Lightning Under The Stars, A Moon Show And Comet Machholz At Dusk

Lightning illuminates a thundercloud in northern Minnesota last night. The stars near the storm belong to the constellation Perseus the Hero. Photo: Bob King

Came back from Colorado last night to a line of thunderheads along the northern horizon. I would have gone out earlier to shoot more lightning photos, but my dog Sammy decided to punish me for my weekend absence by running away during her walk. After a fruitless search and knowing she’d find her way back home, I sped off to a wide open horizon to watch the distant storm.

The sky facing southwest ah hour or so after sunset tonight July 23. The moon will be near Mars tomorrow night and Saturn and Spica the next. Created with Stellarium

I’d hoped to see some sprites, those energetic bursts of pink light that shoot upward from thunderstorm cloud tops into the ionosphere. No luck on that, but the jagged strokes against starlight were pleasure enough.

Tonight the crescent moon returns for easy viewing in the southwestern sky during twilight. If you wait at least an hour after sunset, you can see a nice lineup of moon, planets and Spica in a darker sky.

Comet 96P/Machholz zips through Leo and Leo Minor in the coming days. The map depicts the sky facing west about 90 minutes after sunset or around 10:15 p.m. (CDT). Tick marks show where the comet is each evening now through August 1. Stars are plotted to 8th magnitude. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

For amateur astronomers with 6-inch scopes and larger who like a challenge, returning comet 96P/Machholz is now making an appearance in evening twilight in the western sky. It’s currently a small, condensed blob of light shining at 7.8 magnitude.

If it were in a dark sky well above the horizon, you’d see the fuzzy fellow with ease even in a 3-inch telescope. Instead, Machholz is only about 5 – 10 degrees high (one fist held at arm’s length equals about 10 degrees) during mid to late twilight. A sky with little haze and a wide open view to the west is essential if you want to grab a view.

And yes, Sammy came back. She was waiting for me at the front door.

5 Responses

  1. Roma

    Must have been something in the air yesterday.y dog also bolted out of nowhere. We were at a park and she took off and was waiting on the front porch for me at home. Weird.

  2. Mike

    Awesome photo of the lightning with stars Bob! Could you share the details please? Still waiting for a storm with lightning to try my hand a making a photo. Thank you for sharing!

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