tisdag 27 september 2011

Solar Storm !

A severe geomagnetic storm hit the Earth`s atmosphere yesterday and caused strong northern lights that could be seen far south of the latitudes where auroras are normally seen!

Reports of strong aurora-activity started to come in from many places in both southern Europe and North America already on 26 September, but here on Kvaløya outside Tromsø in Norway, the rain-clouds were stubborn and did not allow any observations. Tonight, however, some gaps in the cloud-cover revealed some truely spectacular auroras above. Not in a long while have I seen such colourful auroras with coronas in deep-purple, blood-red and intense-green!

Below are a few still-shots from various time-lapse sequences that I will hopefully be able to post here soon. More pictures and information about the current spaceweather situation can be seen here: http://www.spaceweather.com/archive.php?view=1&day=28&month=09&year=2011

A gap in the rain-clouds!


A five-second exposure around midnight local time revealed a stunning sight.
Jupiter and the Pleiades open cluster can be glimpsed in the bottom of the picture


Intense northern lights corona

måndag 26 september 2011

Hawk Owl / Haukugle

After an exceptionally good year for Norwegian Lemmings (Lemmus lemmus), 2011 will be remembered by many as one of the truely spectacular "lemming-years". For predators, like for example various owls and other birds of prey, the increased abundance of rodents has been, and still is, nothing less than a feast!

During a day-trip in Troms this weekend, I could happily notice that some areas were still crowded with voles running around among the berries. Hawk Owls (Surnia ulula)  and  Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) were enjoying the dinner table in the beautiful autumn-landscape.

Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)


Hawk Owl


Hawk Owl taking off

Driving through the autumn landscape

Rough-legged buzzard (Buteo lagopus)

Troms by autumn is beautiful


Hawk Owl

tisdag 20 september 2011

News from the night

Last night, the heavy cloud-cover that has been parked over Northern Norway lately finally permitted an opportunity to look at the night sky.

The recent supernova that erupted in our galactic neighbourhood (in the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101) that I reported on earlier (http://nordlysfoto.blogspot.com/2011/08/supernova-explosion-in-pinwheel-galaxy.html), could be seen visually without problem even in modest equipment (in my case a spotting scope for birds at lowest magnification (20x). The moon, 50% of full, washed away much of the light of the galaxy itself (which I could only see using averted vision), but the supernova itself proved easier to see than the galaxy.

SN2011fe in M101 - 19 September 2011

Supernovae occur when stars collapse at the end of their lifes and trigger an enourmous explosion that may outshine an entire galaxy for a period of time. This particular supernova, designated SN2011fe or PTF11kly, has now climbed to approximately 10th magnitude according to recent estimates. The last time such a close-by bright supernova could be seen was back in 1972, and only a handful of such bright and close SN`s are known since the middle-ages, so and if you want to see this rare sight, now is the time before it fades! Right now, the exploded star shines brighter than it`s host galaxy and will probably stay bright and stable for yet some time to come.

How to find it and to see it? It is well placed in the sky for us living in the northern hemisphere. The host galaxy (M101) can be found close to the perhaps most well-known star-pattern in the sky - The Big Dipper also known as The Plough or the Saucepan (Ursa major). Once you have located the Big Dipper, finding the place for the supernova is fairly easy, but you will need to let your eyes get dark-adapted before you give it a try. Stay outside in a dark place away from any artificial light sources for at least half an hour before giving it a try.

If you have a pair of binoculars, a spotting scope or a telescope, you should then go to the last to stars in the handle of the Big Dipper. Then, imagine a triangle with the two last stars forming the base and the galaxy with the SN forming the top as shown in this map of the Big Dipper: http://irishastro.org.uk/m101supernova.html. At the top of the imaginary triangle, a faint smudge (being the galaxy) can be seen and the supernova should be clearly visible as a "new" bright white star. A good way of finding the SN is to take a picture of the area - the SN really stands out even in short exposures.

Inverted image of M101

Above is a picture from yesterday evening (19 Sept 2011) taken with a Nikon DSLR with a 300mm lens, exposure time 30 seconds at ISO 1250. To reduce noise, I have combined several 30 sec exposures, but the SN is so bright that it would easily be picked up in even shorter exposures.

For the most recent images and reports, this is a good page: http://www.rochesterastronomy.org/sn2011/sn2011fe.html

Can`t find the bloody thing anyway?

Don`t despair, there`s plenty of other wonders in the night sky. Maybe it was because I have had a dull grey rain-cloud the size of a galaxy over my head lately, but wherever you look in the night sky, there`s plenty to enjoy!

Early in the evening, the moon shone over the autumn coloured landscape with the Milky Way high in the evening sky, later to be joined by some faint aurorae.

The Milky Way


Autumn evening with the Milky Way and Auroras

While the night grew older, the Moon climbed higher with Jupiter shining brilliant by its side, I tried to see what had happened to the comet (C/2009 P1 Garradd) since the last time I had clear skies. Not really expecting to see it with binoculars on a bright night like this, I was surprised how easy it was to find. Now in the constellation of Hercules, the comet keeps wandering over the night sky: http://cometchasing.skyhound.com/comets/2009_P1.pdf, and was a delight to see against the rich star fields. Below is a single-30 sec -exposure of the comet with a 300mm lens and a DSLR.

Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd

Around midnight, I decided to call it the night and stumbled around for a while in the backyard before hitting the bed. Autumn nights are beautiful, but so are autumn days - and the Moon can be seen all day among the yellow autumn leaves.

The backyard around midnight

Morning Moon

lördag 3 september 2011

Pilot Whale - Grindhval

Today, me and some friends had an unusual meeting with a Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas) on the outside Kvaløya not far from Tromsø.

