2021: The Giants at Opposition!

(L-to-R) Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune will reach opposition at some point this summer and fall. The planets will be far apart in the sky but are shown together in this composite image scaled to their relative sizes on opposition date. Your actual view in the telescope will differ. Jupiter & Saturn © Chuck Pavlick (Celestron 9¼ Edge HD with 2.5x Powermate and ZWO ASI 224MC camera), and Uranus & Neptune © Dane Hankin (Celestron NexStar 6SE with 2.5x Powermate and ZWO ASI 224MC camera).
Opposition: Earth and outer planet line up on the same side with Sun (bottom of diagram). Conjunction: Earth and outer planet line up on opposite sides of the sun (top of diagram). Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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!
 

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This Weekend: Messier Marathon 2021!

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.

The first page of a typical Messier Marathon check sheet under red light. Messier objects in the background taken with Tele Vue-60is by James Burnell. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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.

M33 The Photon Sucker (Triangulum Galaxy) by Astro Bin user Tom Peter. Copyright Tom Peter. Used by permission. Tele Vue-NP127is and Tele Vue-85 combined exposures. This is one of the first few objects in the traditional Messier Marathon list. Of course, in your scope, without the benefit of 15-hrs of exposure, this will look like a blurry little black & white smudge!

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.

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Your 2021 Sky Event Planner

All Ready to View by Twitter user Simon Brown. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Tele Vue-NP101is with Tele Vue 2x Powermate and 3-6mm Nagler Planetary Zoom attached to Gibraltar HD4 mount. Tilton on the Hill, Leicester, UK.
A New Year means a fresh opportunity for viewing new targets and old friends in the sky. Start marking up those new 2021 calendars with this year’s astronomical events listed in this week’s blog!

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Images: The Great Conjunction!

Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction on 12/20/2020. by Instagram user Rodrigo Carvajal. All rights reserved. Used by permission. The planets were 7.5-minutes-of-arc apart. Imaging was done with 11-inch, f/5 Newtonian Reflector using Tele Vue Paracorr Type-2 Coma Corrector onto a QHY5III 178C Camera. Two 60-second videos combined to correctly expose both planets. From Santiago, Chile. From there, the planets were 23.5-deg above the horizon at sunset.

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.

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Have You Been Watching Jupiter & Saturn?

A simulated eyepiece view of the Jupiter and Saturn conjunction on 21 December 2020 with stars removed. The field of view is about ¼ degrees. The four Galilean moons will be easy to spot. Saturn’s moons are much dimmer and will blend in with the field stars. Your view may be rotated and inverted depending on the equipment used and location on the Earth.
Great Conjunction: Countdown to December 21st!
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!

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BREAKING NEWS: Apollo 11mm and Sky Events!

Al Nagler, Tele Vue Optics founder.
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!
 
Tele Vue Apollo 11mm eyepiece is an original design, with unique packaging, that included a serialized commemorative medallion matching the engraved number on the eyepiece.
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.

Stay well,

Al Nagler

 

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.

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Here Comes the Sun!

Sunspots 25 Nov 2020 by flickr user Antonio Agnesi. All rights reserved. Used by permission. The image was captured through a Tele Vue Ranger refractor with Celestron Ultima 2x Barlow and Lunt Herschel wedge with Baader Solar Continuum filter. The camera used was a ZWO ASI 120MM. All gear was carried on a Skywatcher AZ-EQ6 mount. Exposures 5ms and the best 120 frames were stacked. macOS software used was ASICap, Lynkeos, and Photoshop CC.

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. 

A detailed look at sunspots 2785 and 2786 by Instagram user Michael Harriff. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Taken on 29 November 2020 in Hydrogen-alpha light ─ “This was the only clear shooting day in several weeks! 😩”. A Tele Vue 4x Powermate on a Lunt 80mm MT refractor allowed the system to reach 2,240mm effective focal length for this close-up shot. The camera used was the ZWO ASI174MM (mono).

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Mars: Keep on Viewing & Imaging!

Mars at opposition, 13th October 2020 (center image) by flickr user Roger Hutchinson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Hubble’s Closest View of Mars — August 27, 2003 (left image), credit: NASA, J. Bell (Cornell U.) and M. Wolff (SSI). BAA Mars Mapper image (right image) is © The British Astronomical Association 2020. Roger’s image is rotated 180° from the original to match BAA Mars Mapper orientation for locating features. Mars is centered at about 160° west latitude in his image with Olympus Mons super volcano (on top of the Tharsis bulge volcanic plateau) at lower-left. This is one of the best Olympus Mons / Tharsis renditions we’ve seen this Opposition: compare it with the scaled-down and rotated Hubble image on left. Roger’s image was made with a Celestron Edge HD11 with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate and ASI174MM camera.

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.

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Mars Closest to Earth: NOW!

Mars 2020 Oct 4 R(G)B by flickr user Roger Hutchinson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Mars imaged from London just before midnight on 4th October 2020. The volcano Elysium Mons can be seen as the bright circle at the 2 o’clock position. Celestron Edge HD11, Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate and ZWO ASI174MM camera.

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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