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February 1st 2023

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF Passes Earth/Viewing Prospects - UPDATE

(Above) Captured by infamous comet imager Michael Jaeger on January 31st. L-2x60sec RGB 90/90/90sec 11" RASA QHy600

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is making its closest pass by Earth today (Feb 1st) at over 42 million km or 0.24 AU. I've been observing the comet with several telescopes on every clear night available with particular attention focused on the pre-dawn hours (5am to 6am) when the comet was highest in the sky. I was particularly fascinated by the continuous change in the visual aspect and position angles of the three tails which was clearly evident over the course of several nights. During the moonless period I observed the anti-tail at 1.5 degrees (suspected longer) and the principle dust tail at 2.5 degrees using my 10" F/5 reflector with 32mm 2" SWA eyepiece.

The coma exhibited jets with long streamers extending into the tails with enhancements on the sunward side. Of particular interest was when the anti-tail and main dust tail became connected by a bridge of comet dust on the western side which gave the overall impression of a broad fan or delta form. I observed the comet with the naked eye as a hazy patch of light and even noted a subtle green hue, the dust tail was glimpsed without optical aid as an elongation to the N. At one stage I could see the comet with the naked eye with a first quarter moon 30 degrees high in the sky, an observation since confirmed by John C. McConnell. Most observers rated the comet between mag +5 to +4.6, however my own estimate was mag +4.5 using the naked eye.

During my most recent observation at 00.30 UT on February 1st using an 8" F/6.3 S.Cass with a bright gibbous moon in the sky I could see three jets in the coma and was impressed to see rapid motion of the comet relative to background stars, at one stage the coma swallowed up a star, the false nucleus passed close to the star, then the star re-emerged into the south section of the coma over a period of minutes. This almost felt like real time motion in the 26mm eyepiece, it really brought home the reality of a icy comet passing by the Earth, a real physical thing out there, amazing to experience.

(Above) Finder chart to February 25th from Seiichi Yoshida. Also check the real time position on Heavensabove.com

At the time of writing ZTF is in the circumpolar sky and now visible all night long, evening and morning, well placed high in the sky in the north. Use Ursa Major as a guide, the comet will trek rapidly through Camelopardalis, then into Auriga, on Feb 5th-7th it will pass near Capella then into Taurus by mid month when it will be in the same vicinity as planet Mars which should make for a nice viewing experience. Also don't forget to observe the Grab Nebula (M1) in the same area.

The comet will be receding from the Earth and Sun and will gradually fade however it should still be in the mag +5 to +6 range throughout Feb then dropping to mag +7 later in the month. This is still fairly bright, the comet is and will be a binocular object (try 10x50mm binos) and small telescopes and will be easy to see, it will show up as a fuzzy spot in wide angle and 50mm lenses using a DSLR. At the moment the approaching full moon is a real problem but the comet still stands out fairly well with optical aid. After full moon (Feb 5th) the evening sky will once again present a dark window for observing which will increase in length every night so the next moonless period will be a great time to watch the comet sail out of the inner solar system never to be seen by Human eyes again.

Enjoy the comet, find it in binoculars or your telescope, sketch it, take images and enjoy these always welcome visitors to our skies, remember it was last seen 53,000 years ago when Neanderthals walked the Earth, by or own relatives. The comet will be flung back into the outer solar system into a new long period orbit and will never be seen by any life on Earth again so make the most of this pleasant comet. ZTF makes for a good training object, use it to polish your observing skills or to introduce a new observer into the world of comets. Perhaps in the near future we will get treated to a truly spectacular comet - we are long overdue!

Binevenagh Snow Storm - UPDATE

Sorry for the lack of updates, I had a computer problem which resulted in having to leave the PC in for repair and I literally only have it back now. I was snow chasing on January 17th, my first chase of 2023, a day of Arctic air, convection with a risk of thundersnow and heavy snow showers. Long story short, I spent the day chasing from first light, Glenshane Pass, Dungiven, I then hooked up with Nigel McFarland in Limavady where the snow was VERY heavy then we spent the day chasing along the north coast looking for cells, snow curtains or anything photogenic.

The problem was that there was no light, literally no sunshine which was a surprise with Polar air mass convection, also low grey clouds hid all the cells so we got no convective structures. It snowed so heavy and often that I never got the drone in the air all day and hadn't taken a single image with the camera, it was close to being a photogenic bust. Then suddenly, 30 min's before sunset, the snow storm stopped for a brief interval and I got the new DJI Mavic 3 Classic in the air for its maiden snow flight and first real world test. I ended up having a fantastic flight around Binevenagh, it was covered in fresh snow and had low cloud scudding across the summit while in the distance dark snow curtains cascaded across the ocean. I shot still images and video footage, the above is one of my favourite images from the day, I have to say I was very impressed by the four thirds sensor, the dynamic range and low light performance and battery life, it definitely took on the challenge and excelled when I needed it to, a wonderful camera.

I landed just as the next snow storm started and that was it for the rest of the evening, the drive home was so mentally demanding in the snow and ice that I was exhausted when I got home, however it was worth it for this scene and to introduce the new drone to the white gold. I have a few more images to edit so will likely do my first image report of the year soon.

Spectacular Hoar Frost Formations In Co. Tyrone During Severe Cold Spell - December 13th & 14th 2022 - NEW REPORT

Spectacular Hoar Frost Image Report

This sudden two week cold spell almost made up for the entire year of weather action thanks to an Arctic high pressure freezer event which brought dry but daily sub zero temperatures across UK and Ireland during a two week period bringing the lowest temperatures for years when Co. Tyrone dropped to -10C. Episodes of freezing fog in dead calm conditions introduced the perfect set-up for widespread and rare hoar frost scenes. This report covers two days of Winter chasing on December 13th & 14th 2022 in the Greencastle and Omagh areas where the best hoar frost scenes I've ever witnessed since 2010 took place. The trees were covered in hoar frost over 2cm thick with needle structures which in conjunction with bright Winter sunshine and blue skies made for perfect photography conditions. Two page report with 29 images and 2 video clips. - PAGE 1 & PAGE 2.

Nightskyhunter Interview On 'Limitless Pursuits' Website - NEWS

Just a quick update to let you know that Nightskyhunter has been featured on 'Limitless Pursuits' website featuring an article about my passion for the sky. The magazine contacted me asking if I would like to take part, which I did, after all the website is an extremely inspiring place featuring interviews with Snow Boarders, Athletes, Parkour champions etc. The interview begins with the event which sparked my interest in the night sky then evolves into talk about my first telescopes and storm chasing. Check out the full article HERE.

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Image Reports - Archive

N. Ireland Storm Chasing

Astronomy is not the only subject I'm interested in, check out my 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, aurora displays and exciting nature related photo shoots.

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Martin McKenna