2005 COMETS



January 16, 2005 - C/2004 Q2 Macholz - So much happening right now! At every opportunity I have been following the Huygens information since it landed safely on Titan on the 14th. Such rugged beauty! Will any of us be able to look at Titan again and not be amazed that we have actually been there? What a wonderful age we live in...

And the Sun! Oh, my gosh. Radio JOVE has just been saturated. Remember the area I showed you yesterday? X-class flares, (M too!) right where those two umbral fields were drawing together. I've seen some beautiful photos done in H-alpa that show the flare and I am very impressed. (and also relieved i have not lost my ability to "see" where something is going to occur. ;) The magnificence of power also unleased two coronal mass ejections and the radio data is just singing! Our ionosphere is dancing, brothers...

And aurora will follow.

Of course, that means clouds. But the only thing good about the extreme cold is that it will bring pockets a perfect clarity if you are willing to wait and go for it at a moment's notice. I think the one thing I truly appreciate about binoculars is that viewing is even easier than setting up a scope and the 16X50s provide a great look. Right before I fell asleep in the chair (my hours have a way of doing that to me) I got up to check and found clear skies! Our cold right now is mean and nasty, but I wanna' see that comet...

Still very much in the field with the re-energized Algol, Comet Machholz simply rocks the skies. Even with a first quarter Moon you could not miss it unaided. In the binoculars it is truly outstanding. With Beta Persei in the lower half of the field, C/2004 Q2, the comet makes a strong showing with Flamsteed 27, 30 and 32 to one edge. Tail? I don't see how you could miss it. Extending still in a general easterly direction, the spread has become very wide and could be traced easily toward the "cluster" of stars comprised of brighter members 29, 31, 33, 35 and 37. I am not a great judge of size in arc minutes, but I would say it is at least 30'! Just a really incredible comet...

Did I freeze? Yep. Did I care? Nope. I have really missed what I love to do best - and that is observing. I coasted around a bit looking at some of those other bright Mmmm objects, but who can be happy with all the rest of that stuff when the biggest Mmmmm word of all is out there right now?!

Machholz....


January 17, 2005 - Q2 Macholz - By around 8:30, I figured if we were going to get some nice auroral activity that it would be in full swing by now. The temperatures had dropped to single digits and for the most part - skies were clear. Following my tracks, I headed east but this time my "frozen fire" was gone. Nothing left but the plain, ordinary tree line. Heading back in, I decided since I was dressed for success that I'd just grab my binoculars and take a little tour. The ability to hold perfect steady is sometimes a little tough, but thanks to the Moon's southerly position I managed by using the pool ladder to help stabilze. Will you look at that?! The mountains on the Moon look like they are all covered with snow, too! Guess it's cold all over, huh?

Of course, I wanted to have a look at Comet Machholz as well - but it's almost straight up! Realizing that when the position might be more favorable that we also might have clouds, I just took a visual on it, rearranged my layers so I could hold my arms like that, and pushed my glasses up under my hood. While the "Double Cluster" is quite nice in binoculars, it ain't Machholz - so I put my glasses back on, moved to another part of the yard, took a visual and went for it again. Glasses off, head back, arms up... And there it is!

And then someone creamed me with a snowball.

It's pretty obvious that Comet Machholz packs a whallop that we aren't prepared for. The moment I laid eyes on it, it was enough to crack the thin ice I was unaware that I was standing on a leave me laying flat on my back in the snow! Of course, I have reached the age when falling means that I'm not so worried about getting up as much as I am looking for what I can do while I'm down there. If fate dictates that to look at a comet tonight means being prone on the frozen ground, who am I to argure with kismet? Laughing, I push H out of my face, make sure my glasses are still under my hood, take another visual on Machholz... and just observe.

Now moving like a speedy little snowball towards that 27, 30 and 32 combination, I am still impressed with just how much of the tail still shows with all the moonlight! It's really a great comet and I have truly enjoyed following it. After a few minutes the cold was beginning to really bite, so I figured it was best that I just get up and give up. I had to smile as I brushed myself off and looked down and the ground. Once upon I time, I used to lay on my back and make "snow angels"...

Now I just make snow klutzes.


