The “ice giant” planet Uranus was in opposition on October 28th. That means that the Sun, Earth, and Uranus all lined up together at an instant in time on that date. Uranus is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth, so the planet was closest to Earth and brightest for the year and in the sky all night long. If you missed it: don’t worry. The slow-moving planet will remain at least 3.7″ of arc in diameter and at magnitude 5.7 for the next month.
If you’re suffering from the cold northern winter like we are at Tele Vue headquarters in upstate New York, you’ll instantly be “warmed” by these “hot” solar images made by Jordi Sesé Puértolas from his balcony in Barcelona, Spain. These photos appear to show a blazing inferno on the “surface” of the Sun. However, science tells us this is not fire we are seeing but hot plasma (ionized gas) and gas in the wavelength of Hydrogen-α light.
On the 23rd, the “ice giant” Uranus will be visible all night, as it rises when the sun sets (hence it is opposite the sun). It will also be at its largest for the year: a diminutive 3.73″ of arc. Due to its distance and close-to-circular orbit, Uranus doesn’t vary that much in brightness over time. It will reach magnitude 5.7 from mid-October through early November before slightly fading to magnitude 5.9 in late March 2019. This makes it a naked-eye target in dark skies and easy to locate in a binocular or finderscope.
We’ve noticed a proliferation of close-up plane images on Instagram made using Tele Vue Powermate™ image amplifiers. What is amazing about these images? They are taken from the ground with the plane at jet-aircraft cruising altitude. This is the imaging side of the hobby of “plane spotting.” It is sort of like bird watching — but the “bird” is much bigger and potentially much further away: in the stratosphere!
While imaging a bird can be serendipitous, the modern plane spotter has the advantage of free online flight-tracking software, such as FlightRadar 24 and FlightAware, to predict what aircraft are approaching their location. Aircraft identification, route, speed, altitude, and heading are just a click away. This software has also made its way to the ubiquitous smartphone. Thus, unlike birding, plane spotters can anticipate targets to observe in advance. This gives the spotter time to prepare for encounters with common and rare aircraft — like the Antonov An-225.
Saturn is in opposition tonight: it glides above the horizon around sunset and will be over 18-arc-seconds in diameter for a few weeks. At about magnitude 0.0, it will pair well with the full moon that accompanies it across the sky this evening.
The changing face of the moon has long been documented by artists. In the early 1600’s, the introduction of the telescope allowed for detailed sketching of lunar features at the eyepiece. The most celebrated early telescope sketcher was Galileo Galilei. His artistic training allowed him to understand that the jagged appearance of the lunar terminator (day/night line) seen in the eyepiece was due to the topography of craters, mountain, and ridges on the moon. These irregular shadows on the moon had puzzled earlier observers that considered the moon to be a flat disk with markings on it.
For most people an overhead pass of the International Space Station (ISS) looks somewhat like a bright airliner crossing the sky. Not for Szabolcs Nagy: with his 1,200mm Dobsonian scope and 2.5x Tele Vue Powermate™ he can get up-close video of this bright streak that resolves into individual solar panels, modules, and even docked capsules!
About every 26-months, Earth and Mars get a good look at each other as their orbits cause them to line up together on the same side of the Sun. At the instant that Earth is between Mars and the Sun we have “Mars Opposition” — Mars is opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky. Mars is closest to Earth around this time and amateur astronomers make a point of observing it.
Roger Hutchinson is a noted amateur astrophotographer who produces much of his planetary, solar, and even comet work from what he admits are the “light polluted skies of southwest London”. His imaging work is showcased on his aptly named The London Astronomer website as well as on flickr, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Roger’s interest in imaging the sky runs back to the age of 11 and has culminated as the recent recipient of the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year award in the Planets, Comets & Asteroids category for 6-month-long effort to capture the evolution of the phases of Venus. Some of Roger’s social media profiles include a picture of the “Captain” standing with “Bleep” and “Booster” from the BBC animated series “Bleep and Booster”. He says “I have two kids myself so thought the image was kind of appropriate. Suitably space related and brings back some happy childhood memories.”
We recently received an interesting letter from Stephen Pizzo, discussing his solar imaging work with Tele Vue Powermate™ amplifiers. Most of the time (90%), he uses our 4x Powermate™ on a Hydrogen-α scope — either a LS152THA (900mm focal length) or LS230THa (1,600mm focal length). This extends the effective focal length of these dedicated solar scopes to 3,600mm or 6,400mm for breathtaking, close-up images of the activity on the Sun’s chromosphere. The choice of scope depends on the seeing conditions. If conditions won’t support the 4x, Stephen employs our 2x Powermate™ with the LS230THa for an effective focal length of 3,200mm. Stephen also notes that he normally uses 3″ to 4″ of extension between the 4x Powermate™ and the imager to get another 0.5x of magnification. The imager itself is very unique: a RED Dragon Epic monochrome 18-megapixel camera — a camera usually associated with the world of professional digital cinema.
He shared the images created with the bigger scope and 4x Powermate™ with us. As you can see below, they are spectacular!