At any time of year spectacular solar and lunar halos may appear in the sky, but this time of year is particularly good. No special equipment is needed to observe these beautiful sights, but care must be taken as solar halos appear around the sun. Remember to always use proper precautions when observing near the sun.
This image was taken a couple of days ago in front of my house. I have exaggerated the contrast of the image to better show the detail in the sky, however these phenomena are easily seen with the unaided eye. Keep an eye out for halos, sun and moon dogs, arcs and other atmospheric phenomena during the upcoming season.
John Dobson, whose name has become synonymous with large, easy to use telescopes, has passed away at the age of 98. He started building large reflectors with alt-az mounts on them for the purpose of taking them to the streets and sharing views of the night sky with passers-by. He not only pioneered the concept of sidewalk astronomy, but of course we now refer to this style of telescope as a Dobsonian. These scopes were easy to make and used inexpensive materials, making large apertures achievable and affordable for many amateurs. Few other individuals have had such great influence on the world of amateur astronomy.
I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago, and he was still vigorous and invigorating. I know that the other HAA members who had the same pleasure also found him to be quite a character, even well into his 90s. A club like ours, which does so much outreach, is a fitting legacy to Dobson, along with the many scopes that bear his name, that so many of us use.
Although the sun is at solar max, and has finally flipped its magnetic poles, it hasn't felt like there's been too much solar activity. Now, finally, we have a big sunspot grouping. AR1944 has not only been active, but is large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Remember, always use appropriate solar filters when observing the sun. I could see the spots naked eye, using my Baadar mylar solar material, and through my 90mm refractor it looked quite spectacular. Unfortunately the seeing today was terrible, producing wavy images, but I did manage to get an image through the scope. Here it is below, with a second one showing a blow-up of the largest group. If you have a solar filter, don't miss this magnificent sunspot grouping. It's the best we've had so far this solar cycle.
Close-up of the above image
Halton Arp, an American astronomer and creator of the Arp catalogue, passed away on December 28th. He imaged and created a database of galaxies that didn't fit any of the recognized galaxy types, creating a catalogue of unusual galaxies. Published in 1966 it is called the 'Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies' and you can still get a copy of the catalogue, which is still in print. It makes for fascinating reading, and gives you some fun targets for your scope.
Although I became fascinated with the images of Jupiter's moons, as seen in the blog entry below, I actually went outside to see the full moon. Here it is, this winter's Snow Moon and the smallest full moon of the year. (Canon 60D through a 90mm refractor)
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