2004 COMETS



February 4, 2004 - LINEAR T7 - Doin' the Arte Johnson "Old Man" shuffle to the garage, I knew I wanted the SVD8 tonight, but I also knew I'd be scared to carry it out. Where there's a will, there's a way, isn't there? Darn right. Gathering up some old blankets and rugs, I made myself a "trail" just outside the door and gingerly finessed the big Orion out onto my makeshift observing pad. (ow. i am going to feel this tomorrow! heck, i'm feelin' it right now.) I carefully uncapped everything and put it in my coat pockets, patting myself down to make sure I still had my notebook and little bitty red flashlight. The good 26mm Meade eyepiece was my choice and after making sure the radio was on in case I caught a stray meteor, I promptly switched it back over to rock and roll and headed out in search of a comet.

The moment I had Gamma Peg in the finder, I started grinnin'. With a great big hand from Mr. Wizard, I can smile when faced with the rising Moon. I see ya'... Going to the eyepiece, my smile turns to a Scottish war whoop as I see Comet LINEAR 2002/T7 just as big as you please! Large and completely diffuse, T7 is kicking around in a very stellar field, and sports a condensed nucleus. Having a guess at magnitude, I gotta' say this baby is punching in somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 6, for it is far brighter than the M81, and darn near as close as the M31! No wonder I could see it in the fi... ahem.... field so clearly. ;)

Nobody can top your act, baby.


February 8, 2005 - C/2002 LINEAR T7 - So, you want to know about Comet LINEAR, huh? Well, I'll be happy to tell you. I was so itching to see that comet again, that I had both the Celestron 4.5 and the Meade 12.5 out before the stars even showed up. We had clear skies, and I wasn't taking any chances! First and foremost, I wanted to locate it with the little scope, because sometimes switching between so many apertures means I have difficulty calling magnitudes. What seems bright and easy in one scope can be much harder in a smaller one... And... I'd kinda' like to tell you without a shadow of doubt in my mind that you can find it with your little scope, ok? So here I am... Loaded for bear and standing in the frozen wastelands waiting on anything to show up in the western sky besides Venus. Blick! Ah... There be one star in the "Square"... Blick! There be another... And maybe, just maybe that one over there is Gamma. Let's try, ok? So I uncovered the finder in the little Celestron, stuck in a 25mm eyepeice and homed in on it. Daggone.. Where is it? Oh, come on... I know you're here. You've got to be right here. I've been doin' this for years and I know a comet's trajectory when I... Oh! There you are. Oh, my... You are so faded. You aren't even close to the....

Ahem. It was the M74.

Feeling like the worldest most magnificient palomino's posterior and blushing redder than Betelguese, I looked up to notice I wasn't exactly one the right star. Well, hey! To be honest with you, it is scoring a coup to be able to get the M74 in a 4.5 scope at twilight! Even if it ain't a daggone comet....

Going this time to Gamma Peg instead of Eta Pic, it only took 3 seconds to find my mark. At whatever magnfication the 25mm supplies with 4.5 (here's my calculator, you do the math.) it is possible to just barely place Gamma and T7 in the same field. Just the slightest movement reveals a splendid field of stars between them. To the eye of the 4.5, T7 is still huge, diffuse and sports a very concentrate core region. I wasn't kidding when I told you this comet was easy to find! Now let's see if I can judge the magnitude a bit more closely.... Going to M31. Now going to the M81 and M82... It's in between the two. I am still holding firm that it is approaching magnitude 6 in the core region and around magnitude 7 in the coma. Now let's try the 12.5 on it... POW! Comet-city!! At three times the aperature, LINEAR T7 can be mistaken as nothing. It is a comet. Perfect depth and concentration around the nucleus which gives a stellar glint and a evenly diffuse coma that is definately taking on some stretch. I sweep the appropriate direction for tail, and other than just the elongated coma, I am still seeing nothing. Darker conditions would probably be more helpful... But I am not complaining! So get yourself out there... If you can find the southernmost star of "The Great Square" of Pegasus, you CAN find this comet!


February 11, 2004 - C/2002 LINEAR T7 - Although the skies were relatively clear, they began deteriorating after sunset. I was still anxious to have another look at T7, so I left the scope out and ready to go. Just as soon as it got dark enough for me to find my marker star, I was on it. Thanks to hazing conditions, comet 2002/LINEAR T7 isn't much more than a tear-drop shaped contrast change in the field with Gamma Peg tonight. I keep hoping to spot a tail, but it's not going to happen tonight.


February 16, 2004 - LINEAR T7 - By the time the Sun started to set, it began dragging wispy clouds in with it. I'm not really the type to be daunted by a few clouds, after all doesn't every silver lining have just a touch of grey? (hmmmm.... apparently my hair is beginning to think so. ;) So... I went out anyway! All I need is my marker in Pegasus. That's it. No maps. No trajectories. All I need is where I saw it last and to know in my mind what path it's going to take. Did I find it? Darn right I did. And man, oh, man... It's picking up speed! It's moved a solid field and a half to two fields from where I last observed it. I'm guessing about about a degree and a half from its last position. Tonight I was just sticking with the 4.5 Celestron and the 25mm Celestron eyepiece, and thanks to the haze that continually helps to dim the picture, I still see no evidence of a tail. Like so many comets before it, it looks like it is becoming larger and more diffuse. Of course, this is observing under less than optimal conditions... But they all can't be perfect.