January 18, 2005 - Q4 Macholz - Knowing that the weather is going to turn bad again also means that I wasted no time at skydark in going out to check out Comet Machholz with the binoculars. There is a lot of haze and fine clouds to the sky, producing a wonderful halo around the moon! I'll bet the puppy stretches 20 degrees! But what I came after was the comet and right now the skies are pretty fair where it's at.

Mindful that I do not repeat last night's awkward performance, I brushed the snow off the park bench and kicked back. High level thin clouds eradicated any view of Machholz tail tonight and the additional light reflected from the Moon also impaired the view... But it's right in the midst of 27, 30, 32 combination! To be more accurate, it's right up against Kappa (27). Too cool?


January 21, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - The Sun was welcome during the day. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to observe it - but I know what's going on. Our happy region 720 kicked out an X-7 class flare, as well as a CME and shortly before 1:00 p.m. my time the proton stream had hit the Earth. Making sure I had my supper and chores over with well in advance of sky dark meant that I was out there as soon as possible, dressed in full artic gear and awaiting what I knew was to come.

I have never seen aurora during a gibbous phase of the Moon, so I was unsure of what to expect. I guess I should have more faith in my own knowledge, for there was no mistaking the ragged red glow of the signature to the northeast and east. Despite temperatures that soon felt like Maxwell's silver hammer, I continued to watch - scanning the whole sky for overhead phenomena. Unfortunately, a lot of the "blues" were simply lost to the moonlight, as were the green clouds... But there was no doubt a sense of undulation, so despite desperately needing to get warm, I watched. My reward? A huge white spire. I was blown away when it first appeared, sure that somehow a light source was causing this perfect beam, and knowing better all the while. I know I was grinning despite the extreme cold, hoping that friend Greg was also witnessing this event.

At that point, I came back inside because I simply couldn't hack it any longer. Checking the NOAA real-time data, I see that the auroral oval is extending clear down into Kentucky and I also hope that my friend Otto is getting clear skies to see this as well. Knowing that I had watched the weather maps means I am very aware that the skies aren't going to hold long, so I head back out once again with the binoculars.

We still have beautiful, moving curtain-like, red aurora.

Heading for Comet Machholz, I am thrilled to see that it has progressed so quickly north! Holding position above Iota Persei, there is no sign of a tail tonight and the moonlight is definately crippling the view. It really doesn't matter, for it is still good to see how concentrated and bright it remains! Lowering the binoculars, I walk back out to the edge of the east field again, admiring that shimmering bright red aurora and can't help but keep wishing that the Moon had been absent. Before I cap the binoculars back up, I spare Sister Selene a glance and am pleased that the quiet and ancient Gassendi fares so well. The bright punctuation of Keplar is also a fine sight.... But I really just want to watch the aurora.


January 27, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - With a high pressure system settling in, the skies were crystal clear and a beautiful limiting magnitude of at least 6. I am far from well, but I will bundle up to go have a look at skies like that! Donning all assortment of artic gear, the weapon of choice tonight was the 16X50 binoculars and I am downright humbled at how well they suck in starlight! Resolving out small objects? No. Revealng extensive ones?

Oh, yeah.

First order is Comet Machholz. Tonight right on the corner of the Camelopardis/Cassiopeia/Perseus border, it doesn't just sing -- it dances as well! Still magnificent and still holding an awesome and expansive tail! I would say that it has shrunk somewhat. The actual coma appears much more compressed and less diffuse around the edges, but it's at least 25' still. What have we for tail? Such a wide V pattern! There is one line that just shimmers and runs all the way back to Kappa Persei! Just a really kickin' comet all the way around...


January 30/31 2005 - Q2 Macholz - I am sorry to lump two observations together in one report, but I'm still having some health issues that have left me feeling pretty weak and tired...

But I'm not ready for the dirt nap just yet.

Comet Machholz on the 30th was truly splendid. Bundling up for just a very short session outside, I took the binoculars to do my viewing. Hola! Check out that bright star that resides right on the edge... Digging a piece of scrap paper out of my pocket, I do a quick sketch of the starfield and go back to watching for a few moments. I think if anything, C/2004 Q2 seems to be compressing rather than losing magnitude. Tonight it is gloriously near the "Double Cluster" and as I drop the binos and look at the scene I can imagine what a fine, wide-field photograph this would make. Trying not to giggle, I go back to looking at Machholz and see the caption to the picture - "Turn Right At The Double Cluster". It's just really too cool...

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I am out there again on the 31st. The doc would probably crap, but I'm not doing anything worse than when I go to bring up wood or fill the bird feeder. I'm just stealing a well-dressed moment with the stars and noting how fast the crazy comet is still moving!

Comparing last night's sketch to the field, I can see where Machholz is still putting about a degree a day under its icy feet. My sketch from yesterday coincides with page 38 of Uranometria, and even as bright as these stars are, they don't have numbers listed. It has climbed above the two areas of nebulosity which were apparent a few nights ago, but they cannot stand up to the slight haze we have had the last two days. Machholz is still showing a stubby stretch of tail that quite probably is mostly lost due to sky conditions. It's OK, though... It's the speed that amazes me! We've now gone off the top of page 38 and on to the bottom of page 18. Smack dab in the middle of +62 and +63 degrees and 3h 4m and 2h 56m... Just awesome!

And so I stop there. It would be far too easy for me to be out here having fun and not realize how long I've been exposed to the cold and make myself worse. It's enough to have gotten away for awhile and to forget about how I feel, eh? Sometimes the best medicine in the world is just a few moments of fun....


February 1, 2004 - Q4 Macholz - I am still mending, but I cannot go forever on so little activity. When I saw 5.5 skies and temperatures that feel warm with no wind, I knew that I needed to be outdoors for awhile - even if I had to limit myself to short jaunts. Right after sunset, I manuerved the SVD8 out to a thin spot in the snow around where I like to observe best and went on a hunt for Comet Machholz.

Still easily capturable in just the finderscope, I realized when I went to the eyepiece why I will never be happy without a telescope. The field around C/2004 Q2 is alight with stars! With a small, but bright star caught on the edge of the coma, Comet Machholz truly resides in a stellar field tonight. Just look at all of them! Moving around the field, there is no doubt in my mind that Machholz is still moving close to a degree a day. The nucleus area is bright and well defined, and I would say holding a magnitude 4 at best. The coma is concentrated and far less diffuse that it once was.

And so I began tracing the tail...

As I began following the mind-boggling stretch, I had to keep double checking for fear I was somehow following a faded contrail or something. As I continued to move across the field, I stumbled onto something that I had not seen nor thought about in many years - Kemble's Cascade. What a glorious chain of stars this is! Located in Camelopardis, this is nothing more than a named asterism that is not marked on charts. It is a wonderful string of colorful stars set against an equally starry field and at its end is open cluster, NGC1502. This is truly a beautiful bit of stellar mastery... A long chain of stars with a small cluster hung on it's end... Like a jewel braclet with a fob of stars waiting to be fastened.

In short? It's spectacular.


February 3, 2004 - Macholz - Back to work again and back to feeling much better. With relatively clear skies (4.0) after sunset, I knew that I had to go out in search of Comet Machholz again. Tonight the old Celestron took the honors and it only took moments to locate and enjoy Machholz.

Under power, this is a splendid comet. The nucleus is still bright, sharp and well defined. To me, the coma is fantastic. As you view the comet, you can almost feel the cold sizzle of what makes it appear as it does. Of course, there are always things that make it a bonus, and tonight it was both a tiny star caught at the southern edge of the coma as well as probably a 9th magnitude one caught right in the the V of its tail.

I know a lot of people have trouble distinguishing Machholz tail... But I don't see how you can't "see" it! Use low power - it's like galaxy stuff. It has a sparkle all of it's own and when you trace it?

You sometimes find cool stuff along the way!

Tonight's charmed "find" is a very beautiful class of open clusters that has truly inspired me to take a new turn toward my observing. According to Uranometria, the name of this beauty is Trumpler 3. Just a truly outstanding galactic cluster! At low power it is a just a cloud of stars that seem related - roughly the same age. There are a few brighter ones to the east and south that really set it off. I did some reading on Trumpler clusters and I think it will make for some magnificent observations in the future. What could be cooler than looking at new stuff?!

And I really wanted to look at some "old stuff" as well. I left the scope out to allow the skies to change by a couple of hours, but this is Ohio. A couple of hours could mean the difference between a passingly fair sky and none at all. And none at all was what I got when I returned. I guess the one of the greatest parts about astronomy is knowing that you don't have to go out and kill the sky every night. I've been working on it now for some fifteen years and never wanted to conquer every object out there. After all, if I did? What would there be to do? This is why I get so much enjoyment out of things like comets, asteroids and meteor showers. They are always changing... Always different.

And always fascinating.


February 4, 2004 - Macholz - What gives? Another clear night in Ohio! Tonight it has been so long since I have taken the 12.5 out that it's what I really want to do. I know the "players" are going to the Observatory, but I find my own peace and happiness in being able to practice on my own.

First order of business? Why, a comet, of course! At low power Machholz is irrepressable in this big scope. It lights up the sky! More aperture doesn't bring more form - it just reveals all the beauty around it. The 40mm is eyepiece of choice and the field is outstanding. With a tiny star both over an under, Machholz is in a pretty solitary position at the moment - but look at what's near! Running ahead of the comet is the great Iota Cassiopeia, and so I power down to have a look. The sky is slightly unstable, but the "bump" to the southwest is unmistakable. Far more cleanly separated is the companion to the east... But as I watch a moment of steadiness comes along and the primary and close secondary show separation. Also nearby is RZ and SU, both just dandy little variables. Do you know how cool it is to see study objects so close to a moving target?


February 10, 2004 - Macholz - Just as soon as the skies went as dark as I like, I was out there hunting comet Machholz with the 16X50 binoculars. What a super stellar field! I can trace a stubby tail that it still present and despite the words magnitude 5.3, it somehow looks much brighter to me It has cruised on past RZ and SU Cassiopeia, and although it is getting quite far north, it still has admirable sky position from my observing area. As I stand and watch the skies, I can see the little dude. I can see it! What have we here, eh? It looks like a 6.0 night in the making and when even my north skies have good stablity (thanks to looking over heat haze) and this kind of clarity? Oh, you know it... I'm going to study!


February 15, 2004 - Macholz - Just as soon as the skies started to get dark, I had the scope out in search of Machholz. Talk about a magnificent stellar field! It still has a nice broad fan, even though tracing the length of the tail is hampered by the moonlight. The core area definately seems to be dissipating as well. Although Machholz is fading, that field really made this jaunt totally worthwhile. Towards the south was an outstanding grouping of four stars that I can't believe don't have some special type of designation! Just a really, really nice area to have visited.


March 6, 2004 - Q2 Macholz - Now you really didn't think for one second that I would allow that comet to slip away from me, did you? Ah... You know me well!

In recent times, I have learned a deep appreciation of binoculars. The use of them now presents observational astronomy in a definate a'la carte' fashion - and the price you pay for each item is the loss of resolution tempered by the ease of use. Who wouldn't be tempted to observe something if you knew you could walk out in your slippers and a coat a have it in seconds? Kinda' like sliding through the drive-thru....

Super-size it, please.

More than anything, I just wanted to know if Comet Machholz had either faded or moved dramatically in 72 hours. My astronomy "head" knew it was poor sky conditions at the observatory, but my "heart" had to know. So, when I checked after sunset, caught decent 4 or better limiting skies, you know the little binos and I just had to take a walk. I've got questions and it gives me answers! Comet Machholz is exactly where it should be. Because it is now circumpolar, how exactly do you express it's position? Well, at around 7:00 EST, it was within 4 degrees south of Polaris. Again, this is another "guesstimate" on my part, because I do not know precisely the field of view the little 5X30s provide. What I do know with complete certainty is that they both fit in the same field of view. For those of you with Uranometria? Page one.

I am so precise. ;)

So how's it lookin'? It is fading, amigos. While sky conditions were not the best the could be, our friend "Magnificent Machholz" is getting diffuse. Only days ago you could still see a stub of a tail and now it is looking more and more like an unresolved globular cluster. Even its core is beginning to bleed away... If you have not looked in awhile? Please do so. Its days of being a small binocular object are very limited.

