Astronomy

How fast is Neptune getting brighter? When was was this first noticed and reported?

How fast is Neptune getting brighter? When was was this first noticed and reported?


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This answer to Compute Planet's Apparent Visual Magnitude reports the new work on planetary magnitudes, and contains an intriguing blurb about Neptune:

  • Neptune keeps getting brighter. No one knows why.

So I'd like to ask: How fast is Neptune getting brighter? When was was this first noticed and reported?


TL;DR: There was apparent 11% increase of Neptune brightness during 1980 and 2000. This could be due to multiple reasons. Recent observation suggested the reason to be change in the amount and brightness of the banded cloud mostly in the planet's southern hemisphere due to seasonal variations and thus affect overall brightness of the planet.


Neptune's visual magnitude stayed relatively constant before 1980 and after 2000, but during this period, there was an unexpected rise in the brightness, about 11%. Astronomers have proposed various ideas to explain this peculiar variation but none are convincing. But the more promising explanation would likely to be seasonal change due to tilt and cloud formation variation.

A team from Wisconsin made three sets of observations of the full rotation of the planet in 1996, 1998, and 2002. The images showed progressively brighter bands of clouds encircling the planet's southern hemisphere. The findings were consistent with observations made by G.W. Lockwood at the Lowell Observatory, which show that Neptune has been gradually getting brighter since 1980. They believe that cloud bands are getting brighter because the Sun is warming the atmosphere in the south apparently changing the brighness of Neptune.

Neptune's near-infrared brightness is much more sensitive to high altitude clouds than its visible brightness. The recent trend of increasing cloud activity on Neptune has been qualitatively confirmed at near-infrared wavelengths with Keck Telescope observations from July 2000 to June 2001 by H. Hammel and co-workers which could provide an explanation to this brightness change.

Tilt could also be a reason. Hubble images reveal a real increase in Neptune's cloud cover consistent with seasonal change is the apparent absence of change in the planet's low latitudes near its equator. This do has a reason. Since Neptune is inclined at a 29-degree angle, the amount of solar energy received determines the season and this seasonal variation might affect the brightness. When the Sun deposits heat energy into the atmosphere, it forces a response like heating the atmosphere that lead to constant moving and condensing of cloud cover.

Another reason could be internal heat source of Neptune which may contribute to the planet's apparent seasonal variations and ultimately affect the planetary brightness.

Current visual magnitude of Neptune is 7.88 but it could reach 8.0 in the near future.

For more information, refer to this paper, "The Secular and Rotational Brightness Variations of Neptune"

Other references:

  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/05/030516082529.htm
  2. https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/measuring-planet-magnitudes/
  3. https://www.ssec.wisc.edu/media/Neptune2003.htm

This is an incomplete answer-a placeholder for a more complete answer that I'm adding here at the request of the OP (who, I will say, has been very patient with me!).

Although the precise reasons aren't well understood, I don't think people find the observed brightening of Neptune to be especially anomalous. We have accurate photometry for Neptune for only about 60 years or so, I think, so it's quite plausible that the variation is seasonal (Neptune's orbit is 165 years). Keep in mind also that the brightening is fairly subtle by ordinary standards, maybe a couple of tenths of a magnitude (about 15 percent brighter than before 1980).

One source is Schmude et al. "The Secular and Rotational Brightness Variations of Neptune"; its first paragraph states that the brightness has increased 10 percent in "the past several decades."


Our nights are getting brighter, and Earth is paying the price

Electric lights have revolutionized our lives, but as illumination increases, the toll on wildlife and human health is becoming harder to ignore.

On a clear night in 1994, an earthquake rumbled beneath Los Angeles and caused a city-wide power outage just before dawn. Startled awake, some residents who had stumbled outside called various emergency centers and a local observatory to report a mysterious cloud overhead.

That weird object turned out to be the band of the Milky Way, our home galaxy, which had long been obscured from view by the city’s lights.

Arguably, the light bulb is the most transformative invention humans have introduced to this planet. By flicking a switch or pushing a button, we can push back the veil that would naturally shroud our lives each night. Now, we work long after the sun sinks below the horizon. We play games outside until the hours stretch into double digits. We more safely roam city streets after dark.

But if light bulbs have a dark side, it’s that they have stolen the night. The excess light we dump into our environments is endangering ecosystems by harming animals whose life cycles depend on dark. We’re endangering ourselves by altering the biochemical rhythms that normally ebb and flow with natural light levels. And in a primal sense, we’ve lost our connection to nighttime skies, the tapestries into which our ancestors wove their star-studded stories, timed the planting and harvesting of crops, and deduced the physical laws governing the cosmos.

“The disappearance of the night sky is tied up in our ever more fast-paced world,” says Amanda Gormley of the Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association. “We lose something essential we lose a part of ourselves when we lose access to the night sky. We lose that sense of stillness and awe that should be right over our heads every night.”

Now, as the consequences of light pollution tiptoe from the shadows and into the spotlight, cities, regulatory agencies, and conservation groups are agitating for solutions. And in some areas, substantial improvements are already in place, powered by a new wave of cheaper, more energy-efficient light bulbs.


Exoplanet-hunter TESS completes its primary mission

NASA’s newest planet-hunting space telescope – the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, aka TESS – has just completed its primary mission, the space agency announced on August 11, 2020. Its initial survey of the sky took two years. In this time, TESS helped revolutionize our knowledge about exoplanets, worlds orbiting distant stars, continuing on from where the Kepler space telescope, NASA’s first planet-hunter, left off.

TESS’ primary mission officially finished on July 4, 2020. After this, TESS will continue with its extended mission phase.

During the two-year survey, TESS imaged about 75% of the sky, and so far has found 66 new confirmed exoplanets and nearly 2,100 additional candidates that are awaiting confirmation. Patricia Boyd, project scientist for TESS at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement:

TESS is producing a torrent of high-quality observations providing valuable data across a wide range of science topics.

During the first year, TESS observed 13 different sectors of the sky seen from the Southern Hemisphere, and then turned its attention to the northern sky in the second year. Each sector is a 24-by-96-degree strip of the sky, and TESS spends about a month surveying each sector.

View of the Southern Hemisphere sky from TESS. You can see the glowing band of our Milky Way galaxy (left), the Orion Nebula (top), and the Large Magellanic Cloud (center). The dark lines are gaps between the detectors in TESS’s camera system. Image via NASA/ MIT/ TESS/ Ethan Kruse (USRA). Patricia Boyd, project scientist for TESS at Goddard Space Flight Center. Image via NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center.

Now, TESS has returned to watching the northern sky again as it enters its extended mission. With that shift comes some other changes and improvements as well, according to NASA.

TESS is now collecting data faster and more efficiently than it did during the primary mission, NASA said. The telescope’s cameras can now capture a full image every 10 minutes, three times faster than they did in the primary mission. Also, by using a new fast mode, TESS can measure the brightness of thousands of stars every 20 seconds. Previously, the telescope would make similar measurements every two minutes. These improvements are not just good for planet-hunting, they also help TESS better resolve brightness changes caused by stellar oscillations and observe explosive flares from active stars in greater detail.

This extended mission phase will continue until September 2022. TESS will spend the next year observing the southern sky, then will once again go back to surveying the northern sky for a period of 15 months. Those surveys will include observations along the ecliptic – the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun – that TESS has not yet imaged.

How does TESS find exoplanets?

Like many other telescopes, TESS uses the transit method of detecting exoplanets. That is, its instruments are geared to detecting slight decreases in the brightnesses of stars as planets pass in front of those stars as seen from Earth. Those temporary dips in brightness are very tiny, but TESS is able to see them, and determine whether they are caused by a planet (in most cases, NASA said, they are).

Last January, NASA announced that TESS had discovered its first Earth-sized planet, TOI 700 d, in the habitable zone of its red dwarf star. The habitable zone is the region around a star where temperatures on a rocky planet could allow liquid water to exist. The planet was later confirmed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. This planetary system is just over 100 light-years away in the constellation Dorado. According to Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington:

TESS was designed and launched specifically to find Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby stars. Planets around nearby stars are easiest to follow up with larger telescopes in space and on Earth. Discovering TOI 700 d is a key science finding for TESS. Confirming the planet’s size and habitable zone status with Spitzer is another win for Spitzer as it approaches the end of science operations this January.

Artist’s concept of TOI 700 d, the first Earth-sized exoplanet that TESS found in the habitable zone of its star. This planetary system is 100 light-years away in the constellation Dorado. Image via Goddard Space Flight Center/ Wikipedia.

TOI 700 d is the outermost of three known planets in the system and the only one in the habitable zone. It measures 20% larger than Earth, orbits its red dwarf star every 37 days and receives from its star 86% of the energy that the sun provides to Earth.

It is expected that TESS will find many more Earth-sized worlds, including ones that are potentially habitable.

In June, scientists reported that TESS found a Neptune-sized planet, AU Mic b, orbiting a very young red dwarf star. Bryson Cale, a doctoral student at George Mason University, said:

AU Mic is a young, nearby M dwarf star. It’s surrounded by a vast debris disk in which moving clumps of dust have been tracked, and now, thanks to TESS and Spitzer, it has a planet with a direct size measurement. There is no other known system that checks all of these important boxes.

The star is only 10 to 20 million years old, and the planet completes an orbit in only 8.5 days.

TESS also recently found its first circumbinary planet – one that orbits two stars – called TOI 1338 b. The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. One is about 10% more massive than our sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and only 1/3 the sun’s mass. The planet is about 6.9 times the size of Earth, between the size of Neptune and Saturn.

TESS is good at multi-tasking too, NASA said, and has been studying more than just exoplanets. It has observed the outburst of a comet in our own solar system, as well as numerous exploding stars. It also found surprise eclipses in a well-known binary star system, solved a mystery about a class of pulsating stars, and explored a world experiencing star-modulated seasons.

TESS even caught a black hole in a distant galaxy in the act of tearing apart a sun-like star with its enormous gravity! Thomas Holoien, of the Carnegie Observatories, is lead author of a paper that described the findings on September 27, 2019, in The Astrophysical Journal. Holoien said:

TESS data let us see exactly when this destructive event, named ASASSN-19bt, started to get brighter, which we’ve never been able to do before. Because we identified the tidal disruption quickly with the ground-based All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), we were able to trigger multiwavelength follow-up observations in the first few days. The early data will be incredibly helpful for modeling the physics of these outbursts.

Last November, it was also announced that TESS would be teaming up with Breakthrough Listen (part of Breakthrough Initiatives) in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, aka SETI. Basically, TESS will identify objects of interest, such as potentially habitable exoplanets, for other telescopes to point at and search for radio signals or other signs of advanced technologies, called technosignatures.

In only the first couple years of its mission, TESS has not only found thousands of new exoplanets, but has observed and witnessed a wide variety of incredible cosmic objects and phenomena. What else will it find in the years ahead?

Artist’s illustration of TESS. The planet-hunting space telescope has now completed its primary mission and is now moving into its extended mission. It has already found nearly 2,100 exoplanet candidates and 66 confirmed new worlds. Image via NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center.

Bottom line: NASA’s planet-hunting space telescope TESS has completed its primary mission.


Comet Hale-Bopp

The view of the night sky from Earth is very familiar. On a clear night, you know that you will be able to look into the sky and see the Moon and lots of stars. Sometimes though, the Moon and stars are joined by other objects. If you looked into the sky on an evening early in 1997, you may have been able to see what looked like a star which had been smudged. In fact, this smudged star was a comet, one of the brightest comets visible from Earth for many years. It was named Comet Hale-Bopp and remained visible from Earth for 19 months, being at its brightest and clearest during the first half of 1997.

Comets are balls of ice, dust and gas which travel in elliptical orbits around the Sun. At their most distant, they are invisible. However, when they get closer to the Sun, they begin glowing, forming a coma and tails as dust and gas is burnt off the comet by the Sun's heat. It is only when they have begun glowing that they become visible from Earth with telescopes. This means that they usually only get discovered two or three months before they actually get close to Earth. However, Hale-Bopp was different. it was discovered almost two years before it became a prominent feature in the night sky.

It was a summer's evening in July 1995 when two astronomers in different parts of America happened to be observing the same part of the sky. Alan Hale is a professional astronomer and was working at his observatory in New Mexico on the evening of 22nd July. He was actually observing other comets, but while waiting for one previously discovered comet to come into view, he turned his telescope to a group of stars called M70 (a globular cluster). At a similar time, Tom Bopp, an amateur astronomer at a "star party" (a gathering for astronomers to observe the stars together!) in Phoenix, was also observing the M70 globular cluster. Both astronomers noticed a small fuzzy object in a place where there shouldn't be a fuzzy object. Alan Hale suspected the object may be a comet, but had to check it hadn't already been discovered. He referred to his big comet catalogue and noticing it wasn't in there, he emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. He returned to his discovery and noticed that the object had moved against the starry backdrop, confirming that it definitely was a comet. He then sent a second email. When Tom Bopp observed the object, he called over some friends. They watched the object move against the stars in the background and, realising he had discovered a comet, Bopp also got in touch with the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams to inform them of this. Because both people discovered the comet at about the same time, it was named after both of them, hence the name Comet Hale-Bopp.

When the comet was discovered, it was about as far away from Earth as Jupiter is. The comet doesn't orbit on the same path as the planets. In the diagram to the left, the orbits of the four inner planets and Jupiter can be seen. The path that Hale Bopp takes can also be seen.. Because Hale-Bopp was discovered when it was so far away from Earth, there was a great deal of anticipation that when it got closer, it would be very bright. Halley's Comet, which last visited in 1986, has a nucleus of 20km. The nucleus of Hale Bopp is 40km, much larger than most comets.

After discovery, the comet continued on its journey towards the Sun. As it got closer, its tail got larger and became easier to spot. On 20th May 1996, Terry Lovejoy of Queensland, Australia became the first person to spot the comet with the naked eye. It would have still been very faint from Earth, but as the months went on, more and more people reported sightings of the comet without the assistance of a telescope or binoculars. Throughout the summer of 1996, Comet Hale-Bopp actually became dimmer, leading scientists to believe that it had fizzled out. However, it began getting brighter again and in early 1997, it was clearly visible from Earth. The comet came closest to Earth on 22nd March 1997 (at a distance of over 122 million kilometres) and closest to the Sun on 1st April 1997. After reaching the Sun and going behind it the comet was thrown back out and continued its journey away from the Sun, becoming less and less visible from Earth. It is estimated that it will return in 2,300 years, in the year 4534! The comet would have last been visible 4,200 years ago. The reason its next visit is sooner than its last visit is because in March 1997, Comet Hale-Bopp passed within the gravitational influence of Jupiter, shortening the length of time it takes to complete an orbit. The furthest the comet will go from the Sun now is 371 AU (Astronomical Units). 1 AU is approximately the distance Earth is from the Sun, so Hale-Bopp will go 371 times as far from the Sun as Earth is.

Comet Hale-Bopp spent four months as a regular clear object in the night sky. it is estimated that 81% of Americans saw it, and the comet became the most photographed comet in the history of, er, comet photography. I suppose this isn't such a great claim when you realise that the last great comet was in 1811 before cameras were even invented! The comet was visible from Earth with the naked eye for a record breaking 19 months. The comet was very much a comet of the Internet Boom of the late 1990s. The fast increase in Internet users meant that people all over the world could share information about sightings, pictures, etc. with each other. The original Comet Hale-Bopp website was visited by millions of visitors from around the world. If only this website was around back then - it might have had a visit or two!

