moon. I had just completed my image of that area taken with a lunation of 7days, so was keen to test that statement. I grabbed the 70mm Telvue Pronto, which was already on the camera tripod, and observed from the front porch at 10pm to see if i could find the “dark spot” below Mare Vaporum.

Using the 70mm scope and a 5mm Hyperion yields a magnification of 96x and a real FoV of 42′. So the whole moon didn’t quite fill the field of view but provided enough magnification that i was hopeful of seeing the details i was after. The seeing was actually quite poor despite the seemingly very transparent skies. I was also observing at about 10pm so the moon was high in the sky and due south which should have been ideal. I think the cold winter air gives the impression of being clear, but the seeing (stability) is generally poor in these conditions.

Mare Vaporum was easy to spot. As well 4 dark “spots” to the south east were clearly visible. The one furthest east is the large crater Julius Caesar. Just west of that is the crater Boscovish. Then there are two dark spots that together with Boscovish form a line going south west. I presume the two additional spots are the craters Hyginus Z and Hyginus S.

As for the pyroclastic formation, i think with a little stretch of the imagination i did see it. But the seeing was poor and the magnification and resolution of the 70m Pronto was probably marginal for that task. As well, the camera tripod was affected by the stiff breeze making it hard to get a stable fix on the object of interest.

I will have to try again with the HD11 on the motorized CGE Pro to be able to definitively say that the dark formation is visible past the 1st quarter moon.

Astrophoto Mare Vaporum – 2013-10-11

The rough patch of ridges south east of Mare Vaporum is quite an interesting formation. This greyscale image taken at about the 1st quarter moon shows nice details in the mountain ridged. A colour image taken a couple years ago when the lunation was a day later shows the region to be reddish brown compared to the surrounding area.

Pyroclastic formation south east of Mare Vaporum

Pyroclastic formation south east of Mare Vaporum

Pyroclastic formation south east of Mare Vaporum
2013-10-11 v1
Lunation 7.08days

The best information i found describes the area as being formed from material ejected from the Imbrium impact and then later overlaid by pyroclastics – ash from volcanic vents. I assume that the valleys of the original ridges were filled in at some point by basalt lava flows.

The formation seems to be unnamed despite being of considerable interest with observations dating back to the early 1800s. On the western ridge to the south is a formation that was once called Mt. Schneckenberg but has since been de-named. It has also been referred to descriptively as the “spiral mountain”. It has also been described as an /e/ shaped formation. On the eastern ridge, about mid way along the ridge, there is half a crater (looking like a cap). This is Hyginus N. The larger creator to the south, and mostly covered from a lava flow, is Hyginus W. Observers in the late 1800s thought it might be a new formation as it was not previously noted in detailed observations from the early 1800s even though the earlier observers had the equipment and skill to have seen it.

Image details:
Scope HD11 with tv 2x powermate
Chameleon at 1280×960 18fps.
Mosaic from 7 x 2min videos – 2200 frames.
Stacked best 10% (220 frames) with Autostakkert2
Processed with Pixinsight and Photoshop