Trying not to mourn the loss of Machholz, I skyhopped for awhile. There is a certain pleasure in the M45, the M52, the M34, the "Double Cluster", the M42, 41, 93, 46, 47, 50, 35, 44 and 67. I truly like binocular observing, although "free handing" it will give you a sense of vertigo. At the same time, it's also kinda' creepy. My imagination knows no bounds, and I always wait on that one moment that I accidentally look at something that's looking back at me... H.G. Wells?

It's all your fault.


March 16, 2005 - LINEAR T4 and Macholz - Hey! It was clear this morning! Since I had to make a road trip today to the Capitol City, I was up early and ready to go. Why not steal away in those pre-dawn hours with the big binos and do a little comet hunting, huh?

Morning Comet T4 LINEAR is a fairly new one for me, but it was surprisingly easy to find. Just south of Alpha Equuleus and directly between two probably magnitude 6 to 7 stars. It's very diffuse and not overly bright. My guess would be that it is somewhere around magnitude 7 or a little less. Size-wise? Not as large as the M2 south of it. About half that.

Heading on toward Machholz, I find the little trooper still hanging in there and on the western side of Polaris this morning. To be honest, it's not a whole lot brighter than T4. Our old friend is fading fast here... And speaking of fast? I better run.


March 17, 2005 - LINEAR T4 - Ah, yes. Skies return to Ohio at long last! Are we talking perfect here? No, but I have had the chance to practice more field astronomy this week than it feels like I have all winter long.

The morning skies were sufficently clear enough for me to spot Comet T4 around 5:00 a.m., and quite transparent to provide me with a decent handle on its size and trajectory. I have a feeling that it is probably a little bit larger than it appears, but low sky position and the race before dawn might have something to do with that! Right now it looks like a core-less and diffuse M80 and it's buzzing its way south toward the M2. There is absolutely no tail.


April 27, 2005 - 9/P Temple 1 - But enough! My goal was to view a comet - a comet that is about to play a very important role in history. 9/P Tempel 1 is easily located with larger aperature just north of Epsilon Virginis. Tonight it is in a very stellar field possessing many magnitude 9 stars. Defocusing shows me that Tempel 1 is considerably fainter than the field stars that I have easy magnitude listing for, and I would estimate it at around an 11. Since this is my first observance, structure was key to me. It is hard for me to report on something which I have not seen! At this point I would call it as DC3. I had thought that it would be much more diffuse, but it definately looks like a comet. Getting out my little note pad, I make a quick rough sketch. It ain't exactly quality, but it will help me later when I need to translate it to a proper form. After that, I just stared at it for awhile.


May 7, 2006 - 9/P Temple 1 - I wanted to see Comet 9/P Tempel 1 in the big scope.

Because my writing deals with weeks in advance, I only knew the approximate location of the comet, but not its exact location. The last time I saw it, it was very close to Epsilon Virginis and quite near three 9th magnitude stars - and even though it's moving at a snail's pace - this isn't much help. Without the list of coordinates and my trusty Uranometria, I am simply blind. Fortunately, we have a resource. I have given John N. a lot of good natured teasing about aiming with the MegaStar program, but tonight it contains the priceless information that we technologically impaired desperately need. Asking John if he would mind, we set his 8" on the comet. Greg had a look through the telrad and immediately put the 10" Greer on it as well. Between both scopes, the view was pretty much the same and almost identical to what my 12.5" shows. A very faded, small round fuzzy with a slight concentration toward its middle.

Since almost everyone except for the diehards had departed for the night, John offered to see if the Argo Navis had Tempel 1 in its lisitings. Unfortunately, it did not. Wrangling the telescope around, we tried to put it on the same field, but it's not a cakewalk. I tried my hand and got it on Epsilon Virginis, but my mind, my hands, and my eye cannot push this monster where it needs to be. Going back down to the ground for a comparison finder view, John returns to the 31" again since we've got it very close... And then I hear the call. We've got comet!

Excited, he takes me up to the eyepiece and I am blown away. There is something that I have suspected in my own 12.5", but the 31" lays it bare. Comet 9/P Tempel 1 has a very stellar nucleus! Tonight John is defiantely the hero of the day as he's put his finger (and the big scope) on the one thing I was really hoping to see... Deep Impact ground zero. John? I can't thank you enough, amigo... It would have taken me an hour to have found that and your birthday gift to us both was sincerely appreciated.