At this point, T7 is in a relatively starless field. There is perhaps a ninth magnitude star at the edge of the eyepiece, and a few brave winks that tell me around magnitude 12 for additional field stars. Without aperture or exceptional clarity, there is no coma present at this time. My best guess is that T7 is stretching approximately 30' in diameter. (whooops? did i say that?) Again, the skies aren't cooperating to full capacity, but T7 is still rocking... Even through the haze!


February 17, 2004 - LINEAR T7 - My only real intention tonight was to go out and view T7 again. It has been a long day, yet a rewarding one. I enjoyed my "classroom" experience very much and I figured just keeping a handle on a comet would be all I'd need. By the time the sky had began to darken, I had the SVD8 set out and was ready for clearer condtions. I played around for awhile with phat Venus, and found my best results to be with a 17mm plossl, stacked with both blue and green filters. Its rough half-form became much more apparent... And I just kinda' enjoyed looking at Venus for Venus. I puttered around for a bit, drank a cup of coffee while admiring the skies, and when I couldn't stand it any longer?

I hunted down LINEAR.

Gotcha', baby. Approximately a degree west/southwest of Gamma Peg is where you will find it. And the moment I locked onto it and put the 12.3mm ED into the focuser, I knew something special had happened since I'd seen it last... We've got tail, folks. A thin extension to the east extrudes from the tip of the tear-drop shaped coma and spans approximately 10' before I lose it with this aperture. There is also an unmistakable bright core as well! Several dozen low-wattage field stars accompany it, and when I switch back to a 32mm, 1.25 Celestron eyepiece, I find that I can just squeeze Gamma Peg into the edge of the "picture" as well!


February 23, 2004 - LINEAR T7 - Where the heck did this come from?!? I only stepped out the door to fetch a soda and I'm looking stars in the eyes! Popping the tab of my much beloved and now one daily Coke, I stood there just admiring the slim crescent of the Moon and then it hit me that I really was looking at clear skies!

Oh, what the hey...

Putting on a pair of old snow boots to keep the mud, water, slush and ice of my bare tootsies, I took another tasty sip and trucked out to the garage and set the old Celestron out. Always ready, ain't ya' kid? Pop the top, uncover the eyepiece and aim! And ya' know where I had to go, don't you" Darn right, LINEAR. Pushing away from Gamma, I spot the little fuzz beast right away with my 25mm workhorse Celestron eyepiece. Awesome! Before I head back in to get a better one, though, I started looking around and noting positions of the handful of stars that accompany it and then everything just went dim. HUH? Giving a cautious sideways glance, it's doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the western skyline is slowly being toasted by a bank of clouds. Well, fine then, Comet HA! I am going to take advantage of the clouds natural dimming ability and look at Venus!

Grinning as I watch the clouds creep in from around the edges, I went on to Saturn just to enjoy watching Titan cruising along with the Ring King to the northwest. It reminds me of a shepherd.... Just always keeping things in place. And ya' can't possibly look at Saturn right now without taking a bump over and viewing the M35! Figuring I better head on to Jupiter before the clouds claim it as well, I am pleased to see all the galieans with a close pair up on the outside edge. Gotta' be Europa and Callisto because their colors are so prominent. Giving a quick look around, I figure I better just keep right on a'movin' if I want to see anything else, so it turned into a fast hop to the Plieades, the Orion Nebula, and the big M's in Auriga. I realize it's not like the most outstanding of things to go look at, so why do I bother?

Cuz' they're my friends....


March 9/10, 2004 - LINEAR T7 - Hustling out, the little Orion got the honours tonight. It now has a new finder on it. (although procrastion rules, i did set it up so it could be used at our first public night just in case. ;) I continue to be amazed at how quickly and easily this small and very portable scope can be set up. Within minutes I had it out of my trunk (ok, it's not a trunk... it's a space big enough to stuff a small scope and that's all i need.) and assembled in the driveway. So... Did my finder survive being packed across country in the back of a sports car? You bet it did. And tonight was first light for the little scope on a comet.

The phrase "how low can you go?" is very apt for the position of LINEAR T7 now. I'm tellin' ya' now that you've got to start hunting just as soon as it starts getting dark because it has dropped significantly lower than Gamma Peg. It took binoculars for me to locate it, and once I did? Holy Chow Mein! It's a wonder we aren't seeing this one naked eye! In the binos it is a comet.... Bright, very significant core region and lovely short extension of tail. Catching it in the scope was a bit more difficult, but when I did? Oh, wow... The field was stellar! Two bright stars and a small configuration that looked like a minature Leo accompanied it and the tail? What I wouldn't give if the sky wasn't so bloody bright! I had half a mind at that time to throw it right back in the trunk of my car and head about a mile out of the village where I can get a even lower and darker horizon.


April 27, 2004 - LINEAR T7 and Bradford - Shouldn't that be comets?? (big smile here...) I was out at 5:30 this morning on the edge of the east field. I wasn't too sure I'd get to see what I was after, because there were a few stray clouds, but for the most part it was clear. Now, I'm not exceptionally good with binoculars. I can't tell you how many degrees it sees, but I can tell you what I see. So you wanna' chase the two morning comets with me?

