C/2012 K1 PANSTARRS is a binocular comet for UK observers this month but it's a tough spot in the morning sky before dawn.
The chart below shows the motion of the comet during September. Look towards the southeast at around 5am.
Magnitude (brightness) estimates are shown below the date on the chart. The comet is tracking south through the constellation Hydra. Comet PANSTARRS is getting further from the Sun but the Earth is moving closer to the comet - hence the slight increase in brightness.
Comet 2014 E2 Jacques continues its journey across the sky and along the Milky Way in September.
The magnitude (brightness) estimates are shown below the dates. The is visible with binoculars at the start of the month but will require moderate sized telescopes to be seen by the end of September. Having said that, Comet Jacques is superbly placed for UK observers; visible for much of the night for most of the month and almost overhead for the first coople of weeks in September. Also unfortunate is that observations will be hampered by moonlight during the first half of September.
There are a couple of nice photo opportunities before Comet Jacques departs our sky. On the evening of September 14th the comet will be less than 1 degree from the celebrated double star Albireo in Cygnus. And on September 19th and 20th it will pass to the west of Brocchi's Cluster (aka The Coathanger).
I took this picture on August 30th when Comet Jacques flew past the Garnet Star in Cepheus.
Comet Jacques is leaving the inner solar system and activity on the surface is shutting down. It may return to our skies one day - but not for at least 22,000 years.
Not too many clear nights this month but enough to get some pictures of Comet 2014 E2 Jacques. The comet is well placed for UK observers but doesn't look that impressive through small telescopes. It's great that such an unimpressive comet is attracting media attention ;-)
Comet Jacques is moving rapidly across the sky. The problem with taking pictures is that I've been limited to exposures of just 2 minutes through the DSLR on the telescopes. More than that and the comet smears across the image. The middle picture above was an attempt to autoguide on the comet - forcing the telescope to track the motion of the comet rather than the stars. Unfortunately the weather wasn't good that evening but the method worked.
The movie above was compiled from 29 two minute exposures collected on the evening of August 28th. The rapid motion of the comet makes a nice (if short) movie. Comet Jacques was moving at about 37 km/s and was about 84 million km from Earth. It was shining at around 7th magnitude.
I'm hoping for a clear sky tomorrow as Comet Jacques sails past the Garnet Star in Cepheus. Should make a nice photo with contrasting colours.
I've been putting together another planetary alignment chart (like this one) and next year is filled with planetary alignments and conjunctions. There's a particularly nice grouping just over a year from now in the morning sky featuring four planets, Regulus and our moon.
Here's a rendition of the eastern sky before sunrise on October 10th 2015, when Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all visible.
The only naked eye planet not in the scene is Saturn, which unfortunately is visible in the evening sky.
These are notes to complement my lecture about the Milky Way at NASTRO given on Thursday August 14th 2014. I will probably add to and amend these notes.
Our solar system is part of a vast system of stars, gas and dust called The Milky Way (or the Galaxy). Until about 100 years ago this picture was synonymous with the word "Universe".
Take a look at that picture of the Milky Way above. In the last one hundred years astronomers have figured out how our solar system relates to that structure. Without the possibility of seeing it from another viewpoint we know how it would look from the outside. We understand how big it is. We know (roughly) how many stars are in it. We know how much stuff - gas and dust - is contained in it. We know a monster lurks at its heart.
This is the story of how we know.
I'm easily distracted...apologies for the dodgy sound effects below the fold.
Dr Adrian Jannetta
Guitar strummin' explorer of the universe. Mild mannered maths teacher by day and astronomer by night.