2002 COMETS



February 23 - Ikeya/Zhang - keya/Zhang... The "new comet on the block"! I was pretty worried that it would be too low for me to catch, but a walk into the south field eliminates most obstructions. And in a matter of minutes I had it in the eyepiece... (i'm sorry! i just got lucky, ok?) Using the 4.5, there is only one decently bright star in the field of view... and the rest is Comet!

And what a great little fellow he is, too! Very bright nucleas, great "fan" that splits into tail pointing toward that one field star! I was thinking that this was going to be a dim one... and hard to find due to the skybright... but I was wrong! Comet I/Z has great form, and appears much like a miniature version of Hale-Bopp! I like it....


NOTES: Who can forget this comet? First views were from 40.66 N 82.91W. The Scope was the 4.5, eyepiece was the 25mm, time was early evening, perhaps 6:30 or 7:00, and skies were awesome!


February 23, 2002 - I/Z



Comments: Hey... You know I had to go get that Comet again last night, don't you? I was very impressed by my first look, and I had to go look again! Last night the western horizon was less than forgiving and it took some time to find... but I/Z still cut right through that thin veil of clouds. We've got to be rockin' a magnitude 7 here! It was in the center of a triangle of decent stars... during moments of clarity, some finer ones also showed in the field, but not often enough that I could place an asterism on them. The worst part? I'm still seeing double on the tail... and I can't confirm it!! (this makes me quietly crazy, don't cha' know?). So I just sketched the darn thing... Perhaps one day someone will photograph it well, and I will get the confirmation I seek. If I'm right? Cool! If I'm not? So what? I'm just another voice in the dark, anyhow...

NOTES: I was so excited over this comet, because I was the first to see the duo tail! Very scared to post my reports on the web, but also confident in what I saw.


March 11, 2002 - LINEAR WM1 - Far too beautiful and clear last night for me to sleep through...

Up well before dawn, and ready to check out Comet LINEAR WM1. Now cruising along the northeastern portion of Saggitarius, and climbing higher each day, WM1 still resembles an unresolved globular cluster. This morning finds it in a rich star field, and I am so familiar with Saggitarius there is no mistaking it. Soft formed, with no visible tail, it's just pleasing to see it once again,


March 13, 2003 - Ikeya/Zhang - I was pacing the floor... What can I say? Those tremendous blue holes in the warming spring sky means I have a chance to view Comet Ikeya/Zhang again!

And I was not disappointed...

Ordinarily I would have printed a map, picked a location in the yard where I thought best and been ready. But, you know what? I figured I would be disappointed because the Comet would be too low for me... so I did none of these things. And I was wrong. Just on a hunch, I left the dob parked in my favourite spot, and carried the 4.5 out into the south field. Loosen up the stops... set the reflex sight on Mars... drop down toward the horizon... and begin a sweep. Within seconds Ikeya/Zhang was in the eyepiece and I was thrilled! This was my first shot on this beautiful Comet without the moonlight throwing me a curve...

Now I need no confirmation. That blue ion tail isn't just a hint. It's a reality! Using the 26mm, just a push around reveals the dust tail is spanning more than 2 degrees.... and that's under poor, low sky conditons! Subtle hints of even a more extended tail exist... But what shows clearly with direct vision rocks!! Unfortunately, there were no stars nearby visible to the 4.5... so judging magnitude becomes something of a challenge.

Challenge? I dig a challenge... Let's go fetch the barlow and have a look!

By upping the magnification, the nucleas of I/Z now becomes a distinct, white-hot "star like" point. And once again, I find myself doing a bit of "guess work" and I don't like it. Magnitude 4.5 for the nucleas? What about the coma? Magnitude 6... or brighter?! ARGH!! What I wouldn't give at times for an observing partner!! Ah, well... Things are the way they are, T... Carry on.

So I just dropped the magnification back... and did what I do best. Just stand there and marvel over the beauty of Ikeya/Zhang... and be thankful for the chance. And chase it down to the ground... ;)


March 22, 2002 - Ikeya/Zhang - Unfortunately, Comet Ikeya/Zhang can no longer be captured from the backyard... But, isn't that what wheels are for? And use them I did...

By traveling just a mile or two away, I can achieve a complete western skyline, and although I chose not to dismantle my scopes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the view of Ikeya/Zhang in binoculars! To be sure, these aren't quality asto/binos... but the Comet most definately is! Details are not prominent using this equipment, but to see that bright coma and tail stretching across the field of view with several bright stars makes the trip very worthwhile.

And you know who else is back? Venus! She's low on the horizon, but just as fat and sassy as ever. Thanks to low position and high brightness, it rather "boiled" in the binos... But, hey. I like her anyway... no matter what size or shape she's in!

So I watched them both, until Venus set into the distant tree line, and Comet Ikeyha/Zhang faded into a memory....

NOTES: Binoculars at that time were 5X30s. Timne would have been just after sunset and location would be no more than a mile north.


April 3, 2002 - I/Z - I really didn't think Ikeya/Zhang was achievable. I had no real plans to look for it. Truthfully, I had napped the late afternoon, early evening time away in hopes of clear sky. When I woke a bit before eight, and stepped out and saw Cassiopeia glittering in the bare tree branches... Well, it just "called", ok? So, I threw a coat on, grabbed my binoculars and keys, and headed out on the backroads...

I didn't have far to drive before I saw what I was looking for. Almach... and Ikeya/Zhang is naked eye. Pulling off the side of the road, I climbed out of the car, and with shaking hands, set the binoculars on this vision. No single word can sum up the cosmic beauty of a comet... I am not knowledgable of binoculars, but the tail stretched across better than half the field of view! Stunned, I simply stood, open-mouthed at the edge of the road, and gazed.


April 10, 2002 - I/Z - So the sky stayed clear as that magnificent Sun set... And what do you think I was anxious to do? Darn right. Comet hunt...

I've found a pull-off where the tractors enter the fields that's become my favourite haunt. Only a distant light here and there, and occasionally someone will stop to make sure I'm ok. (yeah, i'd be just ducky if you'd turn those headlights off!) What it gives me is unobstructed horizon...

And Comet Ikeya/Zhang.

About a binocular field and a half, and basically below (west) of Gamma Cassiopeia, the rascally comet is still holding on. The dust/ion tail is far more beautiful to the eye than any picture! And what a pleasure it has been watching it race across the sky...


April 11, 2002 - I/Z - Skies continued to hold clear and steady through the evening. Venus has climbed well, and I stop to check it out through the scope. Nice phase. Somewhere betwen half and three quarters. But I'm still waiting on dark. Let's make a run out of town...

Comet Ikeya/Zhang still hangs on. (you think i really care what other people say? "No longer visible..." Hah! then shake your lazy backside out of that recliner and come look!) Directly below the most northern border of Cassiopeia and still pulling down great structure despite low position. I've got a feeling this will be my last trip out to the opens to catch it. I just kinda' liked seeing how long I could keep and eye on it.


April 14, 2002 - I/Z - OK... I said I wasn't going to do it again, but I did anyway. Feel free to shoot me. ("i'm a loser, baby. so why don't you kill me?") As soon as I saw that beautiful crescent Moon teaming up with bright Venus, I had to get out and head out for an unobstructed western skyline.

Binoculars and camera with me, I chose tonight to head for Owl Creek. Thanks to the recent rains, it had swollen to the edges of the bank, and remembering an rather unpleasant "swim" from the past, I prefered to stick a bit closer to the high ground. How can I describe the beauty of "earthshine"? Intoxicating... As powerful as Moonshine can be. The picture it paints hanging above the water with bright Venus standing close to its' side makes me feel drunk on pleasure.

All around me, the sounds of the newly awakened amphibian life is deafening. Their cries in the night overwhelm the auditory senses... Trying to snap myself out of my dreamy state, I use the camera on the darkening skyline before the view slips away. The zoom lens pulls the picture in so close, the dark edge of the Moon almost appears to have a band of light about it. So beautiful...

And so I stand, as the sky bleeds from orange, to indigo, to black... Indulging myself. One by one, the costellations take form and the night comes to call. The sounds of the moving water is transcendental. Being "one with the night" sounds a bit stupid, doesn't it? But that's how it feels...

Before I head back, I set the binoculars on the sky in search of the comet. And I am rewarded. Ikeya/Zhang has definately lost itself in the horizon murk, but it satisfies me in a way that few things can. Will I try to capture it again? No. This is enough at chasing after the sunset. The dawn of new days and new ways has come...


