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Optical outburst of the quasar CTA 102

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#1 herschelobjects

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Posted 27 November 2016 - 10:02 AM

The 8 billion light year distant quasar CTA 102, which normally shines at about magnitude +17, is currently undergoing an outburst, making it visible in amateur telescopes. I observed it last night from my backyard (NELM about +5.8 at the zenith) and estimated that it shone at about magnitude +13.6 when comparing it to a field star of magnitude +14. I observed it with my LITEBOX 18-inch at 295x and found it easy to see (and certainly brighter than the mag. +14 galaxy NGC 7305 which appears in the same high power field immediately to the west). The outburst began a few weeks ago and it is impossible to say how much longer it will be this bright. So if you’re interested in seeing an object with a redshift of 300,000 km/s+, now is the time, especially considering that the moon will begin to affect visibility in about a week’s time. From a dark sky, the quasar should be visible in an 8-inch telescope. If you observe this object, let us know! Here is a link to the Sky&Tel article by Bob King that alerted me to the visibility of this quasar... it also includes finder charts: http://www.skyandtel....ntly-variable/


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#2 havasman

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Posted 27 November 2016 - 03:13 PM

It is on my list for Wednesday night. The amount of energy released to make that bright an object at this distance just defies my ability to place it in context.

The object has an interesting history of observation and confusion. I'll definitely pull my old Byrds album out between now & then too.

Good of you to post this.


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#3 CzechAstronomer

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 03:37 PM

14th magnitude? well, that is still very dim. I wanted to see some quasars, but it seems the only one made for the mere mortal without a monster telescope is the 3C 273 in virgo at 12.8 mag. I will try it as soon as possible (January, 4am?) 



#4 Cames

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 07:39 PM

I had some nice viewing conditions Saturday the 26th. and I was able to locate it with the help of SkyTools 3 Pro.

 

I tried to estimate its brightness by comparing it to nearby stars. CTA 102 seemed to my eyes to fall in between these two stars in brightness: J223243.6+115151, v14.2 and J223240.4+115257, v14.5. So I called it about magnitude 14.3.  I read the article on the Sky&Telescope website which seemed to indicate that it should be brighter than I saw it. This magnitude underestimation seems to be the norm for me. I've experienced it with a couple of novae that I was tracking.

 

I wasn't confident that I was able to see the galaxy NGC 7305. It's probably a little beyond the capability of my telescope. (10 inch dob at 180X)

 

But wow! Eight billion light years is pretty darned impressive.  When the photons we saw began their journey, the Earth and our Solar System had not yet formed!

-----------

C

 

It was pretty faint for me and I didn't notice the color. If its light is red-shifted, maybe that's why it looked dim to me. If I'm not as sensitive to red light, could that be my problem?


Edited by Cames, 28 November 2016 - 07:51 PM.

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#5 sgottlieb

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 08:15 PM

  Here are the latest magnitude estimates reported on AAVSO.  There's only one in the last couple of days --

 

474257480.png



#6 goodricke1

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 09:16 PM

Magnitude 13.9 is my current 8-inch record so this is going to be a tough nut.... awesome to contemplate nevertheless.



#7 nickcodybarrett

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 12:57 AM

awesome thing is, im about to buy a 12 inch dob.  "hey mom, come check this out!"


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#8 herschelobjects

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 08:38 AM

I had some nice viewing conditions Saturday the 26th. and I was able to locate it with the help of SkyTools 3 Pro.

 

I tried to estimate its brightness by comparing it to nearby stars. CTA 102 seemed to my eyes to fall in between these two stars in brightness: J223243.6+115151, v14.2 and J223240.4+115257, v14.5. So I called it about magnitude 14.3.  I read the article on the Sky&Telescope website which seemed to indicate that it should be brighter than I saw it. This magnitude underestimation seems to be the norm for me. I've experienced it with a couple of novae that I was tracking.

 

I wasn't confident that I was able to see the galaxy NGC 7305. It's probably a little beyond the capability of my telescope. (10 inch dob at 180X)

 

But wow! Eight billion light years is pretty darned impressive.  When the photons we saw began their journey, the Earth and our Solar System had not yet formed!

-----------

C

 

It was pretty faint for me and I didn't notice the color. If its light is red-shifted, maybe that's why it looked dim to me. If I'm not as sensitive to red light, could that be my problem?

Nice report, thanks! The interesting thing to contemplate while at the eyepiece is that the light from the quasar left 8 billion years ago and has been coming ever since... look into the eyepiece and your eye and brain just happens to intercept a bunch of photons that would have otherwise just bounced, undetected, off the Earth...



#9 goodricke1

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 03:12 PM

Here is a link to the Sky&Tel article by Bob King that alerted me to the visibility of this quasar... it also includes finder charts: http://www.skyandtel....ntly-variable/

The link doesn't seem to be working anymore.



#10 herschelobjects

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 03:17 PM

 

Here is a link to the Sky&Tel article by Bob King that alerted me to the visibility of this quasar... it also includes finder charts: http://www.skyandtel....ntly-variable/

The link doesn't seem to be working anymore.

 

Don’t know why that is... but the article remains posted and is the fourth one in the “newsfeed” on the homepage at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com


Edited by herschelobjects, 29 November 2016 - 03:17 PM.

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#11 herschelobjects

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Posted 30 November 2016 - 08:30 AM

The quasars continues to brighten... see link... http://www.astronome....org/?read=9808



#12 hdahle

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Posted 30 November 2016 - 02:20 PM

The quasars continues to brighten... see link... http://www.astronome....org/?read=9808

As indicated by the ATel link above it is now historically bright for such a distant quasar. On November 30.75 UT I estimated its visual magnitude as 12.6. 

So if the Virgo quasar 3C273 is within your detection limit, you should be able to catch CTA-102 at its current brightness.

 

I made the observation using a 12" Dobsonian in Bortle class 5-6 skies (the limiting visual magnitude through the Dob was 14.5-15.0).    


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#13 Vickx

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Posted 30 November 2016 - 03:40 PM

I estimated the quasar last night (Nov 29.75 UT) as 13.0±0.1 mag (16" @230×) so it's brightening pretty fast. Awesome!

Vic


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#14 SNH

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Posted 30 November 2016 - 05:30 PM

I went out and looked at it on the 28th of November at 8:30pm CST and placed it at magnitude +13.1 (a little brighter than the magnitude +13.2 star and noticeably dimmer than the +12.9 star on the AAVSO star chart). I was even able to see it, along with the magnitude +14.9 star to its W and the galaxy NGC 7305 using only 78x or 132x in my 10-inch SCT. At the magnitude I saw it at, it's the second brightest quasar I've seen (after 3C 273) and the seventh one above magnitude +14.0 that I've logged! The farthest one I’ve seen is PG 1634+706 in Draco at magnitude +14.6 and some 8.8 billion light-years distant. This one’s nearly as far and definitely much brighter, so I hope tons of people get to see it!


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#15 nickcodybarrett

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Posted 30 November 2016 - 10:53 PM

found it last night with my 8". quite a challenge. it was fun to find it!


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#16 timokarhula

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Posted 01 December 2016 - 08:41 AM

I also observed it last night with my club's 10-inch Ritchey-Chretien.  With just 83x magnification, I found a brightish star in the right position.  I estimated it at home as magnitude 12.9 (=Nov 30.87 UT, using AAVSO magnitudes).  First I thought I got the wrong star but now I read your reports about the 13 mag quasar.  CTO 102 might be the brightest thing in the Universe for the moment (3000 times more distant than M31)!

 

/Timo Karhula


Edited by timokarhula, 01 December 2016 - 08:47 AM.

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#17 herschelobjects

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Posted 01 December 2016 - 01:15 PM

I also observed it last night with my club's 10-inch Ritchey-Chretien.  With just 83x magnification, I found a brightish star in the right position.  I estimated it at home as magnitude 12.9 (=Nov 30.87 UT, using AAVSO magnitudes).  First I thought I got the wrong star but now I read your reports about the 13 mag quasar.  CTO 102 might be the brightest thing in the Universe for the moment (3000 times more distant than M31)!

 

/Timo Karhula

Well... 8 billion years ago, anyway...



#18 nytecam

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Posted 01 December 2016 - 05:43 PM

Thanks for the heads-up.  Here's my unfiltered pic from this evening via my 12"+ Lodestar cam in 3m exp [3x60s].  The "normal" quasar in Sloan DSS [=Wikisky] is ~m17 [similar to ringed star] and tonight maybe a full 4 mags brighter approaching mag of star marked near left edge.  Amazing for 8 MLY range :)

 

Nytecam 

Attached Thumbnails

  • q CTA102q161201x3mgx.jpg

Edited by nytecam, 01 December 2016 - 05:48 PM.

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#19 timokarhula

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Posted 01 December 2016 - 05:45 PM

I looked at CTA 102 again a few hours ago.  It was as bright or slightly brighter as the V=11.75 star 10 arcmin ESE.  I estimated CTA 102 as magnitude 11.7 on Dec 1.81 UT.  The brightest quasar ever?!

 

/Timo Karhula



#20 hdahle

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Posted 01 December 2016 - 05:52 PM

I estimated it as bright as magnitude 11.8 tonight (Dec. 1.75 UT), just barely fainter than the "117" star on the AAVSO charts. Three hours later it had faded noticeably, to magnitude 12.1.

 

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not aware of any objects at redshifts greater than 1.0 which has ever been observed visually as bright as this (there are a few automated CCD observations of prompt emission from gamma-ray bursts which have been brighter, but only lasting for a minute or so).    


Edited by hdahle, 01 December 2016 - 05:54 PM.


#21 Cames

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Posted 02 December 2016 - 04:50 AM

I am amazed at this phenomenal quasar.  Since I observed it last Saturday, this object has literally just blossomed.

 

Tonight its brightness fell somewhere in between these two stars: J223303.8+114547, v13 and TYC 01154-0373 1, v12.

 

This is how I estimated the magnitude. The three objects are still faint enough to be somewhat extinguished by defocusing. With all three in the same field of view, I saw the 13th magnitude star fade first, and then CTA 102 faded just before the 12th mag star would have. So at around 1830 hrs EST my estimate was mag 12.3. What a difference 6 days made. Thanks for bringing this one to our attention. It’s going to be one for the record books.

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C



#22 Sasa

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Posted 02 December 2016 - 12:58 PM

Just saw it in AS110. Looked a little bit brighter than 12.9 mag star. Should be within the reach of 63mm Telementor!


Edited by Sasa, 02 December 2016 - 05:16 PM.


#23 Edward E

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Posted 02 December 2016 - 04:23 PM

Still cloudy here in SE AZ.;   would love to set the 20" on this one but the C11 will work just fine if it clears this weekend.  I found this quasar on Wikisky, it reports the Q as 17 mag visual.  Now that is quite a flare up!  What a tantrum this Q is throwing.  :scared:



#24 Sasa

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Posted 02 December 2016 - 05:01 PM

OK, after 1.5 hour fight I saw it clearly in 63mm Telementor as well. Of course, these were just short glimpses. The worst part was to make myself sure it was the quasar and not a nearby star. The problem was that also the stars I was using for determining the location of the quasar were too faint and were showing only after concentrated averted vision. I suspected the quasar already at 53x (either with ZAO-I 16mm or TMB16 mono, interestingly the faint stars were consistently a little bit easily visible in the monocentric eyepiece). The cleanest view came from ZAO-I 10mm (84x). During those 90 minutes I was changing the eyepieces, repeating procedure several times to make myself sure of this very difficult observation.


Edited by Sasa, 02 December 2016 - 05:17 PM.

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#25 timokarhula

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Posted 02 December 2016 - 07:20 PM

Great observation, Sasa!  I had hoped for setting a world record and seeing 8 billion year old light with just ordinary binoculars tonight but CTA 102 was one magnitude fainter than yesterday (when I surely would have seen it with my 25x100!).  Now, I estimated the blazar as visual magnitude 12.9 (on Dec 2.86 UT) with my 12-inch Dob (a really easy catch).  The quasar would have been beyond the binocular's limit tonight due to bad cirrus conditions.

 

/Timo Karhula


Edited by timokarhula, 02 December 2016 - 07:34 PM.

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