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NEPTUNE 2015, 2016 & 2017

Neptune is the outermost planet in our Solar System – now that Pluto is no longer considered to be a planet…although the recent NASA mission to Pluto has certainly added enormously to the knowledge of this particular member of the Solar System!

For planetary imagers like us Neptune is the ultimate challenge: even at very high magnification it appears as just a tiny disk through our telescope…to achieve even the most shadowy details on this planet is an outstanding achievement – hardly surprising when you consider that it is 4.5 billion kilometres away!!! (4,503,443,661 kms from the Sun)

At times it is even possible (under very good conditions) to pick up enormous storms raging in Neptune’s upper atmosphere…these appear as bright, white spots which are plotted for their progress, with the information being used by professional astronomers to assist their own studies…

Note:               Some images on this page are “clickable” and will open up as “full scale images” in a new tab.
                        Depending on the size of your monitor you may have to click again on this image to enlarge it.
                        All the images should respond favourably to the use of the “zoom” tool of your browser page if
                        you want to up the scale further!

NEPTUNE 2017

31st October 2017

This night we managed 7 iR610nm captures, a couple of r-filter plus an r-g-b capture which made for a satisfying night

Our persistence (aka my stubborn-headed obstinacy ) had paid off with a wealth of detail on Neptune's disk - some of the best outcomes in the many sessions with this planet over the last few years.

The first composite image displaying 4 of the iR610 captures (as well as the unsharpened RAW stacks for each) clearly shows a large degree of homogeneity between the darker & lighter markings on the planet's disk for each capture...& the bright EQ feature with a following, less bright & somewhat more obscure "partner" are well-defined over about 2 hours of Neptune's rotation...

Something we like as a challenge when imaging Neptune, but only in good seeing & which we were afforded this night also...are rgb captures that reveal storm features - all the detail is in the red channel which is shown below the rgb here: despite the green channel feed being probably the best capture, nothing was evinced in either it of the blue channel - an expected outcome tbh.

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Here's the (reversing) animated gif of the 7 iR610 captures - followed by a simple 2-frame animation of the WinJUPOS-integrated captures from the 1st & 2nd recordings & the 4th & 5th...

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October 20th 2017

This session (at home) we tracked down Neptune & started focusing when the clouds swarmed in - we sat there & we sat there - although it is true to say that I walked off into the darker regions of the backyard to check the sky area from which all the clouds were coming - & let out a few expletives.

The ephemeris predictions suggested the EQ spot would be on the C.M. about UT 09:42 but those clouds just kept on rolling through: by 11:45 we realised it was going to be touch & go for the spot to still be on the visible face...so despite losing about half of each avi to complete cloud cover as well as significant dimming in other sections of each 9 minute capture, we pulled the trigger.

It's not called "lucky imaging" for nothing & we were lucky to pull a 1000+ frames from each capture run at good quality...lamenting what "might have been" but capturing the bright EQ spot by the skin of our teeth as it started to disappear at the P limb...

Certainly if the clouds had not been there (& it was the seeing that was predicted to be average at best - the sky was meant to be devoid of any clouds!) we would not only have captured many more runs but no doubt been able to take r-g-b sequences as well as possibly some longer iR wavelength captures in addition - but we're grateful for what we got for sure...

Here are the 3 images which show the collimation image as well as another inset displaying each RAW stack...

The position of Triton is problematical imo - with 2 captures so close together as these were it is simple to "shift" one of the 2 Tritons WinJupos generates when they are so close together to the mid-point between each one...more stack integrations...& uneven timespans between stacks/captures makes this artificial re-positioning much more prone to errors...

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14th October 2017

Here we imaged from home, a rare event but the weather conditions suggested some possibly decent seeing - but one look at the defocused Lambda Aquarii dispelled that possibility!

This was somewhat surprising because of a low Jetstream & not overly fast 10-metre winds...but as some readers will know we don't have a lot of luck down here near the beach where we live most of the time.

I persisted with the attempt to collimate as best I could despite my initial thoughts of just packing it in...we'd attempted imaging earlier in the week but despite much better seeing caught nothing on the visible face of Neptune...

Pat & I agreed when we thought collimation was not going to be advanced past what took a good 1/2 hour or more of secondary fiddling to accomplish - then ran 4 capture avi's about 20 minutes apart - the "on the fly" processing which we normally do revealing a very bright EQ spot in the first capture, boosting our enthusiasm no end..!

The first 2 avi's were the best so I settled on a simple 2-frame animation to display the motion of said bright spot...the 2nd capture being the better of these 2 & the one used for measurement purposes.

I've already emailed Ricardo & Imke where I again raised the notion that perhaps something deeper in Neptune's atmosphere is generating these upper-atmosphere disturbances (which Ricardo acknowledged were not as hair-brained as might be) but it really does seem as if there has been a plethora of bright features over the last few months in near-equatorial latitudes where the winds dissipate anything very quickly...

It would not be correct to presume that there is one long-lasting feature - we searched extensively afterwards for the June10th to July14th feature we discovered & which was the subject of Keck news releases...where Imke agreed with me that this particular EQ spot had "probably dissipated" - but the sequence of spots imaged since in roughly identical latitudes does beg the question above imho...

At the very least it appears as if the EQ latitudes have become a region of activity these last few months...

Enough amateur speculation for now - here is the 2nd capture (the best) followed by the simple 2-frame animation of the first & second captures showing this apparently very bright near-EQ spot/feature.

And here is a looping feed of the 2nd capture (the best - & the RAW stack shown above also) where I animate the best 12 frames in the stack of 1181 frames used for the finished image...only 1 loop per post as these are the .png's exported straight out of AS!3..

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30th September 2017

Here we took 4 captures of Neptune with quite a bit of stagger between each one...we now use a very long dew shield which gives us ample time for capture sequences without the corrector plate fogging - & I now just direct the hair-dryer down the barrel of this d/shield without bothering to remove it after each capture...it takes longer to cool this way but is a lot easier! :)

Anyway, looks like Neptune is displaying some obvious upper atmosphere disturbances, measuring 2 separate capture stacks reveals that the most obvious & largest bright spot is on or very close to the EQ - not suggesting it is the one we originally discovered back in June & which later was the subject of a Keck release...but certainly this hitherto latitude with its very fierce winds is looking as if it has become active: & the 4-frame reversing animation below shows it quite clearly.

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9th September 2017

Last year we seemed to image bright spots constantly throughout the 2016 apparition & although our captures of the large EQ spot on 2 occasions as well as a couple of others since were satisfying, we are getting more misses than hits lately...

The animation below of 5 frames (reversing) does seem to "suggest" one spot just below the EQ in 2 frames but it is pretty vague to say the least: I measured it in the best of these 2 frames but it is nowhere near as substantial (or substantiated!) as the EQ one nor a couple of others we have picked up this year..

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29th August 2017

Since we first discovered this very large & bright spot near Neptune's equator back on June 10th this year & imaged it again on July 14th...which was the subject of a Keck release on Neptune when the pros there imaged it on 26th June & 2nd July, we have been patiently waiting for another chance to image it again.

As the Keck release has explained, with winds around 1000km/hr at the equator the theory was that this atmospheric feature would have to be well-anchored in the lower atmosphere to be able to exist without being blown apart in fairly short time...

So, with rotten imaging weather for nearly 6 weeks we had to bide our time to hope to image it again: with possible opportunities this last week Pat & I headed out to Sedan in the Murray Mallee to see what we could capture.

We imaged on the 23rd, 24th & 25th August & again on 29th...& although we recorded features on 2 nights (23rd & 25th) "alas!" the Great EQ spot was nowhere to be seen.

 

On the last night of imaging (29th) we again (like the 24th) could evince nothing tangible on Neptune's disk, only picking up subliminal light & dark shadings moving with Neptune's rotation...

Although a comprehensive coverage of Neptune's globe was imaged over the 4 nights, spanning 7 days, that due to the high drift rate estimated for anything on the EQ (3.5°/hr) it is quite conceivable that the spot might have been playing "hide & seek" for us & eluding our captures regardless - so the hunt must continue.

Here is the animated sequence from that last night. (29th August)

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25th August 2017

The 25th  we picked up what appeared to be a somewhat distended bright area along the Northern limb of the planet in the only 2 captures we were able to take before clouds swarmed in to stop the session: this was a real disappointment because the first capture started off with high hopes, especially as Triton could be easily seen in the FireCapture live view feed during capture, a fairly rare occurrence.

Here is a 2-frame animation of those 2 captures, the measurement of the bright area & one of these 2 frames...plus a short looping animation of the live feed to display the presence of Triton in the live feed. (about 8mm in from the right hand edge of the animation window & exactly at 3 o'clock wrt Neptune)

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August 23rd 2017

On the 23rd a bright spot could be seen moving with Neptune's rotation, to us clear evidence that it was an actual feature but at a much more Southerly latitude than the EQ spot.

I measured this at approximately -39°S, Longitude 107° for the UT 15:49 capture...since posting this information I also combined the 5 captures in WinJupos with a very accurate alignment of Triton & arrived at very similar figures for the WJ UT16:27.

These 2 measurements, the 2 capture images (one a WJ integration) & the animated sequence are shown immediately below here: incidentally, in 1 or 2 other imagers' images posted very recently, a seemingly "twin" spot feature has been seen in a Southerly latitude - keen observers will note that the first frame in the animation from the 23rd below displays what appears to be a twin-feature - with one of these disappearing around the P limb after this first frame...

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14th July 2017

Here the RAW stacks clearly display the bright storm spot without any sharpening at all...the 3 iR610nm images with the slightly sharpened stacks above the RAW stacks - you can also see Triton in all pairs if you look hard.

Further below there is a slight "rollicking" in the 150% animation because I could not quite get everything perfect - some atmospheric image shifting or some such causing this - but still a very satisfactory confirmation...there was quite a strong wind blowing but fortunately the van was shielding the scope from the worst of this

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10th June 2017

Here's the Neptune images from the 10th June - an iR610nm image, a Red channel & the animation of the 3 iR610's we captured showing that Northern storm spot...

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NEPTUNE 2016

23rd November 2016

Neptune at 45° but there was the feature again...so pleased to learn that Neptune's storm activity appears to be ongoing despite the lateness in the apparition

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16th November 2016

As noted above the Neptune captures were frustrating - we always like to confirm our "storm data" with multiple frames & animated sequences but this was impossible in the seeing presented: with Neptune culminating before dark it really is drawing towards the end & making it very difficult now for what has been an excellent apparition for us

I eschew heavy contrast & sharpening on Neptune, as the disk springs to life with all manner of artefacts then...but still, there does seem to be some activity at almost subliminal levels on these disks...

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2nd and 3rd November 2016

The current Neptune apparition is drawing towards its end, with the planet culminating before 9pm when the Sun is now setting just before 8pm

We picked up a Northern BWC which we're fairly certain we (& others!) have recorded more than once already this current apparition...& if not the self-same one then others must be being generated in very similar positions... :hmm:

Another BWC (or more) can be very vaguely seen in the images/animation but the high Northern BWC right on the limb is quite distinct throughout the 3 frames/images of the gif animation...

 

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5th October 2016

The images below were captured on the 4th & 5th October: “BWC’s” or Bright White Complexes is the name given to the bright white spots on Neptune’s cloud-surface that signify storms in this planet’s upper atmosphere.

We were successful in detecting these BCW’s in our images on both these 2 nights as the still & animated images below indicate.

Of special satisfaction to us is that for these images & those taken on 21st September (further down this page) we increased the “magnification” or “image scale” (also known as “focal length”) to create larger planetary images during capture.

The results of 21st September showed us this could be done very successfully - but for these October images we ALSO lowered the exposure rates we used in capturing the videos AND ran the captures at faster frame rates…all this in pretty poor “seeing” conditions..! ;)

This might sound simple enough, but increasing the apparent size of these tiny-looking planetary disks that are so far away with additional magnification…as well as the other alterations to camera settings effectively makes Neptune look little more than a faint “fuzz-ball” on the laptop screen

This makes focusing very demanding (focus is extremely important with Neptune & Uranus) but also for when we “tune” the telescope immediately before any imaging session (known as “collimating”) which becomes even harder in poor seeing…the 4th image below (animated) shows just what Neptune looks like onscreen when we focus & start the video capture in such conditions…& the 5th image below shows the appearance of the star we collimate on in those conditions – for us it taught us some very valuable new ideas on how to use this camera to best effect as well as providing much satisfaction with these outcomes in weather etc situations that were so tough..! J

Remember the advice about clicking on images! J

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Here is the animation from the 5th October showing at least 2 bright spots (BWC’s) as the move with the rotation of Neptune during the night – Triton can also be seen in this animated image.

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4th October 2016

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Animated image showing a “BWC” or bright storm spot appearing to move as Neptune rotates – Triton (Neptune’s largest moon) can also be seen as it moves around the planet for a small section of its’ orbit.

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The animation above is another display of exactly what Neptune looked like after we focused & during the capture…the animation below shows just what the star we collimated on looked like when we decided that we had tuned the telescope to the best we could in such demanding conditions..!

If you compare these 2 to the similar ones further up for the 5th you might be able to see that these here were in slightly better conditions than those for the 5th October..!

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21st September 2016

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The animations above & below were made from the Neptune image captures on 21st September in good (but not excellent) seeing conditions that night: we managed to capture numerous videos which were made into still images & these (reversing) animations were created from them…even though we originally capture video images you cannot make an animation directly from these videos…something I will explain briefly a bit below. ;)

A “not-so-bright” white spot can be seen high up on the left-hand side of the disk of Neptune (about 11:30 as a clock position) & a very interesting “twin-complex” of 2 bright spots nearer the disk’s mid-sections.

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Here are the stacked images from the 6 videos we captured that night. For each video we select the best frames, stack & enhance these “best frames” then create a single end-image from this “processing.”

For the animated sequences you see regularly throughout the website we then use each of these final stacked end-images as the frames for an animated gif…the 6 below were turned into the animated sequences just above. J

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This is how Neptune looked onscreen while we were capturing one of 6 captures we made that night…..it does not take too much to see that the appearance of the planet onscreen was far better on this night than for the examples further up this page for 4th & 5th October – this is all due to the much better seeing for the 21st September..! J

This is NOT an animation like those I have described just above…the one below& those higher up this page are actual “onscreen” video sequences – or rather small “cuts” from the full videos – that show EXACTLY what we deal with when focusing & recording this planet…to show more than a small cut or section of each entire video would take up far too much file-space on the pc..! J

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24th August 2016

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13th August 2016

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14th July 2016

Our 2nd imaging attempt of Neptune for 2016…we were hoping to image the bright storm spots we had imaged on 11th June (further down the page) but for some reason they were not recorded in our image…but we did image another bright spot/area on Neptune’s disk.

Due to the scarcity of Neptune images so early in the apparition we have not had any confirmation from professionals or other amateurs – but because we recorded this bright spot in 5 consecutive image captures we are very confident that it is a “real” feature. Below is an animation of the 3 best images, as well as each individual image from that night’s/morning’s session: in the animation you can see the movement of this “spot” as well as Triton’s motion as it orbits Neptune.

Storm spots on Neptune & Uranus can be quite ephemeral/temporary…..hopefully we can image this spot again, but that will depend upon numerous factors! ;)

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11th June 2016

On June 11th 2016 we captured our first 2016 image of Neptune & its main moon, Triton. A very cold, very early morning session but we were also very pleased to see 2 clear, bright spots on the tiny disk when we processed our captures. J

We sent these images off to a professional organisation in Europe that we collaborate with & got a very quick response back telling us that these 2 spots were indeed storms on Neptune.

They had been imaged by the Hubble orbiting telescope as well as a large professional scope in the Canary Islands not long before we captured these images – we were told that the reason why they had not sent out any “alerts” to amateur imagers about them was because they considered they were too difficult for amateurs to image so early in the apparition: we were of course very flattered to realise we had done so - & confounded their expectations of what amateurs were capable of..! J

A “false colour” image is displayed below the iR610nm (infrared) image, which appears as the black & white (mono) image directly below this text.

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NEPTUNE 2015

 

For the imaging of Neptune (& Uranus) in 2015, advent of the ASI224MC colour camera became a literal “game-changer” in that it could also be used extremely effectively with infra-red filters to record details on these 2 planets much more easily - due to the camera’s high sensitivity & very low noise characteristics!

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2015 was the first year we attempted to image Neptune & in mid-September we were very successful – picking up several image sets that revealed bright spots, as well as some of the banding etc on Neptune’s disk! J

Some of these storms had been recorded by other imagers in the preceding weeks but a couple visible in this image are considered “new.”

One storm spot (the brighter, whiter spots on the disk) has not been picked up in any images except those taken with large professional telescopes…in fact the HST (Hubble Space Telescope) imaged Neptune around the same time as the images to the left & below & confirmed our own images’ accuracies almost “point-by-point” in comparison to the HST – as one professional explained the situation..! J

This colour image to the left combines an image using the camera in colour mode plus an overlay using an infra-red filter (iR610nm) to reveal the details visible in the iR. It was created in a very similar manner to the images at the top of the Uranus webpage & gives as accurate a depiction as to what the planet might look like if we could view it through a very large telescope on a night of exceptional seeing conditions…remembering that like the Uranus images it relied on the iR (infra-red) recordings to reveal what are in fact enormous storms in Neptune’s upper atmosphere!

This is the mono equivalent of the preceding image – only the infra-red filter data is used to create the image…thus it is mono. (ie, black & white)

To give viewers an idea of the challenges in imaging this planet, the top image in both the colour & mono ones here display the actual size of Neptune’s disk on our computer screen when we capture these images – but none of the detail shown here is revealed at that time & we must rely upon getting that little disk/circle of not-very-bright-light & very fuzzy appearance to appear as sharp as possible around the edges whilst focusing: if we do this very well then we “might” be very lucky & get the sort of images shown here – if there is storm activity visible, like there was when we took these images..! J

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Here we see an animation of the mono iR (infra-red) image from the night where our own images emulated the Hubble’s…animating 2 or more frames is a very good way to “test” the veracity of any images…due to many factors in capturing & processing planetary data there can be quite a lot of false or spurious “artefacts” in the images.

With animations one can see whether any particular aspects/details are consistent throughout however many frames are in the animation...on that night we captured 4 different images of Neptune revealing these details, showing that but for one small “artefact” they were identical to the HST’s images, proving their veracity! J

At the bottom of the animation you will see the motion of Neptune’s largest moon Triton (diameter 2,700km) during this period…

The simpler 2-frame animations (right & below) are the result of using the 2 best images of Neptune we took on this particular night, the top animation being the colour composition & the bottom the mono (iR only) composition.

We used these 2 “best” images, slowed the motion down somewhat & enlarged & processed the results a bit more aggressively to enhance the detail at this larger size to help assist with their appearances here

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The set of images below display all the Neptune images we captured during the 2015 “apparition” (season) that displayed the various storm spots…the bottom right image being a WinJUPOS construction from some of our images depicting how the planet would look  if we could view it from above the South Pole of Neptune: note one bright spot near the South Pole. (ie, the area directly centred in the image)

This is one of the bright storms we picked up on September 18th 2015 & also imaged by Hubble.

Like our Polar View of Uranus in those webpages, we understand that this is the first time an amateur has created such an image! J

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