fredag 27 januari 2012

Comet in the morning sky

Comet Garradd has been visible in the sky for a long while now. During the first part of the winter, the comet was best seen in the evenings, but it has dropped lower for each day and is now best viewed in the mornings.

The comet is located in the constellation of Hercules and can be found reasonably high in the skies in the early morning hours. The comet is fairly bright, but unfortunately just below naked-eye visibility. It is, however, an easy binocular target and can be seen with a normal pair of binoculars (say 8x45) even from moderately light-polluted skies.

Below is a picture of the comet taken in the morning of 26 January 2012 with a DSLR and a 300mm lens (consisting of ~50 stacked 30-second exposures). The comet is sporting two tails and the photo below reveals the ion tail of the comet (which can be seen extending to the right of the green coma) and the dust tail (stretching down below the comet). Earlier in the year, the two tails appeared like single tail as seen from our perspective, but as the comet rounded the Sun, the two tails can now be seen separately.

The green glow in the background is due to faint pulsating auroras in the sky.

Comet Garradd will remain visible in the constellation of Hercules for yet a long time.

Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd

torsdag 26 januari 2012

Crescent Moon + Venus (and Uranus)

Tonight, the crescent Moon (12% lit) and the planet Venus (shining brightly at mag -4) can be seen closely together in the sky as the sun sets.

This is the pair together last evening (25 January). Tonight, they will be even closer to eachother.

Tonight (26 January 2012) the pair looks like on the picture below. Note that it is not only possible to see the Moon and Venus close to eachother. A little further up the blue dot of Uranus can be seen and a little further to the west (not on the picture) Jupiter shines almost as bright as Venus. A night for planet-watching!

tisdag 24 januari 2012

Update - Solar Storm in Progress

During the last three days, very strong northern lights have been seen all around the Arctic circle.

As predicted, a strong coronal mass ejection (CME) hit the Earth`s magnetic field only an hour ago at approximately 1500 UT, as reported by my colleague Rob Stamnes at Polar Light Center in Lofoten, Norway.

This means that strong auroras are very likely in the hours ahead, so if you have clear skies, go out and have a look at the night sky!

Below is a video sequence I made from the solar storm of 21-23 January 2012 - tonight`s show might be even better!

The Sun is awake!

Last Saturday (Jan 21) was the return-of-the-Sun day here in Tromsø, when the Sun could be seen above the horizon for the first time since November last year. Because of mountains blocking the view I haven`t seen the actual Sun yet, but the reflected light could be seen on the mountain slopes and soon it will reach even higher.

The Sun, however, did much more than "just" return this weekend - it also sent along a so-called coronal mass ejection (CME), which hit the Earth's magnetic field and produced some very strong northern lights all around the Arctic circle.

This is what the night sky looked like as seen from Kvaløya outside Tromsø. The pictures are from January 21, 22 and 23rd.

Auroras and the planet Jupiter in the gap of Ersfjorden, Norway

The Pleiades and Jupiter framed by auroras and the mountains of Kvaløya

Northern Lights corona in green and red

Red auroras

View from the outside of Kvaløya on January 22

tisdag 10 januari 2012

Humpback Whales in Polar Darkness

Yesterday was an amazingly beautiful winter day here on Kvaløya on the coast of Northern Norway.

I woke up in the morning to the blue light of dawn and felt that the temperature in the bedroom was around 7-8 degrees. What this usually means is that the sky has been clear during the night, allowing the temperature to drop both outside and inside, and when I looked out, the brighter stars were still sparkling like little gems over the snowclad landscape and the sky was crisp and clear.

It is still polar darkness here in the north, so the Sun doesn`t rise above the horizon until the end of the month, but the special light can make January one of the most beautiful months of the year.

What can then possibly be better than going out at sea and watch the mountain-peaks of the fjords rise like snow-giants out of the sea in the blue morning light? I was lucky enough to be invited out for a boat trip by another biologist and photographer (thank you so very much for an amazing trip Audun - it is a true pleasure to be out with such nice persons as you guys and great to meet people with similar interests).

Gulls feeding on herring around mid-day outside Kvaløya

After searching along the coast for any signs of humpback whales for the identification project - Humpback Whale ID - we couldn`t find any whales in the areas where they had been spotted earlier, but outside the characteristic mountain "Håja", we saw thousands of gulls and drove towards them. When we came closer, we saw the blows of two humpback whales feeding on herring, together with lots of gulls, razorbills, and no less than 16 sea eagles, that wanted to have their share of the food.

Humpback Whale in Polar Darkness

The short days only allowed for a few pictures before the dusk came, but we stayed out at sea as long as possible to enjoy the afternoon light and to see the Moon rise over the horizon. When Venus and Jupiter were climbing above the mountains, and more and more stars became visible in the sky, we headed back home as darkness fell once again over Kvaløya.

Full Moon rising next to Sandøya

Full Moon over Sandøya as seen from open sea

Humpback Whale in the dark

Dusk over Senja

söndag 1 januari 2012

The best fireworks of New Year

Happy New Aurora Year!

Last year ended with a wonderful northern lights show, and as midnight drew nearer, the sky was painted in green and the stars shone like little gems in the cold winter night.

On a night like this, when the sky is filled with it`s own fireworks, I have to say I can`t really see the point in sending up a bunch of rockets in the sky that goes bang and leaves behind a lot of chemicals. I know I may sound a bit boring, and lets face it, it only happens once a year, but admittedly, I have never been a huge fan of fireworks, and even less so when the sky is putting up a show of its own in green and purple with more amazing patterns than any pyrotechnical engineer can ever dream about !

I hope 2012 will offer many more displays like this - full of amazing colours and patterns - and completely silent and free for everyone to watch.

I wish you all clear skies and the very best for the coming year - which is probably going to be a good year for auroras with the solar maximum coming up in 2012/2013.

Below is a small time-lapse teaser of the northern lights from the last day of 2011: