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Updated October 19th 2018

Comet Observing Ebook & Update - NEWS

The sky has been very quiet lately with no convective storms and barely any clear nights. In fact, from late Summer through to mid Autumn 2019 has been the worst period I've ever experienced since I've been observing the sky. From a weather perspective the season has been bland with nothing of interest happening worthy of photography or filming. This has also been the most overcast period I can ever remember, seriously, it seems constantly grey skies by day and cloudy on the majority of nights and the nights which did clear suffered from high level cloud and reduced transparency. These factors have greatly curtailed night photo shoots and observing. We missed a rare outburst of the Draconid meteor shower last week when at least 400 meteors per hour were observed thanks to cloudy skies and with the Orionid meteor shower due to peak this Saturday night under yet more cloud cover for N. Ireland I've decided not to waste time addressing it further here.

However on the few clear nights which did present themselves I made the most of the opportunity and shot star trails and time lapse. This was Benone beach with lifeguard hut with star trail aloft, something a little different, Nigel McFarland and I were shooting here a few hours before cloud cover arrived ahead of storm Calluum, this scene is unusual as we believe no one has captured a star trail here before. I have also been undertaking further telescopic observations of deep sky objects and hunted down comet 64P/Swift-Gehrels last night (Oct 18th) after moonset at mag +10.5 within Andromeda.

Ebook In Development

46P/Wirtanen will arrive into the evening sky for the UK during mid to late November and peak in December when it will be perfectly placed for viewing on the run up to Christmas when the comet is expected to peak at mag +3 as a naked eye object which may exhibit a large coma. To coincide with the current interest in comets since the appearance of 21P/Giacobini-Zinner I have begun writing an ebook on observing comets. This ebook will be available to purchase from me upon completion. The book will describe how to locate comets and observe details within the coma and tails, make tail length and magnitude estimates and touch on the subject of sketches and keeping a log book. The ebook will be complimented with sketches of comets I've observed over the years and contain detailed extracts from my own observing log books. I hope to have the main draught completed for November in time for the arrival of 46P. If this is something you would be interested in please let me know, I will finalize a price later. The above image is an oldie of me back in the day during my comet hunting sweeps with my 16" F/4.5 reflector.

Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma In Morning Sky - WATCH

(Above) 38P captured by Michael Jager on October 4th 2018 from Austria

Comet Stephan-Oterman is the 38th periodic comet ever discovered, it's currently making a fine apparition in the morning sky, in fact, this is the comet's first appearance since it was last seen in 1980. The comet is a target for experienced observers and not an object for the general public due to it's fainter magnitude and skill set required to find and observe. The comet is located in the eastern sky during the early hours of the morning and highest before dawn between Orion and Gemini which will provide suitable bright stars as guide posts for star hopping to the comet. Currently at mag +10.5 it appears as a diffuse elliptical haze. The comet requires moderately dark skies and good transparency and a 6" telescope to observe. 38P is slowly trekking to the east each night and will continue to brighten at a sedate pace when it could peak at mag +9 in November by which time it will be in proximity to bright stars Castor and Pollux and rising slightly earlier in the night. Despite being faint the comet is a good target to observe to enhance your comet observing skills in preparation for 46P/Wirtanen which should be a naked eye object this December.

(Above) 38P finder chart from Sky & Telescope, click on chart to enlarge. Also check out the real time finder chart from Heavensabove


J. E. Coggia (Marseilles, France) found what he thought was an uncataloged nebula on 1867 January 22.9. The sky clouded up almost immediately and remained completely cloudy until the night of January 24, when E. J. M. Stephan (Marseille, France) checked on the nebula through a brief break in the clouds and saw that it had moved. Stephan was able to confirm this was a comet on January 25.86. Stephan said the comet was rather brilliant, round, with a very marked nucleus. The initial announcements did not mention Coggia's name and the comet was named after Stephan. E. W. L. Tempel (Marseille, France) independently discovered this comet on January 28.86 near Pi Arietis.

