Top Night Sky Stories of 2013: The Year in TWAN Photography

 

Review the most memorable night sky scenes of 2013 through the cameras of TWAN photographers; from bright comets to spectacular aurora displays, eclipses, meteor showers, and planetary conjunctions.

 

By Babak A. Tafreshi, published on 2013 December 31
Photos by: Anthony Ayiomamitis (July), Juan Carlos Casado (Aug/Nov/Dec), Alex Cherney (Feb), Fred Espenak (May), P-M Heden (April/July/Nov/Dec),
Tamas Ladanayi (June), Gernot Meiser (Sep), Kwon O Chul (Dec), Wally Pacholka (Aug), Stefan Seip (March), Babak Tafreshi (March), Yuichi Takasaka (Jan), Tunc Tezel (June/Sep/Nov), LeRoy Zimmerman (Dec)

 

January

 

The Quadrantids Meteor Shower peaks on January 4-5. Here several meteor photos of the shower are digitally stacked to create this image from Mount Fujii, Japan. The Quadrantids is a rich and one of the most active annual meteor showers, favored for northern hemisphere observers, but it is not as seen as other famous meteors showers because the peak intensity is very sharp, lasting only few hours and it happens in a cold time of the year. See TWAN collection of Quadrantid meteor shower here.

February

 

Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) appeared with long but faint tail in the southern hemisphere sky as captured here from the southern coast of Australia. See this timelapse video of Lemmon (and comet PanStarrs).
See TWAN unique collection of bright comets in the Earth sky: twanight.org/comet

March

 

Near the Northern Hemisphere's spring (vernal) equinox on March 20-21, solar magnetic fields are oriented in the right way to cause rips in Earth's magnetic field, allowing more of the sun's charged particles to reach our atmosphere. The resulting increase in solar winds on Earth often encourages spectacular aurora shows, but can also damage satellite technology and electrical grids on the ground. Here the northern lights swirls over a fjord in the Norwegian Sea. See more of TWAN aurora imagery on twanight.org/aurora

 

 

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) became visible to unaided eyes (though difficult in bright twilight) after reaching the closest distance to the sun. Here it appears in a telephoto view from Germany, sweeping away from the sun with the curving dust tail.

 

 

 

April

 

Almost like a double comet in the sky, Comet PanSTARRS appeared next to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) in early April, both visible to naked eyes like faint fuzzy clouds. Contrary to their apparent meeting the Andromeda Galaxy was 100 billion times further away (at the distance of 2.5 million light years). Bright comets are in our inner Solar System neighborhood. See more TWAN images of Comet Panstarrs.

 

 

 

May

 

Three bright planets Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter performed an enchanting celestial dance in the evening twilight. In late May the triple planetary cojunction formed a distinct triangular. But their proximity as seen from Earth was just an optical illusion, since the three planets are actually separated by hundreds of millions of kilometers. See TWAN Conjunction gallery for more examples of celestial gatherings.

 

 

 

June

The term "supermoon" is becoming very popular in media in the recent years. It describes a full moon that coincides with perigee. The photographed full moon of 2013 June 23 was the largest of the year. In contrary to what the word might resemble, the angular size of the moon does not change that much. It's not noticeable to inexperienced eyes compared to other full moons of the year. Supermoons hold a record in size anyhow and they are great occasions to bound public with the night sky. See more images of our cosmic neighbor at twanight.org/moon.

 

July

 

This is the month where the high northern latitude observers usually enjoy best displays of mysterious night-shining clouds known as the Noctilucent clouds or NLCs that appear electric blue in the presence of polar twilight. They lie near the edge of space, reflecting sunlight from about 80 kilometers above Earth's surface. They can be spotted above the polar and sub-polar regions (and occasionally from lower latitudes) between May and September. Watch a unique collection of 2013 NLC appearance in motion over Sweden.  See more of TWAN atmospheric images.

 

August

 

The Perseids is the best known annual meteor shower that peaks on August 11-12. This stunningly bright fireball is caught lighting up the California sky. The Perseids peak when the Earth slams into a giant cloud of debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle along its orbit. While most meteors zipping across the skies are no bigger than a grain of sand, fireballs like the this one can be anywhere from the size of a grapefruit to the size of a basketball. See TWAN diverse collection of meteor photos on http://twanight.org/meteor

 

 

 

The erupting star designated as Nova Del 2013 in constellation Delphinus reached magnitude 4 in mid-August and remained visible to unaided eyes for few weeks.

 

 

 

 

September

 

Moon and Venus pairing is a night sky classic beauty but when the conjunction appears next to bright summer Milky Way, the view becomes stunning under dark skies. On the evening of September 8 the pair was also accompanied by Saturn. See more TWAN photos of Moon and Venus pairing.

 

 

 

 

 

Near the time of autumnal equinox the aurora activity peaked up again. Here the dancing lights are pictured deep in nature in a calm peaceful night of Hessdalen valley, central Norway.

 

 

November

 

On 3rd November the shadow of the moon brought a short total solar eclipse to the Earth that crossed Africa. This wide-angle view is from northwest Uganda where totality shaded the wild nature in darkness for just 20 seconds. See TWAN collection of lunar and solar eclipses in the past 3 decades at twanight.org/eclipse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planet Venus, the second brightest object in the Earth sky, appears next to globular cluster M22 in Sagittarius, another notable apparent paring of the year between two widely distanced objects. The cluster is located some 10,000 light years away, almost a billion times further away than Venus.

 


 

The newsmaking Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) puzzled astronomers and space enthusiasts who anticipated the arrival of a possible Great Comet for almost a year. The icy body didn't survived the close approach to the Sun on Nov. 28 (see this video of ISON's life end made of SOHO spacecraft images. Pictured above is almost the last appearance of ISON in the Earth sky only 4 days before death in the solar corona. See more TWAN images of Comet ISON.

 

 

 

 

When comet ISON disappeared in the sun's glow another naked-eye comet became the stargazers target. Comet Lovejoy C/2013 R1, photographed here from a historic castle in Sweden, displayed a green-glowing coma and a long faint tail that remained attractive to the end of the year. See more TWAN images of Comet Loevjoy.

December

On the 2nd December a "guest" new star, a nova, erupted next to the brightest stellar beacons of the southern constellation Centaurus, Alpha and Beta Centauri. By mid-December it peaked at about magnitude 3.3 becoming the brightest nova of this millennium so far. This image from Australia is made two weeks later when the nova was a 5th magnitude star, still visible to naked-eye. Known as Nova Centauri 2013 this erupting star is an interacting binary system composed of a dense, hot white dwarf and cool, giant companion star. Material from the companion star builds up as it falls onto the white dwarf's surface triggering a cataclysmic blast that can increase the brightness of the system in the order of tens of thousands.

 

 

Venus reaches its brightest in early December, a dazzling evening "star" almost 16 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky. Venus gradually developed a beautiful crescent by the month's end (visible with a small telescope or mid-sized binocular) before reaching solar conjunction in January 2014. See TWAN photos of Venus crescent: 1, 2, 3



 

 

 

Aurora activity peaks again in December by arrival of a minor solar storm that made magnificent light displays in the high altitude skies. Pictured from Alaska this sequence of bursting aurora appears in panoramic photos which are vertically paneled to present a unique art form, painted by nature.
 


 


Geminids, the last meteor shower of the year, is very often the best. With peak activity on December 13-14 bright moonlight vanished fainter meteors this year for most of the night but a short window of dark sky before morning twilight allowed the TWAN photographer to capture the shower peak in the dark skies of Canaries. On the right Comet Lovejoy is captured in a lucky telephoto shot together with a streaking Geminid meteor. See more TWAN images of Geminids meteor shower.