Friday, 29 November 2013

Death of a Comet?

Given that Comet Ison came within a 1 solar radii diameter of the surface of our star, experiencing temperatures in excess of 5000 fahrenheit, it is little surprise when watching this animation that it seems to evaporate away significantly reducing in it's brightness.  Whether anything has survived and come out of the other side of the sun remains to be seen, but it is highly improbable Ison will end up being the brightest comet for some significant time as some media sources have reported.  In the days ahead observations shoud give a clearer view of what has gone on...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Comet Tails Blowing In The Solar Wind

NOAA forecasters may well be giving a low chance for solar flares at the moment, but flares or not the solar wind endlessly keeps blowing.  This image was taken by the STEREO-A spacecraft from outside Earths orbit.  It shows the solar wind blowing from right to left, with Comet Encke approaching the sun from the top left corner of the image downwards, and Comet Ison entering the frame from the mid left.  The influence of the solar wind on their tails is very easy to see in this very unique image.  The STEREO spacecraft was launched in 2006 and has been providing views of our star since then.  This video gives some great information about its mission:

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

X-Class Flare Hurls Off CME Into Space - 20th November

With all the recent solar activity it was only a matter of time before another flare occurred.  On 19th november at 10.26ut departing sunspot AR11893 crackled with a massive X-1 flare.  While the explosion was not squarely directed at Earth this flare did affect our planet, with the UV flash creating a wave of ionisation in the upper atmosphere over Europe, Asia and part of Africa with a brief high frequency radio blackout occurring over the poles.  The explosion hurled off a huge CME however this is not aimed at our planet.  

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Chance of X-class Flares - 17th November

Cloud may well have returned to the UK again, but the Sun is crackling with plenty of activity: Sunspot AR11897 has evolved into a sprawling archipelago of magnetic islands with more than a dozen dark cores scattered across 350,000 km of solar "terrain." This complex region has a 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for X-class solar flares, and it is directly facing Earth. Any eruptions from AR11897 this weekend would likely be geoeffective. NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% chance of M-class solar flares and a 15% chance of X-flares.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

ar11890 & Prom - 10th November

ar11890 prom ha colour by Mark Townley
ar11890 prom ha colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

This widescreen mosaic was taken with the 100mm PST mod at 2000mm fl with the DMK31 camera. This was a lovely turbulent area of sun to view!

ar11890 ha 10th November

ar11890 ha colour by Mark Townley
ar11890 ha colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

Lots to see with the monster spot when viewing with the 100mm PST mod.

ar11893 ha colour 10th November

ar11893 ha colour by Mark Townley
ar11893 ha colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

Lots of activity visible in this shot taken with the 100mm PST mod at f20 with the DMK31 camera.

New Active Region Ha 10th November

new ar ha colour by Mark Townley
new ar ha colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

The new active region that was coming over the limb seemed pretty quiet!

Ha Full Disk 10th November

Ha Full disk colour by Mark Townley
Ha Full disk colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

Taken with the Coronado DS at f20 with the DMK31 camera , there's plenty happening on our star at the moment to see!

ar11890 cak 10th November

ar11890 cak colour by Mark Townley
ar11890 cak colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

To me, the main benefit of the double stacked CaK filter is the real increase in contrast it brings. These CaK images are pretty much 'naked' - they were shot with gamma neutral (100) on the DMK31 camera, and the only post processing is sharpening and colouring. They were taken with the 100mm at f10 with the homebrew CaK filter using the Lunt wedge as an ERF. The only problem with this setup is at longer focal lengths and with a lower altitude sun, the exposures are getting too long; this is going to be remedied very soon as I have a triple band ERF enroute from Germany. This will be mounted sub aperture in the Tal 100mm refractor, and with a Moonlite focuser fitted should become an ultimate solar telescope...

ar11893 cak 10th october

ar11893 cak colour by Mark Townley
ar11893 cak colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

The 1.5 angstrom bandwidth of the double stack CaK filter comes into play as shown in this image with the prominences and surge jets just about visible. Given that this image was taken in november, only just over a month away from the winter solstice, the result is pretty impressive. I think images taken in 6 months time, when we will have the sun much higher in the sky, will show prominences quite readily. Now, I just need to take this setup several thousand metres up a mountain and the views would be indiscernible from those taken from space...