Although he knew of Stephan's discovery, he noted a distinct difference in the description from his and figured he had found a different comet. Tempel described the comet as very faint and about 3 arc minutes across. Liisi Oterma (Turku, Finland) discovered this comet on 1942 November 6.00. It was described as magnitude 13. Oterma confirmed the discovery on November 6.84. It was described as magnitude 13, with a slow northward motion. A short time after the announcement, Fred L. Whipple (Harvard College Observatory, Massachusetts, USA) found a pre-discovery image on a patrol plate exposed on November 5.23. The magnitude was also estimated as 13. Source: cometography

Dunservick Moonlit Waterfall Shoot - Sept 21st

I had a great photo shoot at the north coast last night (Sept 21st/22nd) with John Fagan. We spent much of the night at Dunservick waterfall where we shot long exposures and time lapse sequences. The moon was three days from full and fairly low in the south which provided us with sufficient light for the waterfall and seascape while passing showers and stars completed the scene. We where standing on rocks almost in the middle of the waterfall for this one.

It was an incredible sensation standing here with this moonlit waterfall while water rushed past us under a canopy of stars, utter tranquility. An aurora manifested during the middle of the night, you can see it in the sky here blending in with the lunar opposition glow.

This angle was very photogenic, this was a long 40 sec exposure using moonlight and a quick sweep from the head torch with showers forming in the distance. Large swells surged up and down near the waterfall, they were dramatic and frightening to watch however we where well out of harms way.

Just near moonset we captured this distant moonbow, this was auto white balance to bring out the colours better. We saw four other stunning close moonbows however they were not in our time lapse position but they were remarkable visually. My photography is available to purchase as a print, canvas or to license as a digital file, please email me for a purchase.

Funnel Cloud Over Binevenagh & Possible Touch Down - REPORT

On August 25th 2018 I was driving along the north coast under showers, my intention was to seek clear skies for aerial filming that afternoon. Once I passed under the core and made a turn onto the Point Road I was astonished to observe an unexpected funnel cloud clearly visible from the flanking area of the cell. I pulled over and made a dash for my camera, this beautiful white funnel cloud rotated and changed shape over the dramatic sunlit countryside against a backdrop of Binevenagh Mountain for 10 min's. During the latter stages of it's apparition the vortex took on the form of a long rope, at which stage it was very close to the summit of Binevenagh. There's a possibility this may have briefly touched down, details of this surprise visitor can be read in the report along with thoughts on how it formed in such a weak set-up along with funnel spotting tips and lessons learned. One page report with 12 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Moonbow Hunting & Moonlit Convection At Swatragh Wind Turbines - REPORT

Moonbow Hunting Report

On August 24th 2018 I spent a pleasant night hunting for lunar rainbows or 'moonbows' at the wind turbines above Swatragh with John Fagan. It was a night of heavy showers with clear periods from an unstable NWly flow due to a post frontal maritime air mass. The set up presented a rare opportunity to catch moonbows from a waxing gibbous moon two days from full thanks to the low ecliptic angle which meant the moon stayed below 42 degrees in altitude all night long at this phase. We ended up observing nine different moonbows throughout the night, several of which had various colours visible to the naked eye. Here are several of the better bows, however it was the moonlit convective cloudscapes which really made the night for us. One page report with 13 images and 1 time lapse video. - REPORT.

Ballintoy Perseid Meteor Watch & Late Season NLCs Report - NEW

Perseid Meteor Shower 2018

The 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower looked to be clouded out for the peak so two clear nights were arranged for a watch during the build up to maximum. On Aug 8th/9th three of us undertook a nightly vigil at Ballintoy under superb clear skies where we had a BBQ and encountered 56 Perseids, a mag -6 fireball and were surprised by a pre-dawn late season NLC display, in fact, this was the latest NLCs I have ever observed in my life. On Aug 10th/11th six of us teamed up for another watch at Ballintoy two days before maximum, after another BBQ inside a bat cave we spent the night sky watching from the 50 million year old Ballintoy stacks under a vibrant Milky Way where we observed 134 Perseids, this report documents both these nights with star trail imagery. One page report with 10 images and 1 time lapse video. - REPORT.

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Image Reports

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Reports

Astronomy is not the only subject I'm interested in. One other such area is severe weather which will be playing a major role on nightskyhunter from now on in conjunction with my other astronomical pursuits. Check out my new 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 and aurora displays.

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Martin McKenna