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Updated March 23rd 2017

Chasing Storms & Aurora - NEWS

I have been chasing storms and aurora over the last 48 hours along the north coast and currently going through images for a report which I hope will be online next week. John Fagan and I met on March 20th at Downhill Beach where we spent the night shooting cells. There was a risk of snow, hail, strong winds and with 200 CAPE and -35C air aloft spreading over warmer seas there was an added risk of lightning. To cut a long story short we got hit by several convective elements and blasted by nasty snow squalls. This was the back edge of one of these squalls which had just passed over head heading east, we were impressed to see a massive sheared anvil with mammatus covering a huge area of sky, this is a 10mm wide angle long exposure showing the anvils movement as it became shredded by strong winds aloft. Soon after we got hit by an intense beach snow storm which was like a full on blizzard for 10 min's with large snow flakes blowing at high speed horizontally, this was extremely impressive to watch, this single snow squall surpassed all snow events of this Winter to date.

March 21st, going more by instinct than anything else I drove to the coast again and teamed up with John Fagan and Glenn Miles. A fast solar wind stream and CIR region quickly generated a beautiful aurora, in fact, this was the best aurora I have observed over the last six months and amazingly it stayed clear the entire time. This is a 50mm capture from Ballintoy, that's John and Glenn in the foreground shooting a time lapse/trail. Check out those intense vertical rays, these were stunning with the naked eye as they slowly drifted across the sky like an apparition.

10mm wide angle with Ballintoy Church and Milky Way, what a great show this was and well earned by us all. I will go more in depth with the details in the report, during daylight I also got several drone flights in before sunset, I will be posting these to my youtube channel in the near future, thanks for viewing.

Drone Flight 382. March 21st 2017, small general cargo ship ISIS was anchored off shore and close to Portstewart Strand so I gave the ship a surprise visit with the P3A before sunset. ISIS was waiting for the tide to rise before entering the Bar Mouth for Coleraine. Details...

Name: ISIS
IMO: 7711969
Flag: GB/UK
Gross Tonnage: 674
Size: 57.51m x 10.09m
Built: 1978

Great light, great line of sight, excellent signal, I flew into a 10 knot Wly head wind then used the wind to carry the Phantom back to the beach. Drone within visual line of sight thanks to great visibility. Fun flight, thanks for watching.

Short time lapse of Ballintoy church with Milky Way and aurora on March 21st 2017. There is a jump in the lapse due to a short break between filming to wipe dew off the lens however I thought I would post it anyway. Canon 600D, 10mm F/2.8 lens, 30 sec exposures, ISO1600 for over an hour.

Giant's Causeway Triple Conjunction & Moonlit Cliff Star Trails Image Report - NEW

New Image Report

First image report of 2017 documenting three night shoots along the Co. Antrim coast shooting nightscapes, star trails and the a beautiful evening conjunction between Venus, Mars and the crescent Moon. A combination of solo and joint photography with John Fagan, Glen Miles and Nigel McFarland. The highlight was a breathtaking moonlit star trail shoot from the high cliff tops above the Giant's Causeway which ranks as the most dangerous night landscape location I have shot from to date, the report ends with a nice moonless night at Ballintoy with star trails around the famous church. One page report with 14 images and 2 time lapse videos. - REPORT.

New Amateur Comet Discovery C/2017 E4 Lovejoy - NEWS

Legendary comet hunter Terry Lovejoy has discovered a new comet making this his sixth discovery during the course of a dedicated life to visual and CCD comet hunting. Terry made the discovery using a 14" Celestron S. Cass with Hyperstar CCD system. Follow up observations soon confirmed the nature and movement of the discovery, several days later the IAU annouced C/2017 E4 Lovejoy to the world. The comet is currently located in Sagittarius where it was discovered a few days earlier, E4 is moving north and is expected to slowly brighten throughout April when it will be visible to observers in the northern hemisphere.