Comet Hale-Bopp also had a darker side. Throughout history, comets have been seen as omens a sign that something was going to happen. An early image of the comet was taken by an amateur astronomer which showed a mysterious object which looked like it was following the comet. This object didn't match up with any stars that should have been in the area, so the astronomer contacted a radio show stating that Hale-Bopp was being accompanied by a Saturn-Like Object. A cult calling themselves Heaven's Gate believed that this Saturn-like object could be a UFO. 39 members of the cult killed themselves, believing that their spirits would be taken to another world by this UFO. That's what happens when you watch too much X-Files! Later analysis of the image proved that the object was in fact a star.

For most of us, Comet Hale-Bopp was simply a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see a comet. It is now hundreds of millions of miles away from us and has much further to go before it even starts to return to our part of the Solar System. Of course, there may be other comets about to visit us, and some may be even brighter than Hale-Bopp. Comets are mysterious objects. Unless they have been previously discovered and visit regularly (like Halley's Comet), we don't know they exist until they get very close to us. And even when they have been discovered, it isn't until they get even closer that we find out just how spectacular it is.


Monday, July 23, 2012

More on Aquarius' position and stars

Event Date: July 29th
Time: 11:00 PM

Yestersday, I showed Aquarius with its stick figure. Although most of its stars are too dim to see easily, they trace out the Water Bearer quite well for if we look carefully at it. First, the image I will include is the same as yesterday's first one. sortof. minus labeling and the stick figure! The azimuth is identical to yesterday's looking east-southeast. If you see the "arrow" of Capricornus to its southwest (right), Aquarius' extended legs extended, his torso, and then a lopsided "loop" showing his "water bowl".
**This is one of the rare times that I will ever show an image with no labeling or stick figures, yet it should help you recognize this part of the sky when dark enough to see low.**

The second image is a near-duplicate of yesterday's of Aquarius and M2, including the figure and star names. Did you easily identify the Aquarius stars without the aid of the stick figure??

click on images to enlarge: courtesy of Starry Night Pro Plus, version 6.4.3, by Simulation Curriculum Corp.

I normally do not duplicate images so soon for journals on consecutive dates, with the exception of showing how our revolution around the Sun shows a slightly change in altitude that can be noticed today also if we look closely. This time, I also labeled a few more stars that could help identify it if you looked for those before anything else. Good luck seeing it in the night sky, where there are no stick figures, hence putting in image one, once again.
Use the images of Aquarius' stick figure and labels when outside viewing, or one of today's popular "apps" on mobile devices if you point it towards Aquarius: such can help enhance viewing dim astronomy constellations and as a reminder of where they are. However, try to also get to know your sky well by studying it aid-free. When you go back later to your software or app, see how easily you can identify dim stars as well as brighter ones! Many of the labeled above are 3rd or 4th magnitude. If you don't see the most eastern ones at first, wait until the entire constellation gets higher out of atmospheric pollution.

Aquarius and M2 rise late-evening

Event Date: July 28th
Time: 11:00 PM

Brief

During late evening hours, a cluster that receives little attention by most beginning astronomers, rises in the east-southeast: a globular cluster labeled M2. If you remember earlier this month when I talked about the Crab Nebula, the comet-lookalike that inspired Charles (M)essier to create his deep-sky catalog, I mentioned this one labeled as M1. M3, I talked about earlier in the year as a fine globular cluster which gets high in the sky.
Let us look to see where M2 is in relation to a +2.9 magnitude star in Aquarius-- its parent constellation. 4.8º away from the cluster, is the star Sadal Suud. At almost the same magnitude, Sadal Melik, another star not from M2, is extremely close to the celestial equator (1/4º away). M2 itself, is only 3/4º away from the equator, which is about the same separation of Polaris from the north axis.

M2 is slightly dimmer than 3, yet looks about the same. One reason for this perhaps, is that 2 and 3 are estimated to be almost the same distance away, at 37,000 and 35,000 light years respectively.
As for what else is worth knowing about M2, it is magnitude 7.5, 23 arc-minutes in in size (about 3/4 that of a full Moon at perigee), 100,000 stars and possibly visible to the unaided eye with a dark enough sky. This last part is worth remembering, because--like Aquarius itself--M2 is far from the galactic plane, and there is no interference of a Milky Way band behind it. If you remember my showings of constellations of Gemini and Sagittarius, they are backed by the billions of stars that make up our Milky Way. These stars can easily distract the eye from deep sky objects visible to the eye alone.
Compare the two with their images following the detailed section, for a close up of both M2 and M3 in 1º fields. M3 is low in the west-northwest during this hour in July, and we will slowly lose it to the horizon as the months get us into the fall.
Which cluster of the two do you like better. one over the other? When viewing, remember to use an eyepiece that magnifies it enough, yet not small enough in focal length that contrast degrades one leading to the cluster losing its brightness against the background sky. M3 is larger in angular size, at 48 arc-minutes, although it takes a dark sky to see lots of the stars far from the core.


click on images to enlarge: courtesy of Starry Night Pro Plus, version 6.4.3, by Simulation Curriculum Corp.


This supernova was supposed to die — until it got brighter

Talk about going out with a bang — and then another bang. Astronomers at Las Cumbres Observatory have discovered a supernova that has been shining for years instead of mere months, surviving far beyond its expected lifespan.

