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Updated October 5th 2018

Draconid Meteor Shower Peaks Oct 8th - MONITOR

(Above) The Draconid radiant located between Draco & Lyra facing NW. Chart credit Irish News or view the interactive radiant chart from timeanddate.com

The annual Draconid minor shower peaks this year on October 8th/9th with a ZHR of 5 or more meteors per hour expected under ideal conditions. The source of the Draconids or 'Giacobinids' is the Jupiter family short period comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner which orbits the sun every 6.6 years, as it does so it replenishes the Draconid meteoroid trail with sand grain sized dust particles which in turn feeds this annual shower. The meteor rates tend to be very low, perhaps between 5-10 per hour at best, however on occasions only several Draconids may be seen during an hour which is why this stream is classified as a minor shower, for this reason I would suggest that this shower is not an activity for the general public. The Draconid radiant is located near the head of Draco the Dragon and can easily be found well placed in the NW between Ursa Minor, Hercules and Lyra with bright star Vega. Draconid meteors are among the slowest meteors in the sky with very low encounter velocities in the 11km/sec range which will make them unique from other faster annual showers, such slow moving meteors do lend themselves well for photography.

However in certain years the Draconids have produced incredible meteor storms when 'shooting stars' have rained from the sky, this happened in 1933 and 1946 when thousands of meteors per hour were observed and more recently in 2011 when 600 meteors per hour were documented in moonlight. These outburst events are said to be associated with the shower's parent comet crossing the Earth's node when the comet is outbound after a close perihelion passage and with 21P just after passing the Earth in September when it peaked at mag +7.0 there's some speculation that another outburst may be on the cards this year. Unfortunately Draconid meteoroid stream models are showing that no such outburst event is expected this time around due to the Earth passing through a relatively blank gap between two older meteoroid trails. However don't let this put you off, especially for seasoned observers. Draconid watching during the evening hours of the 8th and 9th may be a good policy just in case of an enhancement to the traditional ZHR, also you simply never know what you are going to see as nothing is set in stone when it comes to nature. I wish you clear skies and happy hunting.

Large Coronal Hole & Aurora Watch - Oct 8th

(Above) Large Earth-facing coronal hole captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, credit: Spaceweather.com

A large coronal hole on the surface of the sun is currently rotating into a geoeffective position. The size of this coronal hole (CH) is massive covering much of the northern hemisphere, meridian, and southern hemisphere of our side of the solar disk. A high speed solar wind stream is due to interact with our magnetosphere between October 7th and 9th with heightened activity around October 8th. NOAA are currently predicting a G1 and possible G2 storm when the stream arrives. Please keep in mind that a G2 storm at mid northern latitudes needs a strongly negative Bz component which cant be predicted in advance so do monitor the aurora charts before undertaking a watch.

Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma In Morning Sky - WATCH

(Above) 38P captured by Michael Jager on October 4th 2018 from Austria

Comet Stephan-Oterman is the 38th periodic comet ever discovered, it's currently making a fine apparition in the morning sky, in fact, this is the comet's first appearance since it was last seen in 1980. The comet is a target for experienced observers and not an object for the general public due to it's fainter magnitude and skill set required to find and observe. The comet is located in the eastern sky during the early hours of the morning and highest before dawn between Orion and Gemini which will provide suitable bright stars as guide posts for star hopping to the comet. Currently at mag +10.5 it appears as a diffuse elliptical haze. The comet requires moderately dark skies and good transparency and a 6" telescope to observe. 38P is slowly trekking to the east each night and will continue to brighten at a sedate pace when it could peak at mag +9 in November by which time it will be in proximity to bright stars Castor and Pollux and rising slightly earlier in the night. Despite being faint the comet is a good target to observe to enhance your comet observing skills in preparation for 46P/Wirtanen which should be a naked eye object this December.

(Above) 38P finder chart from Sky & Telescope, click on chart to enlarge. Also check out the real time finder chart from Heavensabove


J. E. Coggia (Marseilles, France) found what he thought was an uncataloged nebula on 1867 January 22.9. The sky clouded up almost immediately and remained completely cloudy until the night of January 24, when E. J. M. Stephan (Marseille, France) checked on the nebula through a brief break in the clouds and saw that it had moved. Stephan was able to confirm this was a comet on January 25.86. Stephan said the comet was rather brilliant, round, with a very marked nucleus. The initial announcements did not mention Coggia's name and the comet was named after Stephan. E. W. L. Tempel (Marseille, France) independently discovered this comet on January 28.86 near Pi Arietis.