Then let's rock.

I figured Bradford would be the first I would find because there is clouds right where LINEAR should be. I was wrong. LINEAR was the first one I spotted and it probably took me 15 minutes to capture it. When the clouds scooted on enough, I found LINEAR T7 to be a bright streak with just a bit of concentration toward the comet head. Poor contrast and not even close to naked eye. In other words? It was GREAT!! It looks like a comet!

Bradford threw me a wide curve. Scanning directly east, I kept waiting and waiting... Hoping I was gonna' beat that Sun, cuz' the sky is sure beginning to pinken up. I kept going back and forth and up and down until it felt like my arms were going to fall off. Then I started noticing that no matter how many times I would go across this field, what appeared to be a contrail stayed put. So, I put my astronomer mind to work and started making note of field stars. Dropping my arms for a few minutes, H probably thought I had cracked because I just kept staring east. What the?? Reluctantly willing my arms to hold up what now feels like 50 pound binoculars, I went back to the field again.

No doubt about it, friends. Comet Bradford has a huge extended tail system that looks all for the world like a contrail being lighted by the rising sun. Absolutely no head whatsoever, but this long, thick streak of east/west light just does not move!

Comet Bradford? Gotcha'... ;)


April 28, 2004 - T7 and Bradford - Started the morning off right. Thanks to some rare clear skies, I was out about 4:45 and on the hunt for our two comets. Bradford is still hanging due east and still achievable in binoculars. The easiest way to see it is to find the Andromeda galaxy and drift east... You can't miss the faded tail! I am still not seeing any kind of head to Bradford in binoculars, but the earlier time does show me that the faded column of light that is the tail extends almost to the Milky Way!

Comet LINEAR is, in my opinion, far more awesome. Compared to Bradford, it is compact and far more bright. Far more than "just a fuzzy" in the binos, T7 has a bright nucleas and a broad, short and very fanned tail. Still due E/SE, it is fairly easy to find and well worth the hunt!


April 29, 2004 - T7 and Bradford - OK. I started even earlier today. For me, it's no great shakes to be up and moving at 4:30 in the morning. No surpise seeing as how I'm usually at work before dawn! Getting dressed, my cup of coffee in hand and my trusty old binoculars around my neck, H and I wandered out to the edge of the east field in a hunt for our two early morning comets. Now, I've been kinda' disappointed in Bradford, and I was hoping that starting earlier might improve the contrast...

But I found out differently.

At this time, Comet Bradford is no where to be seen. I can only see what may be the vaguest hints of a tail to the east, so I give up on it for now and head for T7. Starting at Saggittarius, I start scanning east until I recognize the stars of Capricorn. More and more until I see a wide double to the binos and I know I'm on the right track. Where are you, devil?? And at last? Higher than I thought.

LINEAR T7 is billed at 1.7 magnitude, but it just ain't that bright. By defocusing primary stars, my guess is that in the pre-dawn hours we aren't seeing much more than a magnitude 3 here. But don't be disappointed!! LINEAR is everything it is cracked up to be. Very concentrated, T7 shows a broad, fan-like tail and a bright nucleus. It really is a fine comet and shows in a relatively starry field. It's worth getting up for!


May 12, 2004 - C1/2001 NEAT Q4 - Well, I had hoped this would be two days earlier. Right around this time of year, I like to do something special to celebrate the anniversary of my birth... Be it horseback riding, a trip to a museum, or just watching Star Trek movies with a pint of ice cream. I can't complain too much though, because the years have been kind to me. Two years ago I was at Freemont Peak Observatory with a dear friend celebrating my birthday with a conjunction of the planets and it shall evermore be one of my most treasured memories. Last year was tornadoes and a total lunar eclipse. Three years ago? A comet...

And a comet was what I had I mind this time.

In this new century we call what I've experienced over the last few days a "stressful period". In the time I was born in, it was just called a string of bad luck. But tonight was going to change all that, at least temporarily, and I cheerfully stowed the SVD8 in the back of my car and headed toward the Observatory. Thanks to two detours, 40 miles of totally unfamiliar road... (hey, it's ohio! how lost can you be? dang lost, brother... not all of them one lane, pot-holed backroads lead to civilization.) and an exploding carbonated water, let's just say when I did actually make it to the Observatory, I was never so glad to see Joe in all my life. A dose of his quiet humor, sympathetic manner, and easy-going style was precisely what I needed

Joe had already set up his SkyWind and binoculars and was watching Venus when I walked up the Hill. A few minutes later, the much rattled SVD8 joined him on the observing pad and we just quietly fiddled around waiting on true dark. I had read where the ISS was going to make a close pass on Jupiter around 9:30, so we simply kicked back to talk for awhile and watch. Too bad I took the report at face value and didn't double check for times in our area, huh? But this man is different. He laughs at my sometimes strange behaviour and unerring qualities to screw up the easy stuff and succeed at the difficult. We hadn't spotted Comet NEAT yet, but he had put me so at ease that as we talked I just walked over to the scope and set it on it like I had known where it was all along. Absolutely fantastic... I can see a deep, wide, fan of a tail... An intense, birght nucleas... And a highly stellar field. I pointed out where to find it and three minutes later?

I fell into space.