The strange and still-going stellar explosion, described in the journal Nature, defies scientists’ understanding of dying stars and may force them to rethink their ideas of how stars evolve.

“The supernova offers astronomers their greatest thrill: something they do not understand,” Stan Woosley of UC Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the study, wrote in a commentary.

The supernova known as iPTF14hls didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary when it was picked up in September 2014 by the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory telescope near San Diego. The supernova sits some 500 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. Astronomers checked in on it every so often, eventually classifying the bright object as a type II-P supernova that was already beginning to grow dim.

Supernovas are powerful explosions, putting out the brightness of around 100 million suns, but that beacon in the night sky lasts only 100 days or so before fading away. There are a few that might last more than 130 days, but those are very rare. So after a while, astronomers largely ignored iPTF14hls, expecting it would ultimately disappear into the night.

That changed after UC Santa Barbara undergraduate student Zheng Chuen Wong, who was interning at the observatory, was asked to go through old data and see whether anything unusual stuck out. He noticed iPTF14hls still shining some 135 to 140 days since being discovered — and it wasn’t fading. It was getting brighter.

“When he showed it to me, my first reaction was, ‘Well that can’t be a supernova — it must be something else,’” lead author Iair Arcavi, an astrophysicist with UC Santa Barbara and Las Cumbres, a Goleta, Calif.-based global observatory network.

Arcavi figured they’d get a spectrum of the star, splitting its light into a rainbow to read its chemical fingerprint, and they’d figure out what it really was.

“And I was really shocked when it did look like a supernova in the spectrum,” he said. “In fact, it looked like the most common type of supernova. It was the last thing I was expecting to see.”

They kept watching. The supernova ultimately stayed bright for more than 600 days, blowing away the competition. And yet, in spite of its advanced age, it looked like a supernova that was just two months or so old.

It was as jarring as meeting a 600-year-old human — one who looked no older than 60, Arcavi said.

On top of that, iPTF14hls did not follow the normal path for a supernova, Woosley pointed out. It appeared to vary in brightness by as much as 50%, implying that it might be exploding and fading over and over again. It was far more luminous than your typical type II-P supernova, and it had clearly let off far more energy than its peers simply by outlasting them.

“It means there’s definitely another way for stars to explode that doesn’t destroy them completely so they can do it multiple times,” Arcavi said.

What was feeding this mysterious series of explosions? Arcavi and his colleagues narrowed down the possibilities. Perhaps a fast-spinning neutron star, a magnetar, was behind the repeated explosions — but that would mean the supernova should have started out far brighter than this one did. Perhaps the colliding shells of high-speed matter seen in another kind of supernova, known as type IIn, were causing this supernova to shine — but iPTF14hls wasn’t producing the X-rays and radio waves that would be expected if that were happening.

Instead, scientists think this supernova may be a pulsational-pair instability supernova. In this scenario, the inside of a monster star with the mass of 100 suns becomes so hot that some of its energy turns into matter and antimatter. If that happens, the core becomes unstable, triggering an explosion that blows off the star’s outer layers, Arcavi said. If true, iPTF14hls would be the first example of this kind of supernova ever seen.

The researchers looked back in their data from 1954 and found a luminous object right where iPTF14hls sits in the sky. In their data from 1993, that object was gone. It seems iPTF14hls has been slowly flickering for more than half a century.


Amazing Comet Visible in Broad Daylight

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

14 January 2007 11:12 am ET

A comet that has generated tremendous excitement the past week became visible in broad daylight Saturday in an event that will likely be recalled as the skywatching opportunity of a lifetime for many people. SPACE.com's Skywatching Columnist Joe Rao called it "one of the rarest of all cometary spectacles."

Comet McNaught is now the brightest comet in 40 years, according to the International Comet Quarterly at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The comet is rounding the Sun and has been a challenge to spot for those watching in the evening. The daytime observations are made using a tall building or other promontory to block the Sun, then looking slightly east.

"I spotted it . easily within two seconds with 7X50 binoculars as the Sun was hidden behind a promontory," Jay Ouellet of Quebec City told SPACE.com on Saturday.

Even your hand might do. Rao said many people saw it that way on Saturday with no optical aids. And he advises trying again Sunday. Look around Noon local time and search for the comet about 5 degrees left of the Sun. That's about the width of your fist on an outstretched arm. "Just block the Sun out with your hand and it should be sitting just to the left of the Sun—a tiny, white, elongated spot of light," Rao said. Binoculars will bring out details of the tail.

Astronomers caution, however, not to look directly at the Sun. It will damage your eyes. Especially do not look at the Sun through binoculars or a telescope. “It’s fantastic,” said Wayne Winch of Bishop, California on the website Spaceweather.com. “I put the Sun behind a neighbor’s house to block the glare and the comet popped right into view. You can even see the tail!”

Each day at Noon, the comet will get farther from the Sun and lower toward the South.

The new darling of skywatchers is also visible on the Internet. Until about 11:00 a.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 15, it can be seen in near-live images from the SOHO spacecraft, which monitors the Sun.

Brightest since 1965

As Comet McNaught neared the Sun, more of its ice and dust was radiated off the surface. This material reflects sunlight, giving a comet its brilliance.