Although he knew of Stephan's discovery, he noted a distinct difference in the description from his and figured he had found a different comet. Tempel described the comet as very faint and about 3 arc minutes across. Liisi Oterma (Turku, Finland) discovered this comet on 1942 November 6.00. It was described as magnitude 13. Oterma confirmed the discovery on November 6.84. It was described as magnitude 13, with a slow northward motion. A short time after the announcement, Fred L. Whipple (Harvard College Observatory, Massachusetts, USA) found a pre-discovery image on a patrol plate exposed on November 5.23. The magnitude was also estimated as 13. Source: cometography

Dunservick Moonlit Waterfall Shoot - Sept 21st

I had a great photo shoot at the north coast last night (Sept 21st/22nd) with John Fagan. We spent much of the night at Dunservick waterfall where we shot long exposures and time lapse sequences. The moon was three days from full and fairly low in the south which provided us with sufficient light for the waterfall and seascape while passing showers and stars completed the scene. We where standing on rocks almost in the middle of the waterfall for this one.

It was an incredible sensation standing here with this moonlit waterfall while water rushed past us under a canopy of stars, utter tranquility. An aurora manifested during the middle of the night, you can see it in the sky here blending in with the lunar opposition glow.

This angle was very photogenic, this was a long 40 sec exposure using moonlight and a quick sweep from the head torch with showers forming in the distance. Large swells surged up and down near the waterfall, they were dramatic and frightening to watch however we where well out of harms way.

Just near moonset we captured this distant moonbow, this was auto white balance to bring out the colours better. We saw four other stunning close moonbows however they were not in our time lapse position but they were remarkable visually. My photography is available to purchase as a print, canvas or to license as a digital file, please email me for a purchase.

Funnel Cloud Over Binevenagh & Possible Touch Down - REPORT

On August 25th 2018 I was driving along the north coast under showers, my intention was to seek clear skies for aerial filming that afternoon. Once I passed under the core and made a turn onto the Point Road I was astonished to observe an unexpected funnel cloud clearly visible from the flanking area of the cell. I pulled over and made a dash for my camera, this beautiful white funnel cloud rotated and changed shape over the dramatic sunlit countryside against a backdrop of Binevenagh Mountain for 10 min's. During the latter stages of it's apparition the vortex took on the form of a long rope, at which stage it was very close to the summit of Binevenagh. There's a possibility this may have briefly touched down, details of this surprise visitor can be read in the report along with thoughts on how it formed in such a weak set-up along with funnel spotting tips and lessons learned. One page report with 12 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Moonbow Hunting & Moonlit Convection At Swatragh Wind Turbines - REPORT

Moonbow Hunting Report

On August 24th 2018 I spent a pleasant night hunting for lunar rainbows or 'moonbows' at the wind turbines above Swatragh with John Fagan. It was a night of heavy showers with clear periods from an unstable NWly flow due to a post frontal maritime air mass. The set up presented a rare opportunity to catch moonbows from a waxing gibbous moon two days from full thanks to the low ecliptic angle which meant the moon stayed below 42 degrees in altitude all night long at this phase. We ended up observing nine different moonbows throughout the night, several of which had various colours visible to the naked eye. Here are several of the better bows, however it was the moonlit convective cloudscapes which really made the night for us. One page report with 13 images and 1 time lapse video. - REPORT.

Ballintoy Perseid Meteor Watch & Late Season NLCs Report - NEW

Perseid Meteor Shower 2018

The 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower looked to be clouded out for the peak so two clear nights were arranged for a watch during the build up to maximum. On Aug 8th/9th three of us undertook a nightly vigil at Ballintoy under superb clear skies where we had a BBQ and encountered 56 Perseids, a mag -6 fireball and were surprised by a pre-dawn late season NLC display, in fact, this was the latest NLCs I have ever observed in my life. On Aug 10th/11th six of us teamed up for another watch at Ballintoy two days before maximum, after another BBQ inside a bat cave we spent the night sky watching from the 50 million year old Ballintoy stacks under a vibrant Milky Way where we observed 134 Perseids, this report documents both these nights with star trail imagery. One page report with 10 images and 1 time lapse video. - REPORT.

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