March 28, 2017

Astro-Events: Stellar Action Near & Far.

Sunspot active region 1520 as seen from Astroguyz HQ on July 10th.

We interrupt our mundane earthbound corner of the galaxy to bring you this exciting installment of the column a tad early to hopefully get your eyes skyward for some exciting astronomical events, both scheduled and unscheduled.

Don’t mess with Active Sunspot Region 1520! (Photo by Author).

First up, massive sunspot group and active region 1520 reaches the center of the solar disk and Earthward firing position around July 12th. This is one of the most massive sunspots seen in recent years and one of the largest thus far for solar cycle #24. As of this writing on July 12th, AR1520 can easily be seen with the unaided (but safely filtered) eye. AR1520 is a quiet monster, exhibiting a beta-gamma pattern for M-Class flares, but could easily send an energetic X-Class flare our way in the coming week. (see below!) While perhaps (and hopefully!) not a Carrington Super flare level event generator as witnessed in 1859, AR1520 does harbor the ability to “reach out and touch us” as well as spark some awesome aurorae. Watch this space and follow us on Twitter as the action unfolds!

BANG! The July 12th X-Class flare as seen in the extreme ultra-violet/soft x-rays by NASA’s Solar Dynamics observatory.

(Credit: NASA/SDO).

*Newsflash;* as of this writing on the afternoon of July 12th, AR1520 has just unleashed an X-class flare which appeared to peak at X1.4 at 16:53 UTC… (i.e., about an hour ago) more to come!

But our nearest star isn’t the only one throwing a tantrum this week. A new nova was discovered in Sagittarius July 7th. This nova sat around +7th magnitude at the time of discovery and will most likely remain visible in binoculars for about a week. The official IAU CBAT designation of the nova is PNV J18202726-2744263 and the coordinates are;

Right Ascension: 18Hours 20’ 27.26”

Declination: -27° 44’ 26.3”

Rough location of Nova Sgr 2012-4/ PNV J18202726-2744263. (Created by the author in Starry Night).

The American Association of Variable Star Observers has an alert notice #289 covering the specifics of this new nova. It’s no coincidence that we tend to see a disproportionately larger number of galactic novae in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, as that’s also the direction of the core of our galaxy and a large bulge of the stars that comprise the Milky Way.

Closer back to home, Comet 96P/Machholz 1 reaches a perihelion of 0.1238 Astronomical Units on July 14th at 19:00 UTC. We may be able to track the perihelion passage of this comet via the Solar Heliospheric Observatories’ LASCO C3 camera from July 12th through the 17th. After that, 96P/Machholz will become an evening object, fading from visibility and tracking through the constellations of Leo and Leo Minor. Comet Machholz may remain in the range of magnitude +9 towards the end of July before it fades from view in August.

Never seen Pluto? Now is a great time try for this outer icy world as it passes within a degree of the open cluster M25 starting on July 15 for the next 2 weeks of July. Although this is a star rich region, +14th magnitude Pluto should show up after observing the area on successive nights under dark skies. Sketch it or photograph it to bring out tiny Pluto’s motion against the starry background… this would even make an excellent time lapse movie. Pluto has been in the news as of late for the discovery of yet another moon by Hubble, bringing its grand total to 5. P5 and last year’s P4 have yet to be officially named, but we have our humble proposal in to the powers that be to bestow either with the name Alecto honoring the discoverer of Pluto Clyde Tombaugh (initials “CT” as in AleCTo, get it?) We’re only 3 years now from getting a good look at Pluto and pals when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flies by in July, 2015!

Pluto vs M25 for the last half of July (Created by the Author using Starry Night).

Finally, the planet Mars passes near the elliptical galaxy NGC 4546 on July 21st. Mars will shine at +1st magnitude and NGC 4546 will be over 10,000 times fainter at +11.5. The closest pairing of the two is just 2’ arc minutes of separation on July 21st at 9:00 UTC/ 5:00 EDT. Mars itself is travelling just below the galaxy rich area known as the bowl of Virgo this month. Sure, the pair will be a difficult catch owing to the relative brightness of Mars, but astro-imagers are doing some awesome things these days! Thanks to Ed Kotapish for pointing this one out.

And speaking of which, it’s approaching that time of year again as we look forward to the Dog Days of Summer and the Perseid meteors, all of which and more we’ll be covering in late July and early August… watch this space!


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