May 26, 2005 - 9/P Tempel 1 - Am I still chasing? Darn right I am. What I do is far more for myself than just achieving "comet hunter's gold". I love comets. I like reading about them, writing about them, and most of all?

I love looking at them.

After having done tonnes of research on Comet Halley - from dust particles, scattering properties, and even organic materials - it had been my great pleasure to have met one of the world's foremost leading "comet man", Dr. Jochen Kissel. Being able to see excitement after all the research this fine gentleman has done, is cause enough for me to realize that my enjoyment is perfectly all right and to want to look at it with superior equipment is not a waste of time with a "poof ball", but a true honor to be able to see.

And 9/P Tempel 1 is my choice...

Yep. Nobody at the Observatory last night really wanted to look at it that much. Both Joe and John took the coordinates I gave them and tried their best with 8" scopes, but you simply can't see it in them. Last time I checked, when I really want to I can tell you proper coordinates, and when they don't turn it up I start to doubt myself. After our company had left (and it's a shame we did not show it to them) I once again begged Jerry to set the 31" scope on it. (it is improper behaviour to simply drag someone off the lift and take over.) I know what I can see in a 12.5" and it ain't no "poof ball". The 31" will light it up.

Giving him my numbers, I was at least grateful that patient following and map work put us within less than a degree of Tempel 1's position. Going to the eyepiece is pure pleasure! The comet has a dazzling stellar nucleus, a broad, fanned coma, and at least 30 arc minutes of tail. This is not a ho-hum diffuse comet - it's not only beautiful, but it's about to make history.

So I return tonight with my 12.5" to look again. Unlike the 31", details are sparing. To this much smaller scope, it is vaguely cometary in shape and has a condensation towards the nucleus. In comparison to position, it is creeping. Now, I know I could pop up orbital elements and explain why in the line of sight that it appears to be moving so slowly, but that's not what "comet hunter's gold" is all about. For most, that would be just sketching or photographing the comet and labeling stars and showing direction of movement. But, like all studies I have tackled, the point is to learn - not to copy. Rather than see the orbit path on a screen, I want to understand it in my head. I want to understand the angle that it is approaching our solar system and understand why its movement and speed reflect against the sky.

And I wanna' see it on July 4. ;)


June 22, 2005 - 9/P Tempel 1 - Disappointed? Nah. I just went out and wheeled the 12.5 dobby to my favourite spot and had a go at 9/P Tempel 1. Just slightly east/southeast of Omircron Virginis, it's making a very nice showing. While it's not as grand as some, it's a more hard-edge comet. It's small, has a very well defined, wide short tail and a pinprick of a bright nucleus surrounded by a condensed coma. (nice stellar field, too... ;) Again, Tempel 1 is something that I would like to photograph - both before and after Deep Impact - but I am not going to stress it. I know from experience when I mess around with photography that I spend more time playing with the picture than I do viewing... And tonight I just stared at that comet until I remembered every detail.

And then sketched it.


June 23, 2005 - 9/P Tempel 1 - When I can peel myself away, I also have a go at 9/P Tempel 1. Tonight it's not so hot. The same haze that trashes the skies, also trash the view. Is it visible? Yes. But a smaller scope would just not pick it up. Tonight it is nothing more than a little fuzzball with a concentration toward the nucleus and the tail is only there because I know where to look. And then a meteor flashed through!


July 5, 2005 - 9/P Tempel 1 - By now the mists are starting to rise above the fields and both Polaris and Spica are easily visible. Pulling the dob out on the driveway to keep it as much out of the moisture as possible, as soon as I can see the "Ring" nebula with ease, I am off to find the comet. It is hazy here as well, but with no towns to light it up from below, I at least stand a chance. Surprisingly, the comet was a little bit higher than I had anticipated, but I'm here to tell you it doesn't look any different. Perhaps cleaner skies would have helped, but the dob still only sees it as a small, fuzzy ball with a more concentrated core. If you want to picture in you mind, image looking at the M80 in my 4.5 with bright skies and low power. Now you're getting the picture, huh? Who knows? I don't, but I'm sure looking forward to the weekend and high pressure and no moisture. I can feel the exterior of the dob beginning to sweat beneath my hands and it's time to take it back in. Call me a coward, but I don't risk its optics or my good eyepieces.

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