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Updated April 1st 2020

Zodiacal Light, Planet Venus, Comet Observing & Faint Aurora - Beaghmore Stones Circles & Ballintoy Harbour - NEW REPORT

Zodiacal Light Shoot

Detailed image report documenting three back to back nights of superb clear skies to observe and shoot the Zodiacal Light, planet Venus and hunt down Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS by telescope. I spent the first two nights at Beaghmore Stone Circles where we met lovely people and observed through my 8" telescope. On the third night Roisin and I went to Ballintoy on the north coast and documented the ZL with John Fagan, Paul Martin and Tracy Sharkey where we got treated to amazing skies and even a faint aurora display. These were three memorable and special nights before the Covid-19 lock down arrived. One page report with 18 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Glenshane Pass Moonlit Snow Scenes - NEW REPORT

Glenshane Pass Moonlit Snow Report

Report documenting aerial filming of a light pollution protest at the Greencastle GPO then on March 12th 2020 I was treated to a surprise night snowfall which resulted in a late night solo Winter chase on Glenshane Pass. The night began filming cars and trucks spinning out on their way up the mountain then the drama evolved into peace and beauty when the clouds parted and the fresh snow was illuminated by bright moonlight. I shot stills and time lapse footage using two DSLRs and captured my old favourite derelict house in moonlit snow. The best scene of the night, and perhaps the season, was a moonlit snow star trail over an old gate. One page report with 9 images and 2 video clips. - REPORT.

A Bright Spring Comet On The Way? - C/2019 Y4 ATLAS

(Above) C/2019 Y4 ATLAS on February 29th 2020 by Makioka, Jamanashi, Japan. Source: Spaceweather.com

UPDATE: Y4 ATLAS has brightened further, several observers are reporting the comet to have a large coma and estimates vary between mag +10.0 and mag +9.8, some have witnessed the comet in 80mm binos and I know of one observer who even glimpsed it in 10x50mm binos. The consensus is if this comet keeps brightening in this manner then we could have a bright object during April and May. I will update later when more news comes in.

After a long drought we may have some exciting news for comet hunters out there who have been patiently waiting for a nice comet to appear. C/2019 Y4 ATLAS is currently much brighter than expected, in fact, recent observations from Michael Yager and Terry Lovejoy indicate the comet is currently around mag +11.5 at the time of writing on March 5th. In short, the comet has increased a hundred fold in brightness since February which was not expected based on current predictions. So what makes this comet so interesting?, brightness enhancement aside, Y4 ATLAS makes a close approach to the Sun with perihelion on May 30th at a distance of 0.25 AU or less than 25 million miles from the surface of the Sun. A comet this close will be located inside the orbit of planet Mercury and exposed to intense solar heating which could cause this comet to surge in brilliance.

Another fact to stir our bright comet sensations is the observation that Y4 ATLAS shares the same orbit of the great comet of 1844 (C/1844 Y1), in fact, ATLAS may be related to this great comet or be a fragment of the comet itself. If this is the case then there's cause for speculation that we could have an interesting object on the cards. Another positive consideration is that the comet has rounded the Sun at least once before (hence the 1844 connection), such comets have already been 'processed' and are much more reliable performers in comparison to first time visitors from the Oort Cloud. These new Oort Cloud comets often surge in brilliance early when volatile compounds react to solar influence giving observers the flase hope of a bright object in the future. However in many such cases these comets can suddenly shut down due to a dark crust which forms on the surface of the nucleus which effectively blocks off solar heating from below and thus we end up with a lesser object. So Y4 has been here before however what kind of a future does this comet have? and is there any genuine cause for excitement?

Y4 ATLAS light curve from the BAA

In truth no one knows. Further observations are needed to complete a more accurate light curve, this means visual observers and astrophotographers should employ whatever telescope and equipment they have to document this comet, making a note of its visual appearance and any emerging structures, the degree of condensation or D.C (why not buy my comet ebook) and of course coma diameter measurements and magnitude estimates. This information from both amateur and professional astronomers will provide us with a better understanding of what this comet may do. Y4 ATLAS could undergo an outburst at any moment so it is crucial the comet is monitored closely for as long as possible throughout the apparition. There are wild predictions currently doing the rounds, however some are not click bait and simply based on the sparse observations we have to date, for example check out this light curve from the BAA showing three outcomes, of interest are the plots of real observations which appear, for the moment, to follow the curve of the brighter outlook. This is very unlikely to happen however if true Y4 ATLAS could become almost as bright as a full moon at perihelion and become visible in broad daylight, in a nut shell this would be a 'great comet'.

Light curve from Seiichi Yoshida

A more sober light curve from Seiichi Yoshida is still very encouraging with a mag +1.0 comet at perihelion which technically at least still makes this a great comet. This is what makes comets so exciting, what will we see?, will the comet could fizzle out just like ISON? or could it become a moderately bright object?, and finally at the less likely extreme could we be treated to a proper great comet?

(Above) Y4 ATLAS finder chart from February to July covering viewing prospects from both hemispheres, source: Seiichi Yoshida. Also check out the real time simple chart from Heavensabove.

