It’s a nova needle in a Milky Way haystack – an exploding star appears in Sagittarius.
On March 15 a very observant amateur astronomer in Australia spotted a star in Sagittarius that wasn’t there the night before. It was a nova, Latin for “new.”
But this was not a new star forming, but an old star in the process of dying.
This star is likely an ancient white dwarf drawing material off a close companion. When the in-falling material builds up on the surface of the white dwarf it ignites in a nuclear explosion, causing the star to brighten, in this case by hundreds of times.
At its peak last week, Nova Sagittarii was just bright enough to see naked eye. It is now below 5th magnitude and barely naked eye. In my long exposure photo it appears lost amid the blaze of stars in the Sagittarius Milky Way.
Still, this was the brightest nova visible from the northern hemisphere in many years. Indeed, we haven’t had a really bright naked-eye nova since the 1970s.
Considering all those stars, you’d think some would blow up for us to enjoy!
– Alan, March 26, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com
Tonight Comet Lovejoy paired with the Pleiades star cluster.
Sunday, January 18 was the night to catch the ever-photogenic Comet Lovejoy at its best and closest to the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. Its long blue ion tail stretched back past the Pleiades.
I thought the tail would be passing right over the star cluster, but not so. At least not when I was shooting it at about 7:30 pm MST.
Still, the combination made a fine pairing of cosmic blue objects for the camera. The top image is with a 135mm telephoto.
This wide-angle image, with a 24mm lens, takes in many of the northern winter constellations, from Orion at bottom, to Auriga at top, with Taurus in the middle. Notice the dark tendrils of the Taurus Dark Clouds.
At right, beside the Pleiades, is the green and blue comet, with its tail reaching back past the Pleiades.
I shot both images from the dark skies of City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico, which has proven to be one of the finest places on the planet for watching Lovejoy!
– Alan, January 18, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com
As a special New Year’s gift I have prepared a free Calendar of celestial events for 2015.
I have lots of photos and I maintain a personal calendar to remind me of the year’s astronomical events. So why not combine them into a pictorial sky calendar anyone can use!
So I’ve prepared a free 2015 Sky Calendar as a PDF you can download.
To get it, please visit my website page at http://www.amazingsky.com/about-alan.html and scroll to the bottom of the page for a link. It’s a 5 meg download.
The sky events listed are for North America. While most will be visible around the world the timing may be off for other locations. Many thanks for visiting and following my blog this past year. I wish everyone a happy and celestial 2015.
– Alan, December 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com
Comet Lovejoy passes near the globular cluster M79 in this image from Saturday, December 27.
Here is the comet that is making the news, as it comes into view in northern skies, now sporting a decent tail of gas streaming away from its cyan-coloured head.
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is proving to be a fine photogenic comet and an easy target for binoculars. Visually it still looks like a large fuzzy star, though I could spy a sign of a faint tail on Saturday night, at least through binoculars.
This weekend it passed the small, faint globular cluster Messier 79, seen here at upper right. It was very close to M79 Sunday night, but alas, clouds blew in, obscuring the view from here in New Mexico.
The Moon is now in the sky with the comet, leaving no dark sky time to see the comet after moonset. That will be the case for another two weeks or so. But by mid January the Moon will be gone and the comet will be much higher in the sky, moving up through Taurus.
From a dark site, it may be easily visible to the naked eye at that time, a surprising bonus for the winter, as this comet was never expected to get this bright.
Thank you, Terry Lovejoy, for finding your comets in Australia and sending them our way!
– Alan, December 28 / © 2014 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com
A cosmic Christmas wreath glows in the sky, adorned by a celestial garnet.
This nebula, known as IC 1396, shines in the constellation of Cepheus the king, now high overhead on early winter evenings in the northern hemisphere. It’s a bubble of gas blown by new stars amid the interstellar wreath.
At top, shining like a Christmas light on the wreath, is an orange star. This is Mu Cephei, also known as the Garnet Star. It’s a red supergiant, roughly 1,500 times bigger than our Sun. If it replaced our Sun at the centre of our solar system it would engulf all the planets out to and including Jupiter.
Be happy Mu sits 1,000 light years away!
Happy holidays! And happy solstice. Winter arrives in the northern hemisphere at 6:03 p.m. EST on Sunday, December 21. That’s the shortest day and longest night of the year, for all those north of the equator.
– Alan, December 20, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer
A bubble of glowing gas blows away from an ancient dying star, next to a cluster of new stars in Gemini.
This image, from a week ago, captures contrasting stages in the life of a star.
At left is a crescent-shaped bubble of gas called IC 443, or the Jellyfish Nebula, billowing away from the site of an ancient supernova explosion, when a giant star ended its life in a blast thousands of years ago. Estimates put its age as between 3,000 and 30,000 years.
At upper right is the bright open star cluster, Messier 35, a gathering of hundreds of comparatively new stars at the beginning of their lives. M35 lies 2,800 light years away, close enough that its stars are nicely resolved in my photo and in any small telescope. M35 is one of the showpieces of the winter northern sky.
Just below M35 you can see a fuzzy glow. It’s another star cluster, NGC 2158. However, its great distance of 11,000 light years makes it appear as a small, partially-resolved glow, a nice contrast in clusters near and far.
This image focuses on IC 443, sitting between the stars Eta (right) and Mu Geminorum. The field is filled with other faint nebulosity, all part of the cycle of star birth and death.
– Alan, December 7, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer
“Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson
These are the famous Seven Sisters, the Pleiades, caught two nights ago in New Mexico skies. This bright star cluster stands out easily to the unaided eye in the winter sky, shining in the shoulder of Taurus.
What the eye does not see is the “silver braid” – the dim dust that surrounds the Pleiades. The stars light the dust, causing it to shine blue near the stars. Farther out, the dust is much dimmer and glows with pale tints of cyan and red.
The dust clouds were once thought to be what was leftover from the formation of the stars, now estimated to have occurred about 100 million years ago. However, current theory suggests that the natal dust of the Pleiads would have long since dispersed.
Instead, the silvery braids of dust that surround the Seven Sisters are just nearby dust clouds in Taurus that the stars are passing through, and illuminating with their hot blue light.
The Pleiades, as familiar as they are – they have been mentioned in ancient texts and myths dating back thousand of years – remain a source of scientific controversy. Astronomers argue over their distance, with different methods providing different results. But the best recent measurement puts them 440 light years away.
Technical notes: This is a stack of 10 x 12 minute exposures at ISO 400 with the Canon 5D MkII camera and 92mm TMB refractor at f/4.4. I shot the images November 16 from near Silver City, New Mexico.
– Alan, November 18, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer