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Tuesday, December 18

I conducted 13 times of comet hunting sessions in November. It is evident that the number is the record high through my observational history. However, the number of clear sky is much less this month, and I comet hunted three times including this predawn. First of all, I report comet hunting session on Saturday, Dec.15 local time and the power of Night Vison Device, and then, I will show you photos that I took this predawn using my smartphone and NV.

Saturday, December 15
The sky condition on the day was the best since I have moved to Kumamoto. At the same time the day fell on the maximum of Geminids, and I saw many meteors. Air temperature was -4 degrees Celsius, but I felt it warm than in Niigata.

I observed 46P Wirtanen by naked eyes. It had the diameter of 1 degree and fourth magnitude. The comet looked blue greenish and apparent diameter of 0.8 degrees through 46 cm x 97 with Ethos 21 mm. With Night Vison (NV), with a magnification of 37, it was strongly shining, but unfortunately, I could not recognize the tint because NV is monochrome.

Photo was taken at the observing site in Aso City with an altitude of 940 m. 15mm F2.8, opened, ISO1600, 30sec.

Numerous stars were twinkling when I aimed NV with the magnification of unity at the sky. In particular, the winter Milky Way that consists of a great many fine stars was impressive and I felt as if had never been tired of watching it. Barnarfs Loop, Rosetta Nebula and other HII regions looked like that of photos through NV with a Hƒ¿ filter.

I tried to observe C/2016 N6 PanSTARRS having the magnitude of 13th to see how dark comet look using usual glass eyepiece and NV. I managed to spot the comet with magnification of 97 using Ethos 21 mm by comparing the positon with the digital map. It was difficult work because the apparent diameter was small, i.e. 0.3f. Using Ethos 13 mm, the magnification of 157, the image was large enough not to overlook during the hunting session. Through NV with a combination of Lavendura 63 mm eyepiece and Paracorr, the magnification of 37, the comet was much easier to observe than with Ethos 21 mm, though small diameter of the object made it difficult to recognize.

After testing NV, I began to search the sky at 4:35am local time. I thought many hunters were sweeping near the ecliptic, and trained my telescope at Arcturus, alpha Bootis. I comet hunted north of the star. Not to mention, I applied NV for searching.

I could not identify any galaxy for more than half an hour. Though I knew there are only dark galaxies around the region, I was depressed. At 5:09am local time, I observed the first object, a pair of galaxies: NGC5859 (magnitude of 12.5) and 5857 (13.0). After that, I identified a pair of NGC5928 and UGC9841, NGC5962, UGC9618, NGC6004 with 6003 and UGC9958. Those were all comet like objects, all being galaxies, which I observed. SkySafari 6 Pro showed UGC9618 has the magnitude of 15.3, but it looked brighter and some literatures claim it is 14th.

I have ever identified a 15th magnitude galaxy only once using a glass eyepiece. I have yet observed a 16th magnitude one using NV. I think NV does not improve the limiting magnitude of such object drastically, but in my experience I can observe a galaxy one magnitude darker with NV than with a glass eyepiece. On top of that NV works well under the hazy or light polluted sky and no need to use averted vision. In this respect, NV is superior to the glass eyepiece.

Tuesday, December 18
I headed for the observing site near my house, since the sky was clear at 3:30am local time. When I finished setting up my comet-seeker, clouds started to cover the sky. I had a plan to take photos of Rosetta Nebula, but the position of the nebula had already hidden by clouds. Alternatively, I changed the target to M104.

Night Vision PVS-14, 46cm F4.5, 37x, iPhone X, 1/4 sec. f/1.8
2018/12/17.82581 UT

I wanted to try some ways of taking photos, but I was upset due to appearance of clouds and I made a mistake to use the app gNaightCap Camerah. All photos I took were the exposure time of 1/4 sec. and I cloud not use auto composite function of the app. I had no choice and composited the photos using PC software gStellaImage7h, but there occurred image shift near the edge.

Night Vision PVS-14, 46cm F4.5, 37x, iPhone X, 1/4 sec.x4 composit, f/1.8
2018/12/17.82581 - 17.82595 UT

Anyway, it is amazing that I could get such a nice photo only a 1/4-sececond of exposure.

After taking photos I comet searched through the gaps of clouds, however, no comet like object was identified. But I saw many stars through thin clouds. M13 was resolved into stars using 46 cm x 37 with NV, though any stars were seen in the FOV of 5 cm finder due to cloud! I still do not know exactly how NV is advantageous for comet hunting.

Tuesday, November 11

C/2018 V1 Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto
Don Machholz, Shigehisa Fujikawa and Masayuki Iwamoto discovered a new comet on 7th November UTC. Eight years have passed since the last visual discovery, 332P (P/2010 V1) Ikeya-Murakami, and finally, Don discovered the comet visually. On top of that, the comet has in three amateursf name. I am very pleased with those things.

It has been nasty days during summer but in November we have many sunny days. It was clear sky three consecutive days Monday, 5th November to Wednesday, 7th November (JST), and I comet hunted for those days at predawn. However, the comet was outside of my search area. On Monday, I swept far south of the comet positon. On Tuesday, I started with the session from some 7 degrees north of the comet. On Wednesday, I approached within 10 degrees south of C/2018 V1 but I finished the session at the point 30 minutes after the start of the twilight.

I observed the comet on Saturday, 10th November and the following day. On Saturday it was 10th magnitude but on the next day it increased brightness to the magnitude of 8.5. I could not observed a tail. It is expected the comet becomes bright and reaches to naked eye object. I am looking forward to observing the bright comet.

Revolutionary device: Night Vision
I started utilizing the Night Vision (NV) Device since the latter half of October. NV is an electronic device that includes an image intensifier with the magnification of unity. You can see stars with the limiting magnitude of 8th to 9th using NV even under the full moon and/or at the heavily light polluted area. If you look into the eyepiece of your telescope through NV, the telescope works as if the aperture became twice or three times as large as the original size depending the object. However, for a diffused object like a comet, the degree of intensification is less than that for a star.

From right to left: Night Vision PVS-14 (ACT PVS-14 Photonis 4G INTENS Autogate P45 WP), Lavendura 63 mm eyepiece (made in Japan) and Paracorr.
Unfortunately, NV is very expensive as it is a military supply.

In the US NV began to utilize many years ago. In Japan it has been unavailable because it is a military supply, however, in those two years the situation has changed and we can buy it from Europe. I think few people us it for astronomy. Probably, the below is the sole report in Japanese.
I must say I have not yet made the best use of NV. I will report on the device in the near future again. You can find many article on NV if only you web search with the key word gNight Vision Cloudy Nightsh.
Reference: Article in the Sky & Telescope magazine

Below I wrote how it worked during the comet-hunting session on Sunday.

Sunday, 11 November
Wonderful clear sky! I saw the counterglow high in the western sky and Canopus, alpha Carinae, crossed the meridian. The air was extremely dry with the air temperature of 2 degrees Celsius and weak wind.

The faintest galaxy I identified, PGC34900, with the magnitude of 14.2 and PGC34925 (mag. 13.9). The image is 30f wide.
The Digitized Sky Survey copyright © 1994

After observing 64P Swift-Gehrels and 38P Stephan-Oterma using NV with a magnification of 37x, I began the hunting session with some 10 degrees south of Regulus, alpha, Leonis. The first object that I identified was a pair of galaxies NGC2962 and 2966 in the constellation of Hydra followed by NGC2894 in Leo and NGC3044 in Sextans. The Antennae Galaxies, NGC4038 and 4039 were in the FOV at an altitude of only 4 degrees above the horizon. The darkest galaxy I observed was PGC34900 with the magnitude of 14.2, and PGC34925 (mag. 13.9) was in the same FOV. Those pair was identified at the altitude of 26 degrees. A pair of galaxies in the constellation of Crater, NGC3791 (mag. 13.4) and 3771 (12.6), was observed at the altitude of 23 degrees. The pair was not seen with a glass eyepiece, Ethos 21 mm, 97x, which I used until in the first half of October, but it was clear using NV.

The total number of galaxies that I observed was 23, but I have never identified so many ones in the region. The result is due to the power of NV. I believe this device make it possible to discover darker comets than ever.

Saturday, October 13

I started the comet hunting session at 3:48am (local time) from NGC2903, the galaxy in the constellation of Leo. I did not set up dew remover for the secondary mirror because wind was rather strong and there was no warry about dew condensation on the surface. Ten minutes after the beginning of the session, suddenly clouds appeared in the south and the east and I was forced to train my comet-seeker, which originally aimed at the eastern sky, at the northeastern sky where there was less clouds. Transparency also seemed to decline at the same time.

Foggy daybreak at the observing site.

I could identified 10th and 11th magnitude galaxies like NGC3726, 3877 and 3943, but could not 12th and darker. After a while I found heavy dew condensation on the surface of the secondary cage, regardless of the windy condition. I doubted dew formation on the secondary mirror and I confirmed it actually happened. I noticed that the reason why the transparency became worse; the site was in the low density fog. I removed dew on the secondary mirror by blowing warm air using a dryer that work with DV 12V. Then, I connected the power line to the dew remover heater that is installed on the flip side of the secondary mirror and turned the switch on. No dew formation occurred after that, however, I was in the fog around one hour.

NGC4088 (the upper galaxy with 10th magnitude) and NGC4085 (12th magnitude). The image is 20' wide.
The Digitized Sky Survey copyright © 1994

The fog cleared off at the beginning of the twilight, and I could spot some 12th magnitude galaxies. Even so, transparency was not very good, probably because there existed low density fog. Eyes of Night Owl Nebula was clearly seen. M108 was about to disappear in the twilight.

We have fog many times at the observing site on the outer rim of the crater, Volcano Aso, and I have ever experienced dew condensation with windy condition a few times. Contrarily, no dew condensation occurred under the windy weather in Niigata. Six months have passed since I began to live in Kumamoto, but it takes some more time to get to know the lay of the weather pattern here.

Sunday, September 23

It has been nasty weather more than one month and I did not conduct a comet searching session. There might be some days with clear sky, but on some days I could not get out of my bed due to suffering from intense heat that resulted in giving up observation. The other days I went to on a trip with lodging to attend a scientific conference that made me impossible to observe. Anyway, I must say it has been foul weather even if considering the above-mentioned situation.

Last year Stefan Kurti, a Slovak amateur astronomer, interviewed me and posted the article on his web site. The article was published on an August-September Issue of Slovak astronomical magazine, KOZMOS. In former Czechoslovakia there were many famous comet hunters like Luboš Kohoutek, Antonín Mrkos and Ľudmila Pajdušáková.

Covers of magazines. From left to right, gAmateur Astronomerh in China, gAstronomyh in USA and gKOZMOSh in Slovakia.

Part of articles of magazines. From left to right, gAmateur Astronomerh in China, gAstronomyh in USA and gKOZMOSh in Slovakia.

Speaking of foreign astronomical magazine, articles on my comet hunting activity were also published in gAmateur Astronomerh in China and gAstronomyh in the USA.

I wonder how many astronomers are conducting comet hunting visually in the world. I think the number falls off drastically, but last year I received an email from a 20-year-old man from Ukraine. He said he wants to start visual comet hunting and asked me some advice. There still is the young man like him who pins his hope to visual searching.

In 2023 LSS telescope that is larger in aperture, 8.4 m, than that of Subaru Telescope, 8.2 m, will start its operation. LSS surveys the entire sky only three nights. At present almost of all new comets are discovered by Pan-STARRS telescopes, however, in five years the era when the telescope with higher performance detects darker comets automatically. I believe it is possible to discover a new comet visually before the operation. Maybe, after that visual discovery is possible. I am happy if my article urges visual comet hunters.

Wednesday, August 8 to Thursday, August 9


At the usual observing site there is light pollution in the east from Aso city, and I decided to observe at another site. It was the Zekkei Parking, Superb view Parking if I translate it with an altitude of 920 m as shown No. 1 in the map. Aso city is located in the southeasto of the parking that mitigates light pollution in the southeast to the north.

Usual observing site, Zekkei parking (No. 1) and Kusasenri-gahama parking (No, 2).

The eastern sky was dark in spite of the moon phase of 26. I trained my comet-seeker at 21P Giacobini-Zinner that was in the northern sky, and I began to the session from the comet to avoid the moonlight. Though there are many galaxies in the constellation of Camelopardalis and Ursa Major, I could identified those of 10th magnitude or brighter: NGC2146, 2787, M81, M82, NGC2985 and 2655.

Before 2a.m. local time to the daybreak, unexpectedly, many vehicles went in and out of the parking that made me irritate. I probably do not visit here in the future, but the season why many visit here was literally superb view. When I completed the session and took down my comet-seeker, I saw the image of dying Buddha above night view of Aso city that was being covered with a fog. How solemn the scenery was!

The image of dying Buddha. The peaks of the mountain look like the image of the Buddha entering nirvana. From left peak to the right his face, breast and knees.


I selected Kusasenri-gahama (1138 m above sea level, shown in the map) with a 35 minute drive from home as todayfs site. Contrary to the yesterdayfs site only two cars passed the site. The eastern sky was rather dark even though there was moon with phase 27. Incidentally, NGC1211 came into the FOV when I trained my telescope at the southeast, and I started the hunting session from the object. The deep sky objects that I came across were NGC1137, 1417, 1453, 1637, 1700, 1587-1589, 1788, 1999 and M42. I observed DSOs with the magnitude of 12th or brighter that were darker than those of yesterday, because the moon phase progressed.

NGC1587 (lower center, brighter one), 1588 and 1589(upper center). Image is 30f wide.
The Digitized Sky Survey copyright © 1994

The site is only 3 km away from the active crater at Aso Nakadake. Upon finishing the session I noticed the smoke vomited from the crater. If the volcano erupts the road to the site may be closed.

Active crater, Aso Nakadake, vomiting smoke.

Sunday, July 15 to Tuesday, 17 July

I conducted comet hunting sessions for three consecutive predawn, though transparency was not good due to high humidity on all days. On Monday, national holiday, I went to a far site, Higotai Park, more than one hour by car. The site is 970 m above sea level that is comparable the usual observing site, i.e. the rim of the crater of Mt. Aso. However, Higotai Park is far from major cities and one can observe fainter stars. I noticed the Milky Way obviously looked wider than at usual site.

An acquaintance of mine abroad introduced me a handy site, light pollution map.

According to Bortle Dark Sky Scale (
the darkness at the usual observing site is Class 4 (M33 is difficult with averted vision), whereas at Higotai Park it is Class 3 (M33 is easy with averted vision).

At predawn on Monday I identified 33 galaxies in the area around Pisces and Cetus. The faintest one was UGC1062 with the magnitude of 14.3. I often observed many galaxies in the same FOV. I think I have never observed so many galaxies in the area during the searching session. The next day, Tuesday, I swept the northeastern sky so that part of it overlapped with that on Monday. Obviously, the number of galaxies I identified was less in comparison with that on Monday.

NGC192, 196, 197 and 201. Those galaxies were in the same FOV. The image is 15f wide.
The Digitized Sky Survey copyright © 1994

In my college days at my parentsf house I could recognize M33 with direct vision with ease that means Class 2 on Bortle Dark Sky Scale. At present it falls down to Class 4. In Japan very limited places are evaluated as the sky with Class 2. I estimate that it is possible to discover a comet with the magnitude of 15 visually using my 46 cm comet-seeker. I have an impression that it is not only robotic surveys but also light pollution that threat visual discovery.

Monday, June 25

I was longing for clear sky during this rainy season and here it came. I headed for the site expectantly. Nonetheless, fog appeared on the way and the situation seemed to be the same as I approached the observing site. Anyway, I had no choice. Upon arrival at the site the fog slightly cleared off and I started setting up my comet seeker without hesitation.

Waxing moon was on the west that shed light on the ground around the site. The moon set at 3:01a.m. local time, while the beginning of the twilight was at 3:27a.m. The period of dark night was only 26 minutes. At 2:45a.m. I trained my telescope at alpha Andromedae where I started the session. The background in FOV was getting darker as the moon inclined toward the west. A lower part of the sky was covered with fog, but the transparency was good at higher altitude. Though I expected to identify some galaxies, I could none of them even 15 minutes after of moonset.

At 3:27a.m. local time, i.e. the beginning of the twilight, suddenly, many galaxies came into the FOV. I could identified five of them with ease: NGC379, 380, 383, 385 and 403. Though it seemed that there existed more galaxies in the FOV by refereeing to SkySafati 6 Pro, they were obviously not comets and I continued the hunting session as I did not want to spend time for confirmation.

A galaxy group of NGC383 (magnitude of 12.2) in the constellation of Pisces. I identified the galaxies with NGC numbers on the image above, though many others that looked like stars might be perceptible by my eye. The faintest one was NGC385 with the magnitude 13.0. The image is 60f wide.
The Digitized Sky Survey copyright © 1994

Four minutes after, M33 appeared at the center of the FOV with wonderful spiral structure. After a few minutes I came across a pair of galaxies, NGC499 and 507. The magnitude was 12.2 and 11.3, respectively. There are some other brighter galaxies in the area, however, I could not observe them. Probably, all galaxies except for M33 were ones that I observed for the first time. It gave me a sense of satisfaction.

Sunday, June 24

I attended the 48th Annual Comet Conference in Ishigaki Island, last weekend. The conference dared to be held at the time of new moon. The local organizing committee wanted to enjoy star gazing under the dark sky. I hesitated to attend the conference at the time of new moon, but I did this time because the value of clear sky has reduced after moving to Kumamoto as the chance of fine days increased. Unfortunately, we could slightly see starry sky due to approach of a typhoon.

My wife, her friend and I headed for Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory before the start of the conference. However, the observatory was closed. I made a phone call and the answering machine said it was closed due to the typhoon. The road to the observatory might be dangerous because of fallen trees and landslide. We safely drove through the road but we were forced to return.

Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory

Today less comet hunters attend the conference in comparison with the past. Even though Akihiko Tago, a discoverer of four new comet, took part in the conference from Kobe. He had observed in Okayama Prefecture, but moved to Kobe where his daughter lives due to aging. He said he stopped observing because of old age.
Tago said he attended the Annual Comet Conference last in 1977 when I did for the first time. I remember that many comet discoverers including Tago and Minoru Honda took part in the conference at that time.

Akihiko Tago (right) and me.

I conducted a comet hunting session on Wednesday 13th June. We have few clear sky now that it is rainy season, but the sky condition was the best since I began to live in Kumamoto. C/2016 M1 PanSTARRS was 9th magnitude with a tail. After observing the comet I began to search with theta Pegasi, and identified nine galaxies including NGC7723 and 7600 with a planetary nebula, NGC246. The condition was satisfactorily for this season with good seeing for comet hunting, though there was cloud at an altitude of 10 degrees and lower. The air temperature was10 degrees Celsius at the site, contrarily, daily maximum was over 30 degrees near my workplace. The site is in the inland with high altitude that causes large daily temperature difference. One must be careful to keep in good shape.  

Thursday, May 24

This was the sixth comet hunting session since having moved to Kumamoto. Ozu town where I live is some 18 km away from the central part of Kumamoto City, i.e. my workplace. The distance between my residence and the top of Mount Aso (1592 m) is also about 18 km in a straight line. Considering the balance between work and comet hunting Ozu is a very good town to live.

Locations of Kumamoto City, my residence, two observing sites. Active crater at Aso Nakadake and Daikanbo Lookout are also indicated (refer to photos below).

I visited active crater at Aso Nakadake that was vomiting smoke. The area is kept out when the concentration of poison gas is getting high.

My observing sites are not near the top of the mountain, but at the outer rim of the crater. There are two sites but I still do not know which one is better. The siteA is at the altitude of 940 m, and the other is 730 m and both of them are some 25-minute drive from my house. However, the direction and a degree of the light pollution is different at each site.

The central cone (from the center to the left) seen from Daikambo Lookout (936 m) on the somma.

Today I started to search from Epsilon Pegasi, at 2:48am. The wind was strong with poor seeing. I often reduce the magnification 97x to 78x, because I cannot concentrate on the session under poor seeing, but today, I used 97x throughout the session. At 3:30am wind got weak and suddenly, seeing was improved. My level of concentration augmented, and as a result I identified NGC7817, a galaxy with the magnitude of 11.8. There are many galaxies as bright as NGC7817 in the Great Square of Pegasus, but today NGC7817 was the only one I observed. I wondered if one of the causes for poor seeing is that the morphology of the site in addition to strong wind. During my course of the hunting session I observed C/2016 M1 PanSTARRS. The comet was in the Milky Way with 10th magnitude, but I could not detect the tail.

Though there were some 7 days with clear sky in May, I could conduct comet hunting session only two days due to being busy with my work. It is sure that the chance of clear sky is 2 to 3 times higher than that in Niigata where I lived until March.

Sunday, April 15

Moving to Kumamoto

I have been transferred and moved to Kumamoto this month. I have been very busy in March and after, and I scarcely conducted a comet hunting session. There are three comet discoverers in Kumamoto: Nishikawa, Utsumomiya and Kudo, with brisk activity on amateur astronomy.

It is easy to approach wonderful observing point, Aso, a volcano with high elevation, from Ozu town where I live. The sky is much darker in comparison with that in Tohkamachi, Niigata, where I lived and a chance of clear sky is higher by far. It takes some time to get settled in but it is sure that I will do fruitful comet hinting life than ever.

Friday, February 23

Though it has been nasty weather of winter time, finally, I conducted a comet hunting session for the first time this month. It took 45 minutes to start the session after arriving at the observing site. The time needed for the preparation is 25 to 30 minutes in summer, but it is time consuming to wear clothes against cold protection in winter.

I aimed my comet-seeker at alpha Ophiuchi, Rasalhague, and began the session at 3:48am local time. The sky suddenly got bright at around 4am because ski resorts started field preparation for opening. The sky condition is poor even if it is cloudless in winter due to the light pollution from the ski fields. I my self is a skier, but I must say there are too many ski resorts around my observing site. I can remember more than a dozen of ski fields easily.

Jyoetsu Kokusai Ski Resort. The mountain in the background is Mt. Hakkaisan.

Matsudai Family ski field at night.

Returning to the comet hunting. The first deep sky object that came into the FOV was NGC6633, a splendid open cluster. The next was NGC6760, a ninth magnitude globular cluster. There was C/2016 M1 PanSTARRS 1.1 degrees north of the cluster, but I could not notice. NGC6760 looked an 11th magnitude globular cluster that I observe when the sky condition is good. Then, I was relaxed to observe a wonderful double star, theta Serpentis. The primary star looked yellowish and the companion light blue that moved like a creature by scintillation. After identifying some open clusters, I identified NGC6781, a planetary nebula in the constellation of Aquila. I completed the todayfs session just after NGC9634, a globular cluster in Delphinus, came into the FOV at 5:21am, 23 minutes after the start of the twilight.

It was breezing with air temperature of -5 degree Celsius and I was a little cold. I used a heater installed pants for the first time. It was an excellent product like the heater installed vest (see Comet hunting Wear).

Monday, January 28

I conducted the first comet hunting session this year on Monday, January 1. Air temperature was -10 degrees Celsius, the lowest record of all my hunting session. I aimed at M12, a globular cluster in Ophiuchus, and identified M10 and M14. No additional DSO was observed. Thin moon rose on the southeast at the time when I completed the session.

After that we had some warm days, but it had been chilly and windy for several days. I think there would be any clear sky this month from now on.

Ten years ago, the Italian binocular fan, Paolo Morini, asked me to write a report on my Russian Army Binocular 15x110. I wrote the original article in English, and it was translated into Italian by Morini and into Japanese by me, respectively.

The other day, he contacted me again and said he purchased the same binocular, but there was a difference; mine was the type PNB-1 while his was PNB-2.

He wanted to remodel his referring to mine, because the highest altitude his binocular can be trained is 60 degrees. Actually, I modified my binocular in 2016. I sent him the photos of my 15x110 binocular before and after remodeling. The reason why I needed to modify was that the weight of the main unit, i.e. the housing with the mount, was VERY heavy: 21 kg in total. I was afraid to get strained back when I place it on the tripod at the breast height.

Remodeled 15x110 binocular. The photo on the right Rigel Systems QuikFinder and the white dew cap (dangling) are atached.
Scales for an azimuth and an altitude are installed that make it possible to identify a deep sky object or a comet by combining with a digital map like SkySafari. I bought the grip rod at a DIY shop that makes it easy to move the binocular.

To solve the problem I remodeled the system so that the binocular housing and the mount can be set up separately. The housing is attached to GIRO ERCOLE Altazimuth Mount that is made in Germany via LBracket, and the original tripod was replaced with GITZO GT5532LS. The mount is attached on the tripod using the Losmandy Dovetail Plate. Using this system it is no need to worry about having strained back.

GIRO ERCOLE Altazimuth Mount

I will report on the detail of this binocular system at another time.

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