Breaching pilot whale at Kvaløya, Norway

Just like their close relatives, the Orcas (Orcinus orca), pilot whales live in matrilineal family units, which means that they are headed/leaded by a female, usually the mother. They live in highly stable and social pods (groups)  where both the males and the females remain with their mothers during all their life. Mating occurs outside the pod and males typically leave their mothers pod temporarily for mating, but after mating they return to their faimily pod.

Pilot whales are usually very active and behaviors like spyhopping and lobtailing is often seen. Breaching, where the whale leaps clear out of the water, is however rare, but occurs in younger animals.

Pilot whale playing in the water

The pilot whale outside Kvaløya was alone and we can only speculate why this animal was all on its own in the inner part of one of the fjords, and on top it all, doing some spectacular leaps out of the water, but who can resist jumping in the water on a beautiful summers day? Photo-identification data will perhaps answer this questions and I obtained images of the whales left side of the dorsal fin which will be used for identification of this individual.

By studying the shape and markings of the dorsal fin, we can learn much about the biology of pilot whales.

Pilot whales are large anilmals and may reach 4-6 m and 2-3 tonnes

When whales are seen close to human settlements it is unfortunately often the case that various speed-boats go out for a better look, and stressing the animals. A recent sad example of this could be seen in the town of Bergen earlier this year where the pictures of people chasing pilot whales broke my heart: http://www.aftenbladet.no/innenriks/Hval-svmmer-i-flokk-mot-Bergen-2837692.html

Today, several curious boats could be seen in the area, but they all stayed at a good distance from the whale and did not chase the animal - this was almost as encouraging as seeing the animal itself. Not only does it ensure a better whale-watching experience and heavily reduce the stress for the animal, but sets a good example about how to behave around whales - thank you all who kept your distance and noise level down today (03 September 2011)!

All pictures above were taken from land, and for an amazing enounter with whales, you don`t have to go out at sea and stress the animals! With a little patience, they will come to you...

fredag 2 september 2011

Explosion of colours / Farge-eksplosjon

The northern lights season couldn`t have started better! The show from yesterday night continued with full force tonight and offered some truely spectacular auroras - including some strong coronas in purple and green that painted the sky in the most amazing colours, patterns and formations:

Northern lights corona from Kvaløya outside Tromsø

The band of the auroras followed the band of the Milky Way

Watching the auroras from a small farm in the countryside

Deep-Sky Auroras - Magisk høstkveld i Nord-Norge

After yet another warm and sunny day here in Northern Norway, I went out yesterday evening simply to enjoy the beautiful night. The evenings are still warm, and as the sun sets, the trees on the mountain-slopes are glowing in yellow and red. We are in the middle of the beautiful time when summer turns to autumn.

Not long after sunset, the first brighter stars appeared in the night sky and Jupiter was shining like a bright beacon above Tromsø in the east. The red planet Mars could be seen above the mountains in the north and the Milky Way stretched across the deep-blue sky with the summer constellations still high.

As the skies got darker, the Andromeda Galaxy could be seen - a beautiful sight long-missed during the midnight-sun period. Around midnight, I pointed by binoculars to the rich Milky Way region where comet Garradd is currently to be found and was surprised that is was possible to see with simple binoculars.

At the same time, faint whisps and patches, like of smoke, could all of a sudden be seen high up, mostly right above my head or somewhat to the south-west. I pointed my camera, equipped with a wide-angle lens, to the greenish patches and took some exposures and was surprised when I saw what the camera had registered. Visually, it looked like very faint auroras without much structure, but my camera saw something else than me - deep sky auroras!

The Milky Way and deep-sky auroras

Deep-sky auroras is a display of northern lights that is hardly visible to the eye, but with the camera these auroras are far more impressive! As Dr. Tony Philips discribes "they appear at high latitudes when geomagnetic activity is low" and the connection can be seen on the leading web-page on space-weather: http://www.spaceweather.com/archive.php?view=1&day=02&month=09&year=2011

Auroras and the Milky Way

torsdag 1 september 2011

Comet in the night sky - Komet på natthimmelen!

Have you ever dreamed of seeing a beautiful comet graze across the night sky? Comets are, contrary to common belief, rather common. At any time many comets can be seen in the sky, but most of them are faint and only a few comets get bright enough to come within the reach of the naked eye or a simple pair of binoculars. Particularly bright comets, also known as "great comets" are rare and usually only one or two may be seen in a lifetime.

Right now, there is a relatively bright comet visible in the northern hemisphere. The comet is called C/2009 P1 Garradd and has steadily increased in brightness since its discovery in 2009. Currently around magnitude 7.5, the comet is now bright enough to see with relatively modest equipment. A pair of 8x40 binoculars or similar should be sufficient to see the comet from a dark site. During the autumn, the comet is expected to increase further in brightness and maybe reach naked eye visibility from dark sites.

Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd close to the "Coathanger" asterism on 04 September 2011

The comet is well placed in the sky. It is currently to be found right next to the famous Coathanger asterism in the constellation Vulpecula which lies between the more well known and bright constellations Cygnus and Aquila in the Milky Way band.

During September it will pass into the constellation Hercules where it will remain until February. The magazine Sky and Telescope has an excellent finder chart that will make it easy to locate where the comet is: http://media.skyandtelescope.com/documents/Garradd_Findr.pdf

Why not take the chance and go out and try to see one of the "best" comets of 2011. Despite bright skies here in Tromsø it was possible to observe it easily tonight with my 10x42 binoculars and as little as a 2 second exposure revealed the comet well. Visually it looked most like a small greenish fuzzball with moderate condensation.

I wish you all clear and dark skies and happy comet hunting !