Wednesday, January 10, 2007

wanna see a comet - possibly naked eye?

the photo above is of comet mcnaught. if you want to see this comet, dress very warmly, and prepare to spend at least 30 mins. braving the elements if you live somewhere cold (it's gonna feel like 26 degrees with windchill in d.c when the sun goes down in d.c this evening) it's no fun getting cold. and once you are cold, you're just not going to want to be outside.

get to some place off the ground floor, the higher up the better. away from bright lights if you can.

go outside and wait for the sun to set. all those layers making for warm clothes, gloves, hats, scarves, hand and foot warmers, etc. are looking like a real good idea now...

as soon as the sky starts to darkens, to the southwest you will see venus shining brilliantly. 17 degrees away (just more than an outstretched hand held at arms length) slightly south of east, you will see comet mcnaught, hovering a few degrees above the horizon. it will be very difficult to spot if you have no binoculars, no supporting tripod, and have no prior observing experience. be patient and you might get lucky and be rewarded, especially if it brightens (it's closer to earth than the sun, or mercury). observing's not like watching tv. there is no instant gratification. that's why i do it.

the reason it's bright is because it's close to the sun (that's why we never, ever see venus and mercury high in sky overhead), that means that it's going to 'chase' the setting sun below the horizon. by 7pm, the comet will be below the horizon, so in effect we have little over an hour of available viewing.

after tonight, it will be to low in the sky for observers in mid-latitudes, and will become an object for southern observers. that means that tonight's it! (sorry - no reruns).

patience is highly rewarded in amateur astronomy. the more you observe, the more you see. literally. when i first started looking at 'faint fuzzies', as they call them, i could hardly make out any detail, now when i look at the same objects, i can see a lot more detail. weird.

i'm off to my roof deck, to get a good look with binoculars and tripod (highly recommended).

good luck!

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