We were finally blessed with clear skies and got our first views of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), or Comet NEOWISE. Most sightings by others thus far have been in the early pre-dawn hours. This week, NEOWISE will become a better evening apparition after 9:30 pm.
Last evening on 12 July, we went to our viewing site with a clear view of the northwest horizon. It was predicted to be at a direction of 328˚ and an altitude of 6˚ above the horizon. (West = 270˚, North = 360˚) Your fist at arm’s length is about 10˚ tall. We scanned with binoculars for several minutes as the sky slowly darkened. There it was.
Canon PowerShot SX60 HS | ISO1600 | 1 sec | Full Zoom
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Centaurus-A is located in the southern hemisphere skies. I have never seen it from my location 42˚ north latitude. It rises only 5˚ above my southern horizon in early December. I’m certain it is very familiar to my blogger friend Roger in Australia. It is the 5th brightest galaxy and easily viewed by amateurs. It contains a black hole of 55 million solar masses ejecting jets of x-ray and radio wavelengths. Models suggest the galaxy collided with another smaller galaxy in the past leading to areas of star formation in the resulting complex structure. I enjoyed combining 3 greyscale Hubble images into this composite. In the center are several newly formed bluish stars. The dark areas are dust blocking the passage of light.
Centaurus-A | Hubble Legacy Archive | My Version
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On 13 June 2020, SpaceX launched 58 Starlink and 3 Planet SkySats into orbit atop Falcon 9. Many photos and video of the launch are available here and satellite details here.
Early in the morning of 17 June, that same set of satellites passed directly over my location. It was 4:45 am. Twilight was beginning to brighten the sky. I set my iPad on a stable surface and started a long 200 sec exposure with the NightCap app in ISS mode. Within a minute the train of satellites appeared in the southwest (lower left) heading northeast (upper right). The constellation Cygnus was directly in their path. You might recognize Cygnus as a set of short star trails in the center of the image.
Starlink 8 | NightCap ISS mode | 200 sec | 1/2s shutter speed
In the weeks and months ahead, the Starlink satellites will use their ion engines to move apart to higher altitudes of 341 miles (550 km) and become part of the constellation of about 12,000 when all are launched and deployed. More are planned. Since May 2019, about 538 have been launched in sets of 60 at a time. Another 1000 are expected in multiple launches this year. Details of the plan to deliver internet service can be found in a Wikipedia article here.
The last time American astronauts were launched to the International Space Station from U.S. soil was in 2011. Since then, we have relied on launches from Russian soil. NASA and SpaceX are targeting 4:33 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 27, for the launch from Florida of a two astronaut crew to the ISS. Crew Dragon Demo-2 is scheduled to dock to the ISS at 11:29 a.m. Thursday, May 28. More details of the timeline are here. Check NASA-TV for coverage. A successful flight of the unmanned Crew Dragon Demo-1 to the ISS was conducted in March 2020.
NASA-SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. Credits: NASA
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Two nights ago the Starlink 6 train of satellites launched by SpaceX passed directly over our location at magnitude 0.8. Clouds were a problem. We were able to see about 10 of them briefly in a small gap between the clouds. Last night they passed again, but farther to the south and only 36˚ up from the horizon. The sky conditions were better but worsening. They were to be at magnitude 3.2 which is not very bright in our urban setting.
NightCap on the iPad does a good job capturing night time events. I set it for ISS passes and hoped for the best. We stood in a relatively dark place down the street while the iPad recorded a 6 min time exposure. We watched in amazement as the entire train of 60 Starlink satellites passed right-to-left across the part of the sky still clear. They were quite dim but we easily saw them pass. The clouds were steadily encroaching from the right.
The photographic results were a disappointment. The satellites passed under the Moon and barely under Canis Minor in the center before they became visible to us. Their trails are hidden behind the narrow cloud streak the goes from below Canis Minor and off the left side of the frame. Perfect placement for not being visible in the photo. I tried everything in Photoshop to adjust the image and make them visible. Nothing worked. But, we did escape from house confinement for a while and enjoyed the warm spring evening.
Taken with NightCap | ISS mode | 356 sec exposure