McNaught has become minus 5 on an astronomers brightness scale in which smaller numbers are brighter and negative numbers are the brightest of all. Venus shines at minus 4, brighter than any star. The full Moon is minus 12.7.

The only comet since 1935 to be brighter was Ikeya-Seki in 1965. It shone at magnitude minus 7. Comet McNaught, dazzling in pictures, is now far brighter than was the widely seen Hale-Bopp in 1997.

Comet McNaught is named for Australian astronomer Robert McNaught, who found it last year. The comet's evening show is nearly over for Northern Hemisphere skywatchers now as it sets just moments after the Sun on Sunday and then ahead of the Sun by mid-week. Beginning Sunday, skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere might glimpse the comet soon after local sunset.

Comet McNaught over Minnesota (January 11, 2007)


Amateur astronomer's supernova snapshot 'like winning cosmic lottery'

Washington: The moment he saw the brilliant light captured by his camera, "it all clicked" for Victor Buso: All the times his parents woke him before sunrise to gaze at the stars, all the energy he had poured into constructing an observatory atop his home, all the hours he had spent trying to parse meaning from the dim glow of distant suns.

"In many moments you search and ask yourself, why do I do this?" Buso said via email. This was why: Buso, a self-taught astronomer, had just witnessed the surge of light at the birth of a supernova - something no other human, not even a professional scientist, had seen.

Alone on his rooftop, the star-strewn sky arced above him, the rest of the world sleeping below, Buso began to jump for joy.

Astronomers captured Supernova 2016gkg, between the two red lines, in the galaxy NGC 613, 80 million light-years from Earth. Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science/Las Campinas Observatory/UC Santa Cruz/UC Berkeley

His discovery, reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature, is a landmark for astronomy. Buso's images are the first to capture the brief "shock breakout" phase of a supernova, when a wave of energy rolls from a star's core to its exterior just before the star explodes. Computer models had suggested the existence of this phase, but no one had witnessed it.

"In our field, this is a fundamental question: What is the structure of the star at the moment of explosion?" said Melina Bersten, an astrophysicist at the Institute of Astrophysics of La Plata in Argentina and the lead author of the report.

With Buso's observations, scientists can begin to answer that.

Buso, a 58-year-old locksmith from the Argentine city of Rosario, inherited his love of astronomy from his parents. When he was 10, his father roused him from bed to glimpse Comet Bennett streaking across the sky. The year before, his mother had held him at her side in front of the family's television to watch Neil Armstrong take humankind's first steps on the moon.

"Vitito," she told him, using his nickname, "you have to see this moment. You will never forget it."

Buso began building telescopes at age 11, using tin cans, magnifying glass lenses and Play-Doh to make the stars seem closer. Eight years ago, he sold a piece of land he owned with his father and used the proceeds to construct an astronomy tower on his roof. He calls it Observatorio Busoniano.

These days Buso prefers to scan the skies with cameras mounted atop his 40-centimetre telescope, which allows him to observe phenomena too faint to be spotted by eye. On the evening of September 20, 2016, he decided to test a new camera by pointing it at the NGC-613 - a barred spiral galaxy about 65 million light-years from Earth.

Within a few minutes, he noticed something strange in his photographs: a tiny pixel of light that didn't appear in archive images he found online.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God, what is this?' " Buso recalled.

The light didn't look like a supernova - the usual source of new lights in the sky. (Indeed, "nova" means new star, though supernovas are the explosive deaths of suns that have run out of fuel.) Yet the light just kept getting brighter.

Buso realised he needed to show this to a professional, but most of Argentina's astronomers were at an annual conference far from the nearest observatory. He finally got in touch with a fellow amateur, who confirmed the sighting and helped him develop an international alert with data Buso provided on the object's position, brightness and timeline.

As soon as darkness fell the following night, Buso rushed to his roof to see whether that faint pixel had developed into a brilliant, full-blown supernova.

Buso's images made their way into the hands of Bersten and her colleague Gaston Folatelli, who could hardly believe what they were seeing.

"We immediately noticed this was an incredibly important discovery," Bersten said. "Given that we don't know where and in which moment a supernova is going to explode, it is very easy to lose this very fast early phase."

According to a statement from the University of California at Berkeley, Buso had captured light from the supernova's first hour. Bersten estimated the chance of happening upon such an event at about 1 in 10 million.

"It's like winning the cosmic lottery," said Alex Filippenko, in a news release from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, where Filippenko, of the University of California, Berkeley, has been tracking the supernova.

Using powerful telescopes to observe the supernova in multiple wavelengths, the astronomers detected the light signature of a star that had lost most of its hydrogen envelope, then exploded. This gave them insight into the structure of the progenitor star, which Bersten and her colleagues concluded was a yellow supergiant about 20 times as massive as our sun. It was probably in a binary system, they say, because such stars rarely blow up on their own.

The early detection also allowed the scientists to track the supernova throughout its evolution and develop models to explain what they saw. Even now, they continue to scrutinise the explosion knowing how this star died might shed light on how it lived.

Stellar explosions "come in different flavours," Folatelli explained in a call from Argentina several days ago. "We want to know how stars evolve into the different structures that give different outcomes in supernovas."

He and Bersten both marvelled at the cosmic good fortune that allowed this rare event to be seen. Not only was Buso observing with a brand-new, powerful camera, but the supernova, dubbed SN 2016gkg, was at the edge of its host galaxy, making it easier to spot.