Joe's binoculars are fantastic. I think they are like 80 or 90mm and I know I heard him laugh as I looked at the Comet through them. Holy ion trail, BatMan!! While my scope absolutely shatters the structure, Joe's binoculars does something it cannot.... You get full field and depth perception. I musta' been yakking a mile a minute, because I couldn't believe how far the tail really stretched on this baby! Double checking just how much field it really can see, we determined the major portion of tail stretch near 3 degrees of sky, and the bluish ion tail was cooking broad and away for at least 2 and half degrees. I know I was stunned! Go to my scope and you will see "inside" the comet... Go to Joe's binoculars? And you see the outside.

Absolutely incredible....

Laughing together like a couple of kids, we decided we'd try to put the 31" on it before it dipped too low. Unfortunately, the one thing I had feared, (that it would be in a position where you couldn't access the eyepiece) turned out to be quite true, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. In the end, we figured "what the hey" and since we had it out anyhow turned it toward Jupiter. Again, I am blown away. Even with as little magnification as the 55mm provides, the view was superb. Within seconds you could see some of the fine details that only Sol Robbins can capture with lesser aperture. While it doesn't appear as colorful as some of the webcam images, it is every bit as detailed. And the galieans? Worlds of their own, amigo... Worlds of their own.

NOTES: Observing location 40.75 N 82.51 W


May 16, 2004 - C/2002 NEAT Q4 - Clear skies for the evening in Ohio? Darn right, clear skies... And there was one, and only one, telescope I wanted under my hands tonight.

That big ol' dob!

I waited until I couldn't stand it any longer, which translates to just a bit before 10:00. I knew where Comet C/2001 NEAT Q4 would be and I knew only binoculars could give me the one view I'd like to see, and so I set my old, well used binos toward the "Beehive", and sure enough... Northeast of it was the Comet. I drooled around on it for a few moments, about half procrastinating because I was sure the 12.5 would toast it out of existance, but I was in for a magnificent surprise. It gave me the best of both worlds...

I had chosen to use my 2", 32mm, and I have never been so content with the amount of money I have spent on an eyepiece. I think those of you who are deeply involved with their equipment understand the sizeable chunk of change that represents, so you understand just that eyepiece cost as much as several of my scopes. I am not bragging here, nor am I dropping name brands, just trying to explain how breathtaking the view of Comet NEAT was in a 12.5 telescope with an eyepiece that provides around one degree of full sky image. Even as good as I hope to be with words, I cannot tell you fully how impressive it was!

I appreciated the SVD8's ability to shatter the comet's structure. I was amazing with Joe's binoculars at revealing the tail. And here before me? Is the best of both worlds. Perfectly resolved, Comet NEAT shows its' stellar nucleus and bright, wide coma. The light gathering ability and perfect color correction of the big scope allows me to push the comet structure totally out of the picture and follow the tail for at least three fields of view. The color? The blue ion tail is just incredible! The extra light grasp combined with that huge field makes it simply blaze. What binoculars did not do, nor did the 8", was to show the truly stellar field in which Comet NEAT is now travelling and each of the tiny stars would show through the "thinness" of the comet's tail like tiny pin pricks of light.

Needless to say, I spent a full ninty minutes simply watching NEAT. Like Ikeya/Zhang before it, it is possible to pick field stars and watch the comet's progression. How fast does it travel? I do not know, amigo... But I can tell you that I watched it devour some of those field stars with its' bright coma in just the time I took to study it.

It was just plain NEAT!!!


May 19, 2004 - Q4 NEAT - For the moment, I go back indoors lest I end up the night looking like a giant welt. In about another half and hour or so, it will be time to chase Comet NEAT again! And when the time came? You know it... Clouds. Good ol' patchy clearness!! Laughing at my luck, I still stood around with the binoculars and waited on an opportunity. When it came, it looked more like cat Z hacked up a hairball than a comet! At least I'm still tracking it position, but... But... Nothin' but fuzz... Oh, well amigo.


May 23, 2004 - Q4 NEAT - Tonight provided clear skies. Wonders truly never cease! I am here to tell you that we were holding a wonderful 5.0 at around 10:30 and there was lightning at the same time. Lightning during clear skies? Believe it, brother. I did not question from what direction it came, nor did I want to know. All I see at the moment are the stars in my eyes and I will follow them.

Wheeling the dob out to my favourite area, I started first by locating Comet NEAT with binoculars. WOW! This comet is still rockin' incredible and still moving fast. Since I truly do not know how many degrees each field of view my binoculars consists of, I can only speculate that it was perhaps 20 degrees east/northeast of the Moon (four fields of view) and definately in the field with primary stars of Lynx. Turning the eye of the 12.5 toward it, I chose to use study grade 26mm tonight and I am blown away again. Still an absolutely stellar core, the coma holds that classic fan shape of a comet even with as much distance as it has now placed between itself and the Sun. The presence of the Moon has diminuished the signature of the blue ion tail, but it is also still visible along with a handsome stretch of dust tail. Comet NEAT has truly been a pleasure to chase at every opportunity!