April 16, 2002 - I/Z - (hey... hey, sleepyhead... wanna' catch a comet with me? come on... wake up! tickle, tickle... ooooh! got cha' going, didn't i? come on, now... let's go look...)

Comet Ikeya/Zhang answered some very real questions this morning. Straying into the border of the Milky Way, the starfield in which it is now cruising is rich and bright! And I'll be darned... You can tell it's coming toward Earth, because the thing looks as big as a house in the dob!!

The nucleas is absolutely stellar, but the coma is what rocks! At 26mm, its' size is considerably larger than the M13... And I mean considerably! (perhaps one day you'll teach a dyslexic old astronomer how to gauge size with confidence?) But what makes it special this morning is that field stars DO shine through the coma!!! Tail? Yes. I have seen that phenomena before... But the coma? Wooooo hoooo! Unless the nucleas of Ikeya/Zhang has split into three, there be stars here!!!!

And did we spend far too long admiring it? Nah... You can never spend enough time with a Traveller. For one day you will awake, and it will be gone. No regrets. There is no other road, no other way... But today!

NOTES: Comet I/Z has now moved to early morning skies.


April 17, 2002 - I/Z - It wasn't the greatest of mornings, but it sure wasn't the worst. Already missing my sidekick, I took the binoculars and a cup of coffee with me and headed toward the east field.

Comet Ikeya/Zhang rules the morning sky!

Sliding higher and higher every single morning, it won't be long until I/Z is visible as a late night object, too. I like watching it... There is something rather pleasing about sipping at your morning cup while admiring a "furry little star" where one doesn't belong... All the while knowing that the moment you put the binoculars to your eyes it turns into a Comet. It has a magical quality to it... And the starz only know that sometimes we could use a bit of magic in our lives.


Arpil 18, 2002 - I/Z - Oh. So you're tired of hearing about I/Z, huh. You know wanna' know what I say? Huh?

Better skip this part... ;)

Took the binoculars and the mug out to the east field for a look about this morning. And you know what I'm looking for. Comet Ikeya/Zhang...

(say it again.... comet ikeya/zhang....
whooooooo... zhang!... ;)

I tease only because I know just how much fun it is to follow a comet, and what a great pleasure it is to only need binoculars. Watching a comet move round in its' orbit is to see it cycle through many changes. When I/Z first arrived on the scene, the nucleas was much more "stellar", and the coma like an extremely bright nebula around it. Then, the dust tail was a thin line, with the entracing blue ion "scratch" jetting away from it.

As it moved more and more into the northwest skies, the dust tail brightened, and extended several degrees. Not only did the tail "brighten", but the coma itself increased in magnitude and changed in shape, causing the nucleas to be a "scope only" visible feature. It turned into a naked eye object. (sure! now everyone in the WORLD wants to see it, eh?)

As it cruised farther on, and lower on the horizon, I/Z became a prized catch between weather fronts. Now the "tale has turned"! Gone is the long, straight, sunlit trail of ice and dust particles... They become a "fan" shape, yet still continue to extend well beyond with "on the edge" averted vision.

Heading toward the north to loop around, Comet Ikeya/Zhang heads toward morning skies...

Pleased to have caught it at both times, the study again changes form.

Over the last several mornings, both telescopically and through binoculars, Ikeya/Zhang has changed structure radically. Yes, it still looks exactly like a comet. (and it looks like a "hairy star" to the unaided eye!) And it still has perceptable twin tails... But the coma and nucleas have transformed. The core has lost that "sharp" quality, and the coma is rounding itself off... Making it look much more like an unresolved globular smeared across the sky.

So what, you say? Then think on this...

If you have ever seen an ephemeris on a comet, then you will understand... It's beautiful.

Or an orbital plot??



Now THAT is fascinating!!

In watching Comet Ikeya/Zhang over a period of time, we have seen it move across star fields, near our neighboring galaxy... round the Sun, and into the circumpolar region...

Only to find it traveling against the backdrop of our own SPIRAL ARM!

And you know what? Let's continue to follow it's lead, as long as we can. For this gives us dimension... A sense of "place" in space.

And one of these days? It will give us a beautiful meteor shower....

("Woo Hooo! Did you see that one? Hey! There goes another!" ;)



April 23, 2002 - I/Z - The sky was rotten last night... As it had been for days. Temperatures in the upper 80's had brought clouds along, but a rapid drop was only the way. And around 4:00 a.m.? We had 29 degrees and crystal clear horizons...

Turn on the coffee, H. We're going out!

Radio on, Vixen weaviled out of the garage, and binoculars out, we're headed toward the east side to check on Comet I/Z. No sooner than eyes turned toward the skies, a beautiful, quick-silver bright meteor zoomed silently out of Lyra toward Hercules. All right! Left-over Lyrids... like left-over pizza make a great breakfast.

Yep. That crazy Comet is exactly where we thought it would be. Hanging out with King Cephus and the stars of the Milky Way. Still appearing much like a globular cluster in the binoculars, we give it a quick smile and head for the scope. Scope? Well, hey... Why not? Adventure is our middle name. Picking out the 32mm, 2" Televue wasn't exactly the most difficult choice. The field of view is outstanding in this eyepiece, and it's high time to see if this scope can perform. A bit of wriggling around, some minor contortions... and viola! Comet...

Oh yeah, baby. There is still some visible tail with averted vision, but what captures the imagination is the way the coma itself has changed. No longer a tear drop, nor is it a fan, the soft glow surrounds the "furry nucleas" in a very regular globe shape. Sensing no "stellar" points inside the body of the Comet, interest fades quickly. Or perhaps it's just because we've other things in mind...


April 24, 2002 - I/Z - Off we go! To dance across the sky together, you and I. So many things I haven't seen in such a long time! Like the M13, the M56, the M57, the M27, Brocchi's Cluster and the M11. Beta Delphini gave me a wink, and to the South? Saggitarius, Ophiuchus and Scorpius.

I shall not tarry long on details. They will be a summer study. But how wonderful it is to see the beauty of the southern skies with the power of aperature! (Besides, you know the walk I took, don't you? ;) But before the dawn steals the sky, I seek Comet Ikeya/Zhang. Oh, my my... So very bright and beautiful in the Great White! And the field? Whoa... I know you're tired of hearing about it, but say it again, will you?

Zhang!


April 26, 2002 - Woke again to clear skies. Turning on the coffee, moving slowly about, and trying not to think about anything but the stars. As soon as the first cup was ready, I grabbed a coat and the binoculars and headed out. At the moment, I can't carry the scope out... But it doesn't matter. Comet Ikeya/Zhang is still quite bright.

Following its' rapid ascension has been a real pleasure. It has changed so much over the last few months, but it is still beautiful to me. Averting my vision even in binoculars helps to bring out the stubby remainder of the cometary tail, and it still holds a relatively bright core structure surrounding by the halo of a "fuzzy" coma. You go, I/Z! It won't be long till I can catch you during an evening session...

Finishing my mug, I meandered out toward the south field. Stars down to the ground, baby... How incredible the scene is through binoculars! The knots, clusters and nebulae show quite well... Share we just say the view was...

Inspiring?


May 12, 2002 - I/Z - The astronomical pace has been demanding, but we take it in stride. So many things we've done over the last few days have left me dizzy... Jeff is anxious to get to his reports, and this is a thing I understand more than anyone. For me, reporting what I see and do is a part of the astronomy I practice, and I do not feel complete without it. The scopes have been set up here in the Backyard Boulder Creek, awaiting the night. While Jeff types, I sneak away to find a six-pack of Corona, for if I can't write? Hey! I can drink a cold one and sky watch... ;)

And so we started the evening checking out the planets. No shakes here, folks. Low sky position and high mountains against them make for less than desirable views. No matter... To me? Any night spent under the stars is a good night.



Jeff put Argo away and left the Vixen at my disposal. While he busied himself at the keyboard, I broke out my favourite CD's and the Walkman... And went to the eyepiece to spend some "real" time with Comet Ikeya/Zhang.



"Never made it as a wise man... Couldn't cut it as a poor man stealin'... Tired of livin' like a blind man... Sick of cybering without a sense of feeling... And this is how you remind me... Of what I really am. This is how you remind me... Of what I really am."