Terry Lovejoy is most famous for his discovery of great comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) which was better known as the great Christmas comet of 2011 which peaked at mag -4.0 (as bright as Venus) with a vivid exclamation mark tail in the pre-dawn skies for observers in the southern hemisphere. The 2017 discovery however is not expected to dazzle astronomers despite displaying promising orbital paramaters. Current observations indicate the comet has a small nucleus which may even disintegrate or fizzle out completely. It's impossible to predict a peak magnitude during April at the moment based on it's current mag +11.8 brightness however the comet could be in the 9th-10th mag range. That being said it will be worth monitoring for unexpected surprises incase of an outburst event. This discovery is important and newsworthy not only because of it's nautre but because it shows that dedicated amateur comet hunters using modern techniques can still discover comets despite the prolific survey telescopes scanning the skies every night. Terry discovered his new comet in a dense portion of the Milky Way near full moon which is even more impressive! Congratulations to Terry once again for his discovery and may comet number seven be in his sights soon. I will leave you with words from Terry himself about his new discovery.

''Thank you everyone for your kind words, and of course to the people that sacrifice their spare time to get out there and do followup observations on new comets like this. The latest comet, C/2017 E4, was found on a set of 3 images made on the morning of March 10 (Local time) in the constellation of Sagittarius. Although my 6th discovery, this was the first discovery with the Hyperstar 14" Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain telescope. However, because the field of view is now smaller I must now make shorter exposures, and more of them, to cover similar amounts of sky as possible. However, I felt the extra aperture have has more than compensated especially since my location experiences quite bad light pollution being just 18 km from the centre of Brisbane, a city of more than 2 million people''

(C/2017 E4 Lovejoy by Ernesto Guido. ''I performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 10 unfiltered exposures, 30 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2017, March 10.7 from Q62 (iTelescope network) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet with a diffuse coma nearly 15 arcsec in diameter'').

''Back to the comet, it was found using MOD (Moving Object Detection) a computer program I wrote that searches sets of images for moving objects like comets of asteroids. I tend to run MOD with very high sensitivity, which means it will identify anything remotely resembling a moving object, resulting in mostly false positive detection's. In fact in crowded star-fields this can be as high as 90% false positives and so I must examine each detection manually. Nevertheless, this is huge time saver compared to examining the entire image manually. That morning a lot of the fields were in the milky way I had a large number of false detection's I had to examine, and there were also at least a dozen asteroids, but finally there was one object that had a definite coma and I knew almost certainly a comet. I then did some checks against known asteroids/comets plus some checks to eliminate internal optical reflections as a cause for the detection. This all checked out so I was certain of a new comet at this point''

(Above) Terry's actual discovery image set from the morning of March 9th

''I then sought independent confirmation from another observer, and looking at Messenger I could see Cristavao Jacques in Brazil was online, so I contacted him, but unfortunately dawn had started and he had closed up the observatory so there was no luck there. I then contacted Michael Mattiazzo and he was able to get a confirmation image not long after from a remote telescope in New Mexico. This was all well within the 24 hours of the actual discovery images, which is probably a record for me! The comet was then posted on the Possible Comet Confirmation Page and astrometry started to stream in over the next few days and within 3 days the orbit was known with enough certainty for it to be designated as C/2017 E4. The orbit indicates - unfortunately - this is an intrinsically small comet that probably stay quite faint (and it could even disappear altogether) but we can always hope for a better display'', Terry Lovejoy

Elemental Photography From Maghera & Surrounding Countryside - NEW ARTICLE

Elemental Photography

A brand new Nightskyhunter article called 'Elemental Photography From Maghera & Surrounding Countryside'. During 2016 I was invited to write an article about my photography on behalf of the Maghera Historical Society which was published in the Maghera Times that season complete with colour photographs. I decided to share that article here, this is the full version with more images which I hope you will enjoy. The article is straight forward and is aimed at the beginner or amateur observer and photographer which includes a little bit of history about how I got into the subject of astronomy and storms complimented by sample imagery taken from Maghera and it's vicinity. I hope you enjoy it, thanks very more reading. - ARTICLE.

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Image Reports

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Reports

Astronomy is not the only subject I'm interested in. One other such area is severe weather which will be playing a major role on nightskyhunter from now on in conjunction with my other astronomical pursuits. Check out my new N. Ireland Storm Chasing section and view the chase reports and images which detail not only storms but other phenomena such as a moonbows, noctilucent clouds and aurora displays.

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Martin McKenna