June 1, 2004 - Q4 NEAT - Walking to the door, I realized I had slept until midnight and the "little red ball of light" was the Moon reflecting inside the hummingbird feeder. Holy crap! I just slept 10 hours in a chair! It's June 1 already... Trading off the business duds for a pair of cutoffs and a T-shirt, I wandered out with the binoculars and a beer to let H re-water the lawn. I was surprised at how clear the sky was! Scanning around, it didn't take long to find Comet NEAT tucked in rather "neatly" between two bright stars. Gone, thanks to the moonlight, is the splendid tail, but I'm still quite happy to see it. Swiping a place dry with my hand on the park bench, I settle down with the binos. Balancing my arms on the deck railing, (and also providing a great spot to park my beer) I took great pleasure in touring the bright lunar features. You know, Tycho is pretty impressive when you look at it like this! Bright points of Aristachus and Keplar... And the smoothness of the mares... Just a pleasant way to pass a bit of time.


June 3, 2004 - Q4 NEAT - LINEAR T7 - Clear skies at last! I was happy to park in the rays to put some color back on the old flesh, reading about the Battle of Perrysburg and waiting for what seemed like an eternity until sky dark. My mission tonight?

Spot LINEAR.

I had checked the maps and knew roughly the area where it should be positioned, but Hydra is by no means an easy constellation. Although at 40N, it is visible, the rayleigh scattering from the long set sun and the threat of the upcoming moon made it absolutely imperative that I waste no time in finding my mark. Of course, this also means that some of the fainter stars of the constellation aren't there to guide me with the naked eye! Grabbing the binos, I headed out into the open field... Where are ya', dude? Nothin'. Zip. Zilch. OK, then! It just must not be dark enough. So I puttered around looking at the M44 and a brilliant little cluster I've found for binos on the Lynx/Ursa Major border. And wouldn't ya' know it? There's NEAT!! Hot damn... Let's go get LINEAR.

Moving back out into the field, I started scanning the sky until the pattern of Hydra became a bit more clear and looked more like what I had memorized. And way down low there? I found what I believe to be the return of C/2001 LINEAR T7. If I don't miss my guess, the one decently bright star I was on was Alpha Hyrdrae, (daggone it! i should have brought the field guide out. it's not the bright stars in the "head", it's further down and east... and bright enough it has to be a primary star! alphard? was that's its' name?) and a bit lower than that was a wide pairing that sported a "light" scratch between them. I though perhaps I had stumbled on a bit of bright cloud, but each time I would run a grid pattern across the sky, I would spot that same little scratch right there between those two stars with my "streak" running from northwest to southeast. Is it LINEAR? My guess is yes... And the days ahead will confirm it.


June 7, 2004 - Q4 NEAT, LINEAR T7 - Well, there was no way I could go to sleep early. Clear skies and predictions of clear skies for tomorrow's Venus transit meant I was busy making sure everything was ready to go. Little last minute things, like making sure batteries were charged and everything handy. In other words? Wound tighter than an 8-day clock....

Around 10:15 or so, I decided I'd take the binoculars out and have a go at Comet LINEAR. Brief and to the point? It's BIG!!! Now achieving enough elevation that I can see without an type of light source interfering, I am stone blown away by the size. Again, the tail runs from southwest to northeast, but in my terms? It's standing straight up! Even with low position, degrading haze, and nothing more than an old set of binos, I can see close to two degrees of tail, and the major bright portion of the coma is daggone close to one! At this point, I see no concentration in the nucleus area, but the sheer size is definately worth risking a few mosquito bites over!

Rock on, T7!

Heading back up toward the house, I stop and look at Comet NEAT for awhile. It's diminuished so greatly over the weeks, that to the binoculars it looks more like a slightly elongated globular cluster now, than a bright comet. Still, it's been one heck of a grand show, and I don't rightly ever recall a time that I could say there were two comets within binocular range at the same time! (and i don't think that little cluster of stars has a designation, but from now on i'm callin' it "june bugs". ;)


June 19,2004 - NEAT - As soon as it gets dark enough, I want Comet NEAT and it's not long until I have it in the eyepiece of the 4.5 Orion. Nearby, the SVD8 stands ready to go as well, but its turn will come later. For science sake? NEAT still has a stellar nucleus region and a very bright and pronounced coma, but the tail has faded into obscurity. (sorry. there is a combination of clouds and trees for LINEAR.) I hand over the eyepiece to our guests and the round robin of pointing different scopes toward different objects has begun. What all did we look at? Unfortunately, I did not write it down. Sometimes I find I am not as out of practice as I believe myself to be and Messiers, double stars and NGCs fall into the eyepieces. For several hours we moved back and forth across very decent skies and around every scope were clusters of "stars" themselves...


June 23, 2004 - NEAT - Once dark has fully settled in, I am ready to hunt the comets again. LINEAR is still proving to be a very difficult customer, and as I scan the skies in the right area, I pick up a fuzzy, round signature near a wide double star. Perhaps the Moon is interferring with any tail activity, but at best LINEAR T7 gives the appearance of an unresolved globular cluster. Far easier is Comet NEAT who is still playing in the house of the holy and not more than five degrees away from Dubhe. Now this one has been a by-gosh comet! Even long past its' prime, NEAT Q4 still holds a stellar core and a fine coma display. I have truly enjoyed this particular comet. Finest since Ikeya-Zhang!