CaK full disk 10th November

CaK full disk colour by Mark Townley
CaK full disk colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

I seem to have got the reflection issue with the double stack CaK filter sorted out (the reflection is out of the fov!) - as a result there is a lot more contrast visible. Infact, if you click on the full disk image and view it in Flickr it is quite easy to see the prominences at the 8 o'clock position. Bear in mind that this image was taken with the 40mm ota at f20 with a DMK31 camera and the results are very promising. I may look at getting a 2" Baader U-filter (venus filter) to use as a full aperture ERF with this scope as a way of reducing the thermal load on the Baader K-line filter that is currently being used as a sub aperture ERF.

ar11890 WL 10th November

ar11890 wl colour by Mark Townley
ar11890 wl colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

This monster active region had been responsible for several X-class flares prior to me taking this picture, however at the time of this shot it was just breaking up and showing signs of a light bridges forming. This image is my favourite whitelight from the series shot on the 10th november. Taken with the 100mm frac at 2000mm focal length, Lunt solar wedge, solar continuum filter and DMK31 camera.

ar11893 WL 10th November

ar11893 wl colour by Mark Townley
ar11893 wl colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

These spots look great as they round the limb! Taken withe the 100mm at 2000mm focal length, DMK31.

New Active Region 10th November

new ar wl colour by Mark Townley
new ar wl colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

100mm, 2000mm fl, solar continuum filter, Lunt wedge.

ar11887 10th November

ar11887 wl colour by Mark Townley
ar11887 wl colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.
Taken with the 100mm @ f20 with the DMK31, this active region had a lovely display of plage visible.

WL Full Disk 10th November

WL full disk colour by Mark Townley
WL full disk colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

It's typical, it's northern winter and the sun is low in the sky and has really started to bustle with activity. Contrails hindered this full disk a little, but the end result is passable and gives a good overview. Taken with the 40mm @ f20 DMK31.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project Annual Fundraiser

Here at the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project we are having our annual fundraiser - this is to raise the funds for the 1000's of solar glasses, scopes and outreach events that have shown over 80,000 young people the sun over several continents worldwide.  

So far we have raised over $11000 towards our target of $15000, however there is still 3 weeks left to donate money towards this good cause.  For each donation of $100 you will receive a raffle ticket for the fantastic pressure tuned Lunt 60 solar telescope above.  However any amount, no matter how small you wish to donate will be going towards achieving  and hopefully exceeding our target.  If you have not donated towards this I would strongly urge you - If you have received free solar glasses then it is the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project that has paid for them.

Donations can be made online using paypal here!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Iceland Aurora - October 30th

I have visited Iceland a number of times to view the aurora borealis, the interaction of the charged particles of the solar wind and our Earth's upper atmosphere.  This causes the dance of ribbons of colour across the night sky.  However despite several visits in recent years bad weather has not allowed me to make any observations since 2010.  This October we returned to Iceland for a weeks holiday and needless to say looking out for the northern lights was a priority.  We had travelled to Myvatn in Northern Iceland and were staying in a wooden lodge; the Icelandic weather service were promising clear skies around midnight, and this was also confirmed by a local who said he was going at midnight with a view to photographing them.  This was good enough for me, so at midnight I ventured out in the -12c freezing landscape.  The first thing that struck me was how clear the sky was and just how many stars were visible - Jupiter seemed nearly bright enough to cast shadows.  I looked to the northern sky and could see a faint green arc, slightly brighter than the milky way.  I knew activity wasn't high, the Kp index at the time was at 1 on the scale which is basically next to nothing, however this was the first time in 3 years I had a chance so you have to take what is on offer.  I used my regular aurora photographic setup; a canon 350D on iso800 shooting consecutive 30 second exposures, the lens was a Sigma 10-22mm at 10mm f4.  I managed 77 minutes of continuous exposures before the camera battery started to give up the ghost, and as this was now after 2am I was getting rather cold and tired.  At several times throughout this session I could see the rays and streamers shooting up from the horizon, and the ripples and waves moving along the green arc.  It has taken some work to get the time lapse presented in such a way that the subtle details are not lost through image compression, and as a spin off i'm hopeful some of this new learned technique should lend itself to producing higher resolution solar animations - however the proof of that will have to wait until the sun returns higher in the sky next year.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Ha Full Disk 3rd November

Ha Full Disk colour by Mark Townley
Ha Full Disk colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

Our star is crackling with solar flare energy at the moment with several large active regions currently on view. Throw in some great filaments and prominences and this makes for a fine sight in the shorter days of November. This image was taken with the Coronado DS40 at f20 with the DMK31 camera.

DS CaK Full Disk 3rd November

DS CaK colour by Mark Townley
DS CaK colour, a photo by Mark Townley on Flickr.

The sun was getting low and the sky was getting hazy late on sunday afternoon when I took this shot, and despite it being a little softer than I like, for an early november image I don't think it is too bad. Tilting the notch filters with respect to each other (and the baader K-line) has sorted out the issue with ghosting that I was getting with previous images. I'm happy with the contrast i'm getting from this setup now, and are really looking forward to the spring when the sun starts climbing higher in the sky again...