An “opposition” happens on the day that Earth and an outer planet line up on the same side of the Sun. For Earth observers, a planet in opposition will rise when the Sun sets and will be in the sky all night. Around the time of opposition, the planet is brightest, practically fully illuminated, and displays the largest angular diameter for the year. Right before, during, and after opposition are prime-time for viewing and imaging a planet!
Amateur and large observatory scopes can do best when imaging planets at opposition. It was just announced this summer that amateur astronomer Kai Ly discovered an unknown moon of Jupiter while examining opposition images taken with the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. This news comes just in time to take some confirmation images as Jupiter opposition season is upon us now!
By the 1970s amateur astronomers had noticed that all 110 Messier objects (a list of notable objects in the northern skies visible in small scopes) could be observed at low northern latitudes over the course of a night in mid-to-late March. Hence, the phrase “Messier Marathon” was invented to describe the attempt at locating and verifying observance of each object on the list over the course of a single night.
Sheltering in Space
Last year, on March 11, we published our “2020 Messier Marathon!” post on this blog. We noted the best dates to observe based on latitude and lunar phase, and discussed the type of gear to use for the event. We pointed out that the Saguaro Astronomy Club, in Arizona, was one of the oldest organized Marathons and they offered awards in various categories for completing the list. It turned out to be our last blog post during “normal” times that year: COVID-19 social-distancing and lock-down orders, which we had only heard about, suddenly swept through our region. The Saguaro Messier Marathon and many star parties were ultimately canceled that year and it continues into this year.
The Messier Marathon did and will go on again, “run” by solitary observers “sheltering in space.” In fact, due to COVID-19 there may be MORE Marathoners than ever as the hobby of amateur astronomy has taken off during these socially distant times. See this recent report from CBC Canada that features our dealer All-Star Telescope in Alberta: Amateur astronomy lifts off during the pandemic.
The Jupiter and Saturn “Great Conjunction” was well-publicized and well-imaged. Even though the closest approach between the planets was Monday, they’re still in the vicinity and worth a look tonight! This gallery contains some of the best images of the event we found on-line, acquired with Tele Vue products.
On December 16th, Jupiter and Saturn will be a full-Moon’s width apart at dusk as they sink into the south-western horizon. Watch this pair each evening as they draw ever-closer together until they pass within 1/10 of a degree on December 21st. This is the great Jupiter / Saturn Conjunction of 2020! This is the closest they’ve been together since 1623 and most sources say that conjunction was not observed due to the planet’s vicinity to the Sun. The last time the pair was definitely visible this close together was in 1226 in the morning sky. This is a rare “must-see” event indeed!
Tele Vue Sells Out of Limited Edition Apollo 11 Eyepiece!
Last year, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and in recognition of Al Nagler’s contribution to the greater effort that made the mission possible, we “launched” a limited run of 300 commemorative Apollo 11mm eyepieces.
While we have shipped our last Apollo 11mm eyepiece recently, dealers may still have some in stock. Act now if interested!
The following note is from Al Nagler.
Dear Tele Vue Aficionado,
Thank you for your continued enthusiasm for our products. We’re sorry for some product delays due to an unexpected increase in demand during this pandemic time.
Here’s an announcement I’m making today that’s unique in my lifetime, leaving me conflicted between happy and sad:
We’ve sold out of our limited edition special production run of the Apollo 11 eyepiece celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing.
Yes, I’m sad they are gone, but happy to have spread more joy among our astronomical community. Little did I know in the 1960s that my design for the LEM Simulator optics, showing a 110° star field to the astronauts would change my life, inspiring me to eventually share wide-field views with fellow amateur astronomers by founding Tele Vue Optics, Inc.
I’d appreciate your taking a few minutes to see my PowerPoint presentation, I Thank My Lucky Stars on the Tele Vue blog to share my life path with you.
Our readers followed the story of the development, arrival, packaging, and distribution of the Apollo 11mm eyepiece on our blog. See the following links:
Images below: (top) Apollo 11mm eyepiece “Magic Moment” at Tele Vue headquarters with the development team (left-right): Paul Dellechiaie, Al Nagler, and David Nagler. (Bottom left) Tele Vue CEO Al Nagler with Apollo 11mm eyepiece and his Alan Bean, (4th Man to Walk on the Moon) autographed print. (Bottom right) 2019 NEAF Show tease.
According to a recent Solar Activity Update by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, “Solar activity picked up at the end of November into early December, 2020, as several sunspot groups emerged or rotated onto the visible disk”. The update continues: “Solar activity is anticipated to slowly increase over the upcoming years towards the predicted solar maximum peak around July, 2025.” This is great news for observers of our nearest star! At times this year, there had been month-long sunspot “droughts” with no or few sunspots on the solar disk.
The return of Sun as a target of interest has led to a sudden uptick in Solar image postings to social media these past few weeks.
Is it just us or did it seem that 2020 was a longer than usual year? Yet while both the year and big Mars Opposition are waning, we can still look forward to some astronomical sights and surprises in the “20/20” sky. We list them in this week’s blog.
Even though we’re past the point of closest approach and opposition, Mars continues to loom large in the sky and is higher each night at the same time. In the northern hemisphere, the nights are coming sooner and lasting longer. Until mid-November, Mars will appear bigger than at any opposition until 2033!
You can use the excellent Mars Mapper 2020-2021 web app (mobile version) on the British Astronomical Association website to identify features on the planet when you observe or image it.
If you’d like to try your hand at imaging the planet, study the next sections carefully as they contain image processing tips from top Martian imagers on the Internet.
We’ve reached the peak of the current Mars observing season with the planet closest to Earth:62-million km or 38.5-million miles on October 6/7th. At -2.5 magnitude and 22.6″ in diameter, Mars is a conspicuous, intense orange target in the sky that is brighter than any star, except our Sun and is only outshone by Venus and the Moon in the nighttime sky. When it reaches opposition next week, on October 13th, it will still be 22.4″ in diameter and a tad brighter at -2.6 magnitude. It will remain greater than 20″ in diameter for the whole month. So, weather permitting, put an eyepiece in the scope this month and show it to all your friends!
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