December 1, 2004 - C/2001 Q4 NEAT, C/2001 Q1 Tucker, 78/P Gehrels - While the 12.5 stabilized, I busied myself studying maps and laying out my observing plans for capturing a couple of comets. I realize that if I'd just hook up this bunch of electronic gizmos to my telescope that I could be out there, observe them and be back inside to watch the tube before the hour grew late, but where's the fun in that? I think nine tenths of the pleasure is using a locator chart, finding the proper field, and actually working for what you get to see! And brother? Comet C/2001 Q4 NEAT was a bit of work. Located in Draco, the hop stars are tough ones for me. Draco has always been so and it actually takes me longer to home in on the proper field than it does to observe the comet. Caught around a handful of mid-range brightness stars that have no real asterism, Q4 is nothing more than a blip on the radar screen, folks. Faint, very diffuse and small, this one is more like looking at a small spiral galaxy than a comet. And trust me, I checked Uranometria over and over again to make sure that I wasn't looking at one!

The second comet I went for was C/2004 Q1 Tucker. Now that's more like it! Located in Andromeda, Q1 Tucker looks like what I equate most comets to appear. Yes, it is diffuse, but it is far brighter than Q4, very round, and looks a great deal like a small, unresolvable globular cluster. Kicking up the magnification, at very best I see a slight concentration toward the nucleus, but nothing that even remotely looks like a cometary core, nor do I see any type of extension. Just a nice little comet that should be able to be observed with a smaller telescope.

Smiling, I fetched myself a cup of tea and just admired the stars for awhile. Just for laughs, I poked around looking at a few things like Omicron Cygni and the NGC7331 and realized about that time that I could probably find a galaxy that was reasonably close in appearance to compare these comets to! Shooting back over to Andromeda, my choice was the M32 and this was a good call. Q4 is about half its size and probably two magnitudes fainter. Comet Tucker is pretty close to the same size as the M32 and about a magnitude fainter. And now I'm ready to go back to the charts and find a third!

The next hop is to Aries and the search for 78P/Gehrels. Yes! Even at 26mm Gehrels snaps right out. There are several nearby bright stars at lower power that look kinda' like the letter J. Remembering my "anchor" of the M32, Comet 78P/Gehrels is very close to the same magnitude, just a tad fainter, but not much. Now here we have a comet! Gehrels definately displays a condensation toward the nucleus that is much more pronounced, but not quite stellar. Aversion also shows a faint tail extension! Not exactly what you call a lengthy ion trail, but just a nice "stretch". Gehrels was work the hunt!

And so this is enough for me tonight. There is another, very bright comet out there that hasn't risen yet and if I know my sky, the Moon will be right along with it. It's OK, though... It's a nice one that will just get better as the skies get darker! There's several more out there as well, and perhaps I'll have an opportunity to hunt them down as well. It's been a very long time since I've "played Messier", and although I greatly miss my "co-conspirator" on the west coast confirming things for me, I've learned there's others out there that like to play, too.

Hand me the maps, will you?


December 2, 2004 - C/2004 Q2 Macholz - Again, it looked like another night that there would be no astronomy despite predictions that the temperatures would drop rapidly. The early evening held no promise at all, so I worked for awhile and enjoyed my movie at last. Around about 10:45 or so, H wanted out. Opening the door for him, I decided it would be a good time to go turn off the Christmas lights and no sooner than I stepped out on the deck than Orion just slapped me in the face. Jaw dropping, I went right back in to fetch my binoculars and find shoes and a coat. I want what's out there...

Macholz.

Extinguishing the soft blue lights, I wandered out to the south field with a delighted german shepherd leading the way. The stars of Lepus came easy and one - two - three... There it was! C/2004 Q2 (Macholz)... Why isn't everybody out there shouting and cheering about this comet??? Holy monkey on a rope, it's got twin tails! Not since Ikeya/Zhang have I seen one like this!! Even with the very orange Moon sitting quietly on lower horizon, this is one impressive by-gosh comet! All thoughts of being cold vanished, and I'm here to tell you that you can hold binoculars incredibly steady when you really, really want to. The body of the comet is not terribly large, roughly the size of a very small globular cluster, but its got a sharp and bright nucleus and the tail? Oh, my gosh... I am not a very good judge of how much sky these binocular span, but I'm seeing at least one quarter of the field!

Needless to say, if you can find Epsilon Puppis, you can find Macholz. There are three stars that run south of Epsilon, and if you go to the southernmost of these three, it's just to the west. Of course, it's going to climb in the days ahead, but you gotta' see it! (and if my stubborn pride would let me, i would straight up write you and tell you to go look...) This comet is going to make a name for itself really soon, because it is as bright as some of the Trapezium stars and I am honoured to have gotten the opportunity to spot it. Macholz definately rocks!


December 4, 2004 - C/2002 Q2 Macholz - I popped in and out many times during the evening, not particularly dressed for success but knowing by the time I got cold that something else would be ready for me to do. The 16X50 binoculars sure got a workout! And I'd keep wandering further and further out... Because I want Macholz - and tonight the Moon won't interfere. By the time Lepus had achieved good altitude and climbed about a band of low lying southern clouds, the slippers and blanket had given way to lined boots and a parka. I really want to see this comet. And did it deliver? You have got to see it!

