Virginia creepers are turning red, evening light drops noticeably, a chilled breeze tosses leafs around the garden . Thoughts of winter constellations and log fires warm my heart as we lean towards autumn. Magnificent Orion is slowly making a return with its extremely detailed nebula, a sketching target of mine. Once several years ago I saw it in a very dark sky , the detail was outstanding even in my 8 inch dob. I observed what looked like cracks in the molecular cloud, it was so totally mesmerizing however my view was soon eliminated by fog creeping up and over me . A drawing to look forward to attempting as M42 is truly special. We look from our gardens at a place where stars are born . Observing M42 we also look back in time about 1,500 light years. The future and the past combined , a wonderful sight, a complex drawing.
My hopes are for a comet in outburst similar to 17/P Holmes in 2007. Perhaps a supernova will grace our eyes with wonder . Anything can happen , the observable universe is vast, populated with star making nebula, magical moons and a unique beauty to constantly lift your spirit. So if you are an armchair astronomer with just a passing interest , perhaps the following information will get you outside a little more often.
Stellarium is a free real-time sky software. It shows you the sky above your head from any place on Earth at any time , past, present or future. It's marvellous for planning to share the sky with others in particular for observing the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. If I am sharing Jupiter's moons at a public session it would be my habit to consult Stellarium and do a drawing of the positions of the moons at the projected time of the star party. When people look through my telescope at Jupiter I can then name the visible moons as they see them and offer a description of the moons along with the history of Galileo's discoveries.
For me one of the best features is the active real-time tool which links to the (MPC) Minor Planet Centre to enable you to choose a visible comet and include it in the software.
Here is how you do it in step by step order
Firstly make sure your clock and calendar on your computer are correct and that the location you are observing from is set to a city near you in the location window of the software. The software is defaulted to Paris so unless you live in Paris you need to change the location for yourself. ( see video below)
Including a comet in Stellarium
- Open the Configuration window = Press F2 on your laptop
- Click on the Plug In tab then on the left hand side scroll down and click on Solar System Editor
- Click Configure , then click Solar System Tab
- Click Import orbital elements from MPC
- In List choose select type Comets
- Under select a source choose MPC list of observable comets
- Click Get orbital elements
- Choose a comet that is bright or becoming bright . ( use other sources for that such as Heavens Above )
- Choose add the object
- Close the configuration window
- Press F3 on your laptop , the Search window will pop up
- Type the comets name exactly as it was in the MPC list
- You comet will be pinpointed
Now the comet and its projected movements across the sky will be in your software and it will also be at the end of your eyes binoculars or your telescope when you get off that sofa and look up.
If you are unfamiliar with comets or how to know if one is in your sky you can follow the information provided by Heavens Above or many other online resources.
As an educator I would never assume that everyone is familiar with downloading or using this software. So I made these two videos below to assist armchair astronomers and teachers during an MSc in Education Training Management (eLearning) program I attended at Dublin City University.