They have colleagues who worked for years on sky surveys in the hope of spotting a shock wave breakout. Witnessing astronomers' joy at this discovery was "awe-inspiring and unique," Buso wrote. "It's so exciting to find and register something yet unseen by humans."

His one regret is that he cannot share his discovery with his parents, who died years ago. For the two people who taught him to love "this beautiful science we call astronomy," this breakthrough seems a fitting memorial.


Amateur astronomer catches never-before-seen supernova birth

His images are the first to capture the brief “shock breakout” phase of a supernova.

By Sarah Kaplan / The Washington Post

The moment he saw the brilliant light captured by his camera, &ldquoit all clicked&rdquo for Victor Buso: All the times his parents woke him before sunrise to gaze at the stars, all the energy he had poured into constructing an observatory atop his home, all the hours he had spent trying to parse meaning from the dim glow of distant suns.

&ldquoIn many moments you search and ask yourself, why do I do this?&rdquo Buso said. This was why: Buso, a self-taught astronomer, had just witnessed the surge of light at the birth of a supernova &mdash something no other human, not even a professional scientist, had seen.

Alone on his rooftop, the star-strewn sky arced above him, the rest of the world sleeping below, Buso began to jump for joy.

His discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, is a landmark for astronomy. Buso&rsquos images are the first to capture the brief &ldquoshock breakout&rdquo phase of a supernova, when a wave of energy rolls from a star&rsquos core to its exterior just before the star explodes. Computer models had suggested the existence of this phase, but no one had witnessed it.

&ldquoIn our field, this is a fundamental question: What is the structure of the star at the moment of explosion?&rdquo said Melina Bersten, an astrophysicist at the Institute of Astrophysics of La Plata in Argentina and the lead author of the report.

With Buso&rsquos observations, scientists can begin to answer that.

Buso, a 58-year-old locksmith from the Argentine city of Rosario, inherited his love of astronomy from his parents. When he was 10, his father roused him from bed to glimpse Comet Bennett streaking across the sky. The year before, his mother had held him at her side in front of the family&rsquos television to watch Neil Armstrong take humankind&rsquos first steps on the moon. &ldquoVitito,&rdquo she told him, using his nickname, &ldquoyou have to see this moment. You will never forget it.&rdquo

Buso began building telescopes at age 11, using tin cans, magnifying glass lenses and Play-Doh to make the stars seem closer. Eight years ago, he sold a piece of land he owned with his father and used the proceeds to construct an astronomy tower on his roof. He calls it Observatorio Busoniano.

These days Buso prefers to scan the skies with cameras mounted atop his 40-centimeter telescope, which allows him to observe phenomena too faint to be spotted by eye. On the evening of Sept. 20, 2016, he decided to test a new camera by pointing it at the NGC-613 &mdash a barred spiral galaxy about 65 million light-years from Earth.

Within a few minutes, he noticed something strange in his photographs: a tiny pixel of light that didn&rsquot appear in archive images he found online.

&ldquoI thought, &lsquoOh, my God, what is this?&rsquo &rdquo Buso recalled.

The light didn&rsquot look like a supernova &mdash the usual source of new lights in the sky. (Indeed, &ldquonova&rdquo means new star, though supernovas are the explosive deaths of suns that have run out of fuel.) Yet the light just kept getting brighter.

Buso realized he needed to show this to a professional, but most of Argentina&rsquos astronomers were at an annual conference far from the nearest observatory. He finally got in touch with a fellow amateur, who confirmed the sighting and helped him develop an international alert with data Buso provided on the object&rsquos position, brightness and timeline.

As soon as darkness fell the following night, Buso rushed to his roof to see whether that faint pixel had developed into a brilliant, full-blown supernova.

Buso&rsquos images made their way into the hands of Bersten and her colleague Gaston Folatelli, who could hardly believe what they were seeing.

&ldquoWe immediately noticed this was an incredibly important discovery,&rdquo Bersten said. &ldquoGiven that we don&rsquot know where and in which moment a supernova is going to explode, it is very easy to lose this very fast early phase.&rdquo

According to a statement from the University of California at Berkeley, Buso had captured light from the supernova&rsquos first hour. Bersten estimated the chance of happening upon such an event at about 1 in 10 million.

Using powerful telescopes to observe the supernova in multiple wavelengths, the astronomers detected the light signature of a star that had lost most of its hydrogen envelope, then exploded. This gave them insight into the structure of the progenitor star, which Bersten and her colleagues concluded was a yellow supergiant about 20 times as massive as our sun. It was probably in a binary system, they say, because such stars rarely blow up on their own.

The early detection also allowed the scientists to track the supernova throughout its evolution and develop models to explain what they saw. Even now, they continue to scrutinize the explosion knowing how this star died might shed light on how it lived.

Stellar explosions &ldquocome in different flavors,&rdquo Folatelli explained. &ldquoWe want to know how stars evolve into the different structures that give different outcomes in supernovas.&rdquo

He and Bersten both marveled at the cosmic good fortune that allowed this rare event to be seen. Not only was Buso observing with a brand-new, powerful camera, but the supernova, dubbed SN 2016gkg, was at the edge of its host galaxy, making it easier to spot.