I don't care what other's reports state here, my friends. I am looking at Comet Macholz, not reading its statistics. Caught in a triangle of stars last night, Macholz is far exceeding the size of the M13... As in, probably two or more times as large. There is absolutely no mistaking cometary signature. The nucleus is a bright, precise stellar point and the coma is concentrated around it and fades right out to the outside edges. The tail? The white portion of the tail extends up, up and away! I traced that puppy for probably three fields of view at 25mm. The blue ion tail is probably getting close to a degree in size and the whole thing is simply incredible. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the "astronomy network" just isn't buzzing with observances of this outstanding comet! It is every bit as bright as the M42 and once you've located it, you can see it unaided. I guess I'll just be quiet (yeah, rite.) and hope that others will catch on that it's out there. Once you see it, you can't help but want to go back out and look again!

It's that good.


December 12, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - 'Tis the season to work over-time, and here in Ohio extra cash is readily available to those who are willing to work for it. Needless to say, today's adventure in earning took me on a road trip that ended up being quite worth the time. Of course, double-shifts mean I start long before the Sun rises and drive back long after it is set. Most of the time, I honestly don't mind... But when walking outside for a break tonight, I saw the Moon and how clear the twilight skies were.

Why now?!

But don't you worry. Sometimes things have a way of working out in unexpected and very beautiful ways. Last night presented me with an opportunity to do some binocular viewing in a place where I would normally not go because the drive is far too long. Ohio is well known for its wide open spaces and one of the most unpopulated and dark sites this side of Black Forest goes by the very unassuming name of Kildeer Plains. The ground is totally flat here. With the exception of a few very secondary roads it is absolutely pristine -- unchanged from the time of the Native Americans. There are no houses, nor lights, for Kildeer Plains is a wildlife preserve.

"I can see for miles and miles... And miles... And miles... And miles..."

Parking on an access road, I was thrilled to stop for awhile and simply sweep the dark and starry skies with binoculars. So many beautiful things out there! Even with Moon, the Andromeda galaxy seems to extend forever. The Double Cluster is like two fistfuls of jewels. All the clusters just glitter and the Moon itself is so lit with earthshine that I almost wish I could stay here for awhile longer to see the comet. But this is a very cold place, and dress clothes and a leather coat offer very little protection from the searing winds.

Regretfully leaving, I can only hope those clear skies hold out for another 40 miles... And my luck was good. By the time Orion had made it well up enough to see Puppis, I was out there again - this time with the big binos! When I made it out to the south field, my jaw dropped. Surely that big line up the sky isn't the tail? Knowing it was too far west, but needing the smile anyhow, I traced the contrail grinning all the way to the zenith and then headed east. The keyword now would be "Magnificent Macholz". This comet will blow you away! Even through a little thin cloud, it is absolutely striking. Now exhibiting a slightly different form, I can see where the coma is starting to extend to the northeast. (or is that me shaking because it's so cold and my hair is wet? remind me that pyjamas, slippers and a parka are not to be considered artic gear. ;) No matter how many times I look at it tonight, I can still see bright extension. The tail itself is faint, but still there... What's exciting is that change in the coma!


December 16, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - Don't ask me where the clear skies came from, because I simply don't know. It was crappy, it was cold, and when I went out about 10:45 to shut the Christmas lights off, the skies were clear! Still very windy, but either I've become more tolerant or it has warmed up. Either way, I am happy to grab my parka and the 16X50s and walk out to the south field to have another look at Macholz.

Tonight it is different again! That nucleus is really getting hot, hot, hot - for the coma shift was not apparent tonight but the nucleus was intensified. Let's put it this way... You can't miss it unaided! The skies are not incredible here right at the moment, but the Magnificent Macholz is easy to spot as a fuzzy star that doesn't belong on the visual maps. In the binos, it's toasting the little star that sat on its eastern border. Tail? Oh, yeah. The sweep was wide and it was very prounced all the way towards the lazy J shape of three bright stars to the northeast. After that it faded and I would either need one of my scopes or darker skies to trace it further.

Really, though... It doesn't matter. It is just such a pleasure to be able to walk outside on the spur of the moment with a pair of binoculars and have the chance to view this awesome comet. I grinned all the way back to the house and kept turning around to look at it. To me, it is very impressive knowing that even under less than ideal conditions that it has achieved naked-eye visibility. What a fine present... Why, it's almost better than cookies!

Almost...


December 17, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - A very moonlit sky tonight. Normally I would have gone out to enjoy that Moon, but instead choose to devote a bit of time to family and friends. I've been pretty out of touch here recently, and it was just nice to stop round and let them know I am still alive. It sounds dumb, but I am still kid enough at heart to enjoy looking at Christmas lights as well, and driving around town was pleasant. I know I should be shopping, but shopping and I?

Just don't really get along.

The forecast for the next several days is a very generous amount of snow. It's alright by me. I have plenty of supplies laid in, but a little voice in the back of my head says I really ought to have a look at Comet C/2004 Q2 before the Moon gets too close and I end up standing at the window watching the world go white. When I arrived back, the Moon was still happily "very up", but if I cup my hands around the binoculars I can shield myself from most of the glare. Crunching my way out to the back field over the old snow, I looked at the precise spot in the sky where I knew the comet would be and just aimed right at it.

What the heck?