For 90 solid minutes I watched Comet I/Z fly across the starfield. You find comets boring?! Oh, my... Then sit a spell, and watch one truly move across the night sky. Starting at one side at the lower corner of a set of wide doubles, I/Z slowly, and silently cruised between them and beyond... It eventually occulted a minor star and still it moved. The night was quiet, I was alone, the beer was cold, the rock played in my head, and a comet danced before my eyes...



"Now why do I hide myself from you some days? Now why do I keep it bottled inside me? You came along and tore these walls down around me... Looks like you found me."



Taking Jeff away for a moment, I had him come to the eyepiece to help determine from the field just exactly HOW fast this bad boy cruises the sky. And the results we came up with? Four degrees in a 24 hour period... WOW! No wonder you can sit quietly at the eyepiece a see it streak across the sky!



The over-indulgence of a neighboring light source kept us from further study that evening, but rest is a welcome thing. For there are days to go yet...



And miles before I sleep...

NOTES: These observations were made from Boulder Creek, CA.


May 22, 2002 - I/Z - And I couldn't find Comet Ikeya/Zhang! Now, cut that out. Of all people, why on earth couldn't I find it? Slipping back into the garage, I fetched the binoculars for a look. Here? Nope. There. Nope. There? Nope. Where?! OK... Science head in action. Right there is where we studied it last... 4 degrees a day... I know the trajectory.... 4 X 7 = 28.... 28 degrees?!! Holy Kat on a hot tin roof! He's all the way to Corona Borealis now! Setting the field glasses aside, I tip the dob in the right direction.... Zhang! Ooooooh, you are fine!

The competition of light in the sky has robbed Comet I/Z of much of its' bright coma, leaving the subtle nucleas much more highlighted. Set against a star spangled field, I/Z is still a very noteworthy comet, and well worth a look. Right now it makes a very fitting "jewel" within the northern crown. Perhaps we could just see it as the ball of twine that led Theseus out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur. So now it touches the crown of Ariadne... And we thank Dionysius for turning it into stars. Traveller? I still seek you....

NOTES: Return to 40.66N 82.91W. Binoculars are 5x30 and sky was moonlight.


June 7/8, 2002 - I/Z - Capping the eyepiece, so I don't lose the darn thing in the dark, I walk back to my favourite observing spot to pay some attention to the 4.5. This is my travelling companion, and I fear getting rusty and dusty with it. I dig making public presentations, and you can't hold an audience's attention if it takes you more than just a few moments to hook up with a target. As I've said, my head has been in a cloud, and the sky has gone and changed on me! Weep not for me, Navigator...

Time to walk the line.

Glancing at my watch, I start in. M65 and M66. Perfect. M81 and M82. Still a snap. M51... Zenith? LOL! Watch me... For I can make the 4.5 behave like a dob! Gotcha'... M84/86. Yep. M5? Splendid. M13? Finder is a hair off. No problem. Readjusted. M57? Smokin'... M4? Cheesecake... Comet Ikeya/Zhang? Hey, Ralf! I still got the touch, buddy.... Cor Caroli and Albeiro? Simple. Time? 30 minutes. Eeeeesh! Do it AGAIN, T!


June 15, 2002 - LINEAR WM1 - For those who know me on a personal level... Well, you know I've been in Hercules for more than just the M13. For one particular person? The answer to your question is 13.8 tonight, partner. (I'm having trouble with the IC... too much "on the threshold" seeing conditions.) I continue to push through the field to improve on the quality of my notes, and I'll be... What in the BLEEP is that?! Laughing out loud, for I know cometary signature anywhere, I make note of the position. Guess what? Comet LINEAR WM1 is back in town, boys... ;)

NOTES: Using 12.5 Meade on this night, with 12mm superwide field eyepiece.


June 16, 2002 - LINEAR WM1 - Starting at the absolute glory of the M13, I do not linger long. The purpose of my sleep will be destroyed, along with my ability to grasp tiny faint objects. I push it away to go southeast. Confirmation of Comet LINEAR WM1 and its' position are what I want first, and it is oh-so-close to the M13! Where it once spoke in a loud voice, WM1 is a whisper. It could very easily be mistaken for a faint planetary nebula, but I seen none on the charts. Besides! If I were incorrect, then it wouldn't have moved, would it? And move it has... Pushing the scope, and pushing the envelope. There is a very distinct chance that the comet will be in the same field of view as the M13 within a matter of hours... (aieeee! chopping block! i've gone and done it again... i'm laying my neck on the astronomical chopping block... have at it, boys. just make sure that ax is sharp. ;)

Bumping up about a half a degree to the northeast calls up a pair. Again, NGC6196 is barely distinguishable as a galaxy! Caught at the tip of a chain of stars, it is nothing more than a soft point of light which I cannot focus. Companion galaxy, NGC6197, fairs only slightly better by offering me an elongated appearance. These babies produce even less light than the faded LINEAR, and it would be easy to mistake them as cometary.


June 17 - LINEAR WM1 -At lowest power I am astonished. So much time I have spent here, with my head buried in studies. Tonight I am alone in the field... But I am not alone. The immense strength and power of the M13 dominates the center of the field of view. Round it dances the stars... Teasing resolvability and calling on my observational powers. Caught between two bright and distant suns, the "Great Hercules Cluster" tries its' best to distract me, but I know what I have come here for.

And it is here...

At one edge resides tiny galaxy NGC6207, and at the other? Caught near that southern-most bright star is Comet LINEAR WM1...

Traveller? My soul reaches out for you.


August 9/10, 2002 - C/@002 04 Hoenig... C/2002/Q6 LINEAR - Those who know me best also know I quite take a fancy to comet chasing... And there's two I've a mind to see!! The first is Comet Hoenig - C2002/04... I got my first look a couple of nights ago at the Observatory through a 16" Obsession, and I want to see what I can do with it. After a wild goose chase through Cassiopeia, I finally found the little traveller firmly ensconched in Cepheus. Wow! You've moved, eh? And my next move is to put the 4.5 on the same target... Through the 12.5, Comet Hoenig is relatively bright, with a stellar nucleas and soft haloing field. Through the 4.5 it is picayune. It's is a pleasure to have captured this interloping fur ball with both scopes!

Next on the "hit list" is recently discovered C/2002/Q6. By 4:45 a.m., Orion has cruised up the horizon very well and I start my search. Again, I have one on my hands that has moved significantly since last I saw information! Finally located in what will eventually by Orion's upheld arm, (right now he sleeps with his arm under the pillow, ok?) the new "kid" on the block is right fine. At this point, a central brightening is what I see for a nucleac structure, giving this one the overall physiognomy of an unresolved globular cluster. Hastening to put the 4.5 toward it, I am rather pleased to see that except for being slightly smaller in appearance, C/2002/06 is quite viewable with smaller aperatures!


September 7, 2002 - M44, Jupiter and Wirtanen (46/P) - Grabbing a cup of coffee along the way, I made it to the backyard just as Jupiter entered the skyline. Running the 12.5 out, I found M44 and Comet Wirtanen immediately. What a beautiful picture this makes! At 32mm, if I look into the side of the eyepiece, I can put all three in the field! Jupiter, the Comet, and a Messier. Just awesome... Somehow there was a need in me to sketch this scene - Even in my less than talented fashion. Running back up to my office, I did take a moment to grab a bite of food, check in with the world, and grab my Crayola sketchbook. Back out I go, and do my best to transport sky onto paper. Then I just stood there.

And watched them until dawn...

NOTES: Big smile here. I had been out ALL night at the observatory helping to update the MegaStar program by confirming with the 31". I had to leave to see this because I can't get the big scope down low enough on the horizon. Eyepiece was 32mm Televue.


December 7/8 - 154/P Brewington - Not since Comet Schmausse have I found such a challenge!! Of course, the bright influence of the Moon wasn't exactly "helping" me any... But I figured I'd try anyhow. Armed with the maps, I happily pulled the dob out to the back field and began my search grid. And ran it again... And again... And again....

And again...

Finally, like with Schmausse before it, I decided that this hairy-looking, very soft globe had to be it, and made a sketch of the area. If I am correct in my assumptions, then Brewington is a very small, very faint little traveller! I can percieve no real nucleas and definately no tail. At best I can only describe it as a very faint unresolvable globular cluster that appears brighter in the center. Right or wrong? If it were a static study I wouldn't have reported it... But I do enjoy comet hunting, and if I can locate the others? Why not this one!

Brewington? I think I found ya'... ;)

NOTES: 12.5 Meade, 32mm, 26mm, 12mm eyepieces. Sky partially moonlit.