However not everything is perfect, speculation of great magnitudes means very little if viewing prospects are not favorable and this is true before and during perihelion passage. As it stands observers in the northern hemisphere are in the best position to watch the show unfold. We get a great view of the comet gradually brightening and changing as it approaches the Sun. During February the comet is a faint mag +11.5 object within Ursa Major, however during April it gradually increases in both speed and brightness as it treks through Camelopardalis and Perseus, by which time we anticipate ATLAS should be a conspicuous binocular object, the comet will then reach peak brightness in late May within Taurus. The problem is that the sky will be experiencing lingering twilight during the latter half of May so we will have a brighter background sky in which to ferret out the comet, it will also be lower in the sky within this twilight arc and not far from the region of sky in which early NLC displays may form. At its peak the comet will be too close to the Sun to see from Earth.

We need the comet to brighten rapidly and put on a show before it is lost within solar glare so we await with quiet anticipation to see what happens. If it does turn into a rare great comet matching the BAA light curve then attempts will be made by trained observers to view the spectacle in broad daylight. Observers in the southern hemisphere will be able to pick up the comet post-perihelion in June within Orion. If ATLAS does put on a show then observers in the south could get a remarkable show, perhaps even a third great comet since McNaught?, it's fun to speculate, at any rate we have an exciting Spring ahead. I will update with further information when it becomes available.

Moneyneany Winter Wonderland & Vivid Diamond Dust Sundog Optics Display - NEW REPORT

Moneyneany Winter Wonderland & Vivid Optics Display

After a long Winter battling wet snow set-ups we finally got rewarded with beautiful snow scenes. Between February 25th and 27th 2020 I spent three days snow chasing in the Sperrins which resulted in my finest scenes of the season, from morning thundersnow to stunning snow landscapes on Glenshane Pass, Birren Road, Mullaghmore and Moneyneany by drone and climaxing with a vivid diamond dust optics display in the form of striking Sundogs and a Parhelic Circle over snow complimented by strongly sheared snow cells which made for a very photogenic and rewarding period. One page report with 27 images and 4 video clips. - REPORT.

Storm Dennis, Thunderstorms, Tidal Surge & Gortmore Severe Squall - NEW REPORT

Storm Dennis Report

After storm Ciara it wasn't long before a new storm arrived in the form of Dennis on February 16th 2020 which would bring gales and convective potential. Roisin and I got up early and went chasing for the day with the intention of targeting unstable skies to the NW. We arrived on Benone Strand where we got treated to a very dynamic ocean with beautiful swells and rolling waves crashing close to shore in nice light. Many people came to watch the sea, several got trapped in the sand (including us) with several tidal surges and an ocean thunderstorm. Later from Gortmore we experienced +70mph winds from a severe squall with hail which shook the van so badly we thought we were going to tip over, a very exciting day indeed. One page report with 17 images and 2 video clips. - REPORT.

Storm Ciara, Power Line Sparks, Winter Thunderstorms & Twilight Cbs - NEW REPORT

Storm Ciara & Winter Chasing - New Report

Detailed image report beginning with a moonlit shoot at Swatragh Church then evolving into three days and two nights of Winter chasing during the cold unstable air mass behind storm Ciara from Feb 10th to Feb 13th 2020. During this busy period I chased both inland and at the coast, I experienced snow and hail showers, severe squalls, ocean lightning, superb Winter convection, damaged live power lines, photogenic Cbs over the ocean during twilight with stars and wonderful aerial scenes of snow on Benbradagh by drone. One page report with 33 images and 4 video clips. - REPORT.

Epic Cookstown Sunset Sky Show - NEW REPORT

Epic Cookstown Sunset - January 19th 2020

On January 19th 2020 I was chilling out after Sunday dinner when I casually glanced out the window and was astonished by a remarkable sunset skyscape taking place. I drove out the road into the countryside and launched my drone to get a better perspective and got treated to the best sunset sky show I have ever experienced in my life. The horizon was burning with an intense yellow afterglow while sections of highly structured mid level cloud were painted an intense red colour which lasted for a long time after sunset, during one glorious moment I could see overhead stars while the sky was on fire. The view of this stunning sky over the distant lights of Cookstown made for a magical memory. One page report with 7 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Sperrin View Glamping Night Sky Photography - NEW REPORT

Sperrin View Glamping Night Photography Report

My first photo shoot of 2020, on three different nights I was joined by mates to shoot the night sky at Sperrin View Glamping located near Beaghmore Stone circles within the Sperrins. With only two weeks until this new venture officially opened to the public we were given permission to document the site during several frosty nights in January. We shot starscapes, star trails and time lapse over the four glamping pods and large communal hub while allowed access to the facility to take shelter when needed. As a result we got a behind the scenes experience at this location under the stars complimented by Orion the Hunter with Betelgeuse undergoing a record breaking dimming event. A wonderful experience and a great shoot to get the new year underway. One page report with 29 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Image Reports - Archive

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Reports

Astronomy is not the only subject I'm interested in, check out my N. Ireland Storm Chasing section and view the chase reports and images which detail not only storms but other phenomena such as a moonbows, noctilucent clouds, aurora displays and exciting nature related photo shoots.

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Martin McKenna