Tipping the focus back and forth, I just don't quite understand what I'm seeing. This is just too weird. And just as quickly I walked straight back to the garage and carried the Celestron right back out. Seeing some clouds beginning to move in, I did not procrastinate with stablization, for the scope is close to ambient temperature anyway. Using the 17mm, I absolutely laughed out loud the moment I achieved focus. No wonder it looks like the nucleus broke up... It's sitting on top of a pair of stars!

Despite what the on-line locator maps show, Macholz is higher. It's drawn even with that "lazy J" - one of who's stars is designated DU (ref: uranometeria pg. 268). What I am looking it is a pair of 9.5 magnitude stars that are actually intruding on the western edge of the coma! (thank you, resolution...) Just a little more aperture and the steadiness of the mount was all it took to cut these out of Macholz glare. And speaking of glare... Even with the Moon driving me crazy, that tail is wide and beautiful. It's beginning to brighten as well. Smiling, I think of my observation the other night that the coma was extending, or at least brightening to one quadrant, and so I sheild my eyes, drop to 9mm and study it. There is definately some jet activity going on inside this thing and the "Magnificent Macholz" warrants every bit of study that can be given to it right now. Each time that nucleus rolls and heats, it's causing rapid changes and I really don't think you could look at this same comet twice.

Ow. Where did that thought come from?

By now, I was noticing the Moon had become a whole lot less annoying and there was good reason for that. The clouds are gathering to the west and the skies will slip away quickly now. I thought for a moment about having a visit with Saturn, but quickly put it away before I started thinking too much. I strongly urge anyone who actually reads these dumb reports to visit with C/2004 Q2 at any and every opportunity. In just two weeks I have seen this thing double in size, the tail widen, the coma progress, the ascent quicken and the nucleus undergo many changes. I enjoy lunar features, double stars, deep sky and planets just as much as the next person, but the opportunity to study something like Macholz just doesn't happen that often.

Carpe diem, baby...


December 19, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - Cold. So cold here. Single digit temperatures and a driving wind. I can see the Moon from my window and it looks beautiful. Each window I go to, I see stars and I want so much to be out there. But it's so cold...

And it's never stopped me before.

I crunch my way out to the back field with binoculars in hand. The fine snow blows from the roof of the garage as I pass by, and I smile knowing my scopes are safe and dry inside. I pass the pool, properly iced once again and always dream of what a fine mirror blank it would make. I pass the sattelite dish and listen to the big pine groan under the weight of its branches. When I am in the open, the moonlight lends a surrealistic atmosphere to the landscape. All the relfections and shadows! But will Comet Macholz show with so much light?

Now almost due west of Rigel, C/2004 Q2 Macholz rocks right out of the frigid sky. Despite the limitied aperture that binoculars offer, it is amazingly bright. Omicron Eridani is in the same field of view and I de-focus to "guesstimate" magnitude and it is most definately a 4. I find that I am not so cold as I look at it. It is climbing so fast! Despite the moonlight, it is still very virile and holds that incredilbe core region. I hope it retains this magnitude until the Moon has quit the sky... It will make a very fine New Year's treat. I scan down for my "lazy J" and smile as I move back up to the comet and back east for Rigel. Can you imagine how magnificent this thing would be in the 31"? Oh, my word... I would probably freeze to the eyepiece just staring at it. Hopefully it will continue to brighten for a while longer, for I would give anything to set the 12.5" its way. I realize I could just pull it out here, but I have no wish to get snow inside my baby.

Raising the binoculars towards Macholz one last time, I am just pleased that it is clear and I can see it. The very quality of the skies tonight and the beauty of a comet brings back thoughts of a song I loved once upon a time and worked so hard to play...


Decmeber 20, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - Yes. It is still searingly cold in Ohio. The temperatures are single digits and the gusting and relentless wind will drive that cold right through you in just seconds. It was cloudy in the early part of the evening, so I opted to "work" on an upcoming article for a few hours. I was well into it, but I'm always a sucker for a message. (hey. it might be you.) When I saw the little red light come on, I had to look. Talk about making someone smile! I don't know why it struck me as funny (yes, i do. and i know how to write it and make even the most straight-laced reader laugh.) but it definately blew my concentration curve. You know what?

It felt good.

Hitting the "off" button, I stretched, made myself a cup of tea and went to check the sky. Thin clouds, great "moon bow", but not clear enough to warrant observation. That, actually happened about 2 hours later and 30 seconds before I was ready to retire for the night. Opening the door to give H one last run, there was Rigel. Grrrrrr! I could have said "no", but I've never been able to say no to you. Wrapping a blanket around myself and tucking my feet in slippers, I stood just outside the door, scrunching down my unshoveled snow and had a binocular minute with Macholz. Hola, El Magnifico... You've pulled even with Omicron Erindani 2! De-focus... Wow! Even with half a Moon out there, Comet Macholz is still pretty incredible. The coma has dropped off sharply thanks to lunar glare, but toward the nucleus still rocks. This is just a little higher than the prediction. Maybe I'm slipping and can't read a map correctly anymore, or maybe the coma is so much larger than the "track" that it staggers perfect visualization. Either way, it's just a fraction of a degree more northward from my observation as opposed to the calculations. Does it really moves that fast? I don't think my mind has slipped so badly that I can't orient what I see in binoculars and compare it to a map. This is why I miss your confirmations. We computed this once with Ikeya/Zhang. And maybe... Maybe I just have