They have colleagues who worked for years on sky surveys in the hope of spotting a shock wave breakout. Witnessing astronomers&rsquo joy at this discovery was &ldquoawe-inspiring and unique,&rdquo Buso wrote. &ldquoIt&rsquos so exciting to find and register something yet unseen by humans.&rdquo

His one regret is that he cannot share his discovery with his parents, who died years ago. For the two people who taught him to love &ldquothis beautiful science we call astronomy,&rdquo this breakthrough seems a fitting memorial.


19th Century Mystery Lights

Mysterious Lights Reported In British Columbia During 1897

That strange aerial curiosity the fire balloon that has been completely mystifying people of the northwest during the past two or three months is evidently becoming bolder or more people are keeping late hours than formerly and in consequence have had the good fortune to catch a glimpse of it. What it is, or where it comes from or where it goes to, and who or what manner of men are responsible for its movements, remains just as much as a puzzle as when the bright light first made its appearance in the sky a few months ago.

For upwards of two and a half hours Firemen North and Swain of the city brigade had opportunity to inspect the erratic visitor yesterday morning. However when it was finally lost to sight in the morning air they were completely mystified as to all its character as when they first sighted it. It was Swain whose first attention was attracted to the light he and his companion having been left on duty at the scene of a grass fire on the golf links that threatened if not carefully watched to break out afresh and cause damage to adjoining property. It was floating low then and he called to North to notice what a bright mast some ship was carrying. Then both men looked and North observed it could not be a mast light as no ship in these waters carried so bright a look out light. While they speculated the light came so near as to be mirrored in the waters of the Straits in the direction and apparently hanging over Discovery Island. It had no discernible form, balloon shape or otherwise, it was just a great light as large from the distance it was viewed as a drum from one of the hose reels, and brighter far, according to the two firemen than an electric light. As they watched it slowly rose and took off sailing in a direction of almost eighth of the horizon circle and then returning. As soon as it dawned upon the watchers that the object of their attention was the light of which so many had been talking it resulted in new particulars, and hurried over to the Mount Baker to procure a night glass. No instrument of the kind was available however and they had to rest content with bringing the night clerk of the hotel out to see what they had seen and be equally wonderstruck. Until four o’clock the brilliant body remained suspended in mid air passing slowly from east to west and back again three times and only disappearing with the coming of the day. At one time the firemen believed they saw a dark body outlined behind the circle of intense light but they could not identify it positively. To look at the light according to the witnesses was like looking at the sun at high noon. What the light was they cannot conjecture, they have listened to many theories during the past twenty four hours but can not reconcile any with what they have witnessed. The favourite theory is that some local inventor is trying the product of his daring in the privacy of the night, preparatory to giving his secret to the world. It must be a fact that the inventor is the most successful keeper of a secret to appear on the scene for quite some time and yet this seems the most rational explanation put forward. Too many have seen the mid night visitor for people of common sense to doubt the presence of a mysterious something…..

Mr. B. Serope Shrapnel writing from Old Oak Bay says myself and other members of my family watched the same brilliant light as described by the above mentioned firemen for nearly two hours. The only difference was that it appeared to be above Mary Todd Island swinging from side to side slowly and sometimes rising and falling in a similar manner. It was decidedly no reflection being quite as bright if not brighter than the nearest stars in view.

Originally published: Victoria Daily Colonist – August 7, 1897

Have you seen the light in the heavens. if not you are not up to date. It has been hovering in the skies above Vancouver almost every night this week, and has been viewed by many. It was last seen on Friday evening and may be on view tonight, and again it may not. Last night the strange object in the skies was noticed to the north of the city across the city traveling in an easterly direction. The luminous ball of fire or airship as some call it was closely watched. It approached with great swiftness, paused in midair, then surrounded itself with flashes of colour and moved towards the northeast. At times it looked like a ball of fire at others it had a dull lustre and small particles of fire would shoot from the great glowing mass. The sight was a great one and should be looked out for this evening. N. C. Schon of Burnaby saw the luminous body while on the steamer Rithet on Monday night. he states that it moved parallel to the sea far below the star line and looked like a bright red star surrounded by a luminous halo. It was cigar shaped and seemed to travel slowly and occasionally there seemed to drop a shower of sparks like the sputtering of an arc light. A World man saw the beautiful object from the office of the Chilean consulate under a powerful glass. Mr. Morris is for once puzzled as are many others who caught on to the wondrous spectacle. A wag suggested that it is the Klondike star pointing the way to untold wealth.

Originally published: Vancouver Daily World – August 14, 1897

Vernon, British Columbia November 11th 2008 approx. 12.30am

My husband and I went outside on our balcony at approximately 12:30 am to have a cigarette on November the 11th. We looked South at Middleton mountain and noticed this object. Its lights were bright white which then turned to red and then briefly turned to blue. Oddly the light patterns were mostly red and white. At one point there was a red beam shining down onto the mountainside. There was a cow mooing for the duration and the winds really picked up around us. I have never heard a cow moo this way before. This lasted for about a good minute or two that we noticed and don’t know how long it was there before. My husband grabbed the video camera, but the object vanished in a heartbeat!

Our thanks to the witness for sharing this experience with us.

If you want to share any story in this regard and your experience please e mail me at


Watch the video: What Would You See If You Fell Into Neptune? 4K UHD (December 2022).