Lovejoy's tail with binoculars

Third Lovejoy observation, and the comet improved further: Last night I glimpsed C/2014 Q2's faint tail with 10x50 binoculars using averted vision while benefiting from a very dark (fst. >6mag) sky in southern Chile again. It looked like a pale, straight line. The coma was easily visible naked eye as a blurred star, with binoculars I estimated its brightness to 5.7mag and its diameter to 20'.


A new Deep Sky Object, outshined by Aldebaran?

Only on very rare occasions amateurs discover new Deep Sky Objects (DSO) these days, this might be one: A British amateur found a strange disk-like object when comparing one of his images with deeper ones which is not recorded in any database. The reason for this may be its unfavorable location - pretty close to a very bright star, Aldebaran in Taurus.


Christmas Comet Coming

After I briefly observed Christmas comet-to-be C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy visually last weekend, I managed to take some pictures last night. With the sky clear and dark, the comet was once again visible with the unaided eye and bright in binoculars. (Lovejoy is currently a southern hemisphere object, but will be visible from northern latitudes by the end of December.)


Geminid Night (with more than just Geminids)

Last night was Geminid peak night - and although I am currently located deep south (Chilean Patagonia, 47° latitude), I was hoping for a good show. The constellation of Gemini never rises high over the horizon here, this reduces hour rates but should compensate with some nice earth grazers.


Europe's Pride

Rosetta and Philae did not only conquer comet "Chury", but also our hearts and minds. This alone was worth the effort.

This article originally appeared in German on Nov 19, 2014 in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. You find an online version here.


StarryNights - the world's largest observatories in time lapse

For some years I've been collecting short time lapse clips from my trips to various locations and let them go to seed. What a shame - so I took one afternoon two days a week some time to piece them up and create a short movie worthy of being released to the vastness of the internet. So here it is: StarryNights - my astronomical time lapses from 2011 to 2014 condensed to 6 minutes and 11 seconds!


Name Exoplanets - "official" and IAU-approved

So far they're called "Cygni B b", "HD 128311 c" or "OGLE235-MOA53 b" - but now you can give Exoplanets (and their host stars) proper names. The best: You don't have to "buy" them from some company, and the names given will be official - approved and recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). 


Occultation of Saturn, July 7/8

A rare occultation of Saturn by the waxing gibbous moon occurred last night (July 7/8 2014) over the southern parts of South America. I was lucky enough to observe this event under clear skies in La Serena, Chile, with a 12" dobsonian. Although I enjoyed most of it just by watching though the eyepiece, I managed to take some pictures, some of them just by holding a small snapshot camera to the eyepiece. Here they are:


Efficient Streetlights will increase Light Pollution, not Savings

New efficient LED lights are the scariest nemesis to the night sky, yet they could be a solution to light pollution. Bob King recently wrote, why. Now there is another reason why next generation luminaires should be used in a light pollution minimizing way: Without such measures, they do not save energy and money - they might even lead to higher cost and greenhouse gas emissions.


Why the Norwegian "Skydiving Meteorite" came from Earth, not from Space

This was one of those mornings when instead of getting to my work I got ghastly distracted by some incredible news: A Norwegian skydiver has filmed how he almost got hit by a meteorite! Really sensational, if true. My first thought: Is this a joke, a hoax? It didn't look that way. The video came via a respected Norwegian broadcasting corporation (which in itself does not mean much these days) and looks professionally made. Look for yourself, if you haven't already. (The meteorite claim has been retracted by the Norwegians, scroll down for updates!)


Total Lunar Eclipse on April 15th, 2014

On Tuesday, April 15 2014, the Moon will enter Earth's shadow and undergo a total eclipse. The eclipse will be visible in it's entirety during the morning of April 15 in most of the Americas and the pacific ocean. It's final stages can bee seen also during evening twilight of April 15 in western Australia. It's the fist one of two total lunar eclipses this year, the second occurs on October 8th, and is also best visible in the pacific region.


Globular clusters: ω Centauri vs. 47 Tucanae

Blessed with clear, moonless evening skies, I imaged my two favorite globular clusters last night. They are, not by accident, the brightest and most impressive of them all: Omega (ω) Centauri and 47 Tucanae, a.k.a. NGC 5139 and NGC 104.


Call for observation: Asteroid occults Regulus

Stargazers in Northeastern Canada and United States, get ready, this is a very rare event! In what's according to Sky&Telescope is "best and brightest 'asteroid occultation' ever predicted for North America", the main-belt asteroid (163) Erigone will occult one of the brightest stars of the night sky, Regulus, or α Leonis - it may even completely "switch" it off. The event will be visible in a large stretch that includes Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York metropolitan area, upstate New York, and Ontario. The occultation is predicted to occur next wednesday night (March 19-20) at 02:05 EDT (07:05 UTC). It may last up to 14 seconds.


Contrasting trends in light pollution across Europe

Two weeks ago, Jonathan Bennie and colleagues (Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, UK) released a paper (free download on nature.com) that caught my attention, because it's results are pretty unexpected. Analyzing satellite data (DMSP) from 1995-2000 and 2005-2010, Bennie et al. found that light pollution has grown significantly across Europe in the last 15 years, but not everywhere: Some large areas and even entire countries experienced a decline in night brightness. This is good news for stargazers like me (and for society as a whole) but raises some questions.


Giant Sunspot group AR1944

It is a rarity in times of weak solar activity: A huge sunspot group has appeared on the solar disk. The group, dubbed AR1944, is much bigger than Earth. While now directed towards our planet, any major eruptions in it's vicinity may increase chances of aurora at least in higher latitudes in the coming days.


Call for observation: Jupiter's moons naked eye on January 5, 2014?

I just read this Call for Observation by distinguished planet observer Bernd Gährken: The opposition of Jupiter of January 5, 2014, is a rather unusual one, because seen from the distant planet, Earth will transit the sun's disk. Therefore, the phase angle will be extremely small and the opposition effect on it's moons will be unusually strong.


Another (almost) announced asteroid impact

A (very) small asteroid was discovered yesterday at Mt. Lemmon observatory - and already seems to be history. According to a Minor Planet Electronic Circular issued today, the rock named 2014 AA has almost certainly crashed into Earth's atmosphere earlier today, Jan. 2. Unlike 2008 TC3, which is to date the only asteroid discovered before it's atmospheric entry, this time calculations were available only after impact, eliminating the chance for any planned observation.