The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaked earlier today. However I was able to catch a better showing from Mayhill NM on the morning of the 11th, yesterday. While the Moon is waxing and near full, it fortuitously set just before 4 am and the dark skies over the Sacramento Mountains followed! The Earth passes through the debris trail left by comet Swift-Tuttle every year at this time. The direction of travel is toward the constellation Perseus, hence the name. The meteors appear to originate from a central point in that constellation. Just after 4 am on the 11th Perseus was nearly overhead, so most of the meteors were seen closer to the horizon. I saw approximately 20 in the hour before dawn! Now the other phenomenon featured at the same time was a triangular glow of light originating from about the position of sunrise. This can be seen in a dark site either just before dawn or just after sunset. Zodiacal light (also called false dawn when seen before sunrise such as this) is visible in the night sky and appears to extend from the Sun’s direction and along the zodiac, straddling the ecliptic or the plane of the solar system (red line in image below). Sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust causes this phenomenon. Zodiacal light is best seen during twilight after sunset in spring and before sunrise in autumn, when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. You can see in the Stellarium capture below the steep ecliptic angle and the constellations of the zodiac beginning with Gemini. At any rate, a welcome moment of visual observing from the astronomer’s living quarters at Orion’s Belt on the morning of August 11th!
View to the South/ Southeast on the morning of Aug 11 a little after 4am. Unfortunately the screen reproduction is undersized by this site’s server but you can see the constellation Perseus marked with an ‘X’ near the top which is where the meteors appear to originate from. The white triangle is the Zodiacal light and red line is the ecliptic, running through the constellations of the zodiac. You can see Gemini is rising at the base of the triangle. Taurus is next “in line” along the red line. The bright red star Aldebaran is shown there, and if you go further up you will run into Pisces. Orion is at the lower right center
This is kind of how the zodiacal light looked, about an hour before dawn. Courtesy of earthsky.org.
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One of the things you begin to realize after imaging various regions of the universe is that space is not empty! It’s filled with dust. In fact if there were no dust, we would not have a night time here on Earth. The second completed project from Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory is entitled “A Horse with No Name” which harkens back to the early 70’s and the song from the band ‘America’. The “Horsehead nebula” is one of the most fascinating regions of our galaxy and is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud which is a huge star forming region toward the constellation Orion. I have reproduced the detailed description below with a few edits, courtesy of Wikipedia. For a full resolution version of the image you can use the link on the lower right under “My Astro-images”
Image captured from Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory Dec 2018-Feb 2019
The “Horsehead nebula” is a complex star forming region 1200 light years from Earth toward the constellation Orion and consists of emission, reflection and dark nebulae. The deep-red color originates from ionized hydrogen gas (Hα) predominantly behind the nebula, and caused by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. You can see the blue diffraction spike from the nearby bright star. Magnetic fields channel the gases, leaving the nebula into streams, shown as foreground streaks against the background glow. A glowing strip of hydrogen gas marks the edge of the massive cloud, and the densities of nearby stars are noticeably different on either side.
Heavy concentrations of dust in the Horsehead Nebula region and neighboring Orion Nebula are localized into interstellar clouds, resulting in alternating sections of nearly complete opacity and transparency. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust blocking the light of stars behind it. The lower part of the Horsehead’s neck casts a shadow to the left. The visible dark nebula emerging from the gaseous complex is an active site of the formation of “low-mass” stars. Bright spots in the Horsehead Nebula’s base are young stars just in the process of forming. (Courtesy Wikipedia)
Location: Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory, Mayhill NM
Date: Dec 2018
Telescope: RiDK 400mm
Camera: SBIG STX 16803/ AOX
Mount: Paramount MEII
Acquisition: LRGB Ha: 5, 5,6,5,7 hours respectively. Luminance 10min; Red, Green, Blue 12 min; Ha 15min
Filters: Astrodon Gen 2 (3nm HA)
Processing : Pixinsight
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