August 21, 22 and 23, 2006 - Chasing 41/P Faye and 71/P Clark...
Comments: Well, it's time to catch the reports back up again before I misplace where I put notes or otherwise simply lose track of what I do. In what little spare time I have, I've been compiling notes and sketches from over the years and one day I hope to put them all in one place so you'll be able to see what it's like to pull together a 12 year study. If I'd been a bit more practical about how I keep notes, it would have been one helluva lot easier. But then...
It wouldn't have been me, would it?
8/22/06 - 4:30 a.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent
41/P Faye is actually an excellent comet which greatly resembles a large, bright planetary nebula. This morning it is incredibly easy to find because it is same low power field with Eta Pices and tracking slightly to its south. It has a relatively bright nucleus and I don't see a tail structure.
8/23/06 - 4:30 a.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent
41/P Faye is definately moving east. It is in a relatively starless field this morning and is roughly the same magnitude as the M74, but considerably smaller. The nucleus structure is not very sharp and precise, but it is slightly brighter towards the center.
8/21/06 - 9:45 p.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent
71/P Clark is tonight's object. Now here's a bigger b'gosh comet! Not as diffuse as chasing Barnard 1, it's almost a dead ringer for NGC 6522 as far as size and brightness go. Located about 4 or 6 degrees north/north west of Iota Saggitarius.
8/22/06 - 10:00 p.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent
71/P Clark confirmation night. Again, no nucleus structure and looks very much like a small, unresolved and un-cored globular cluster. We are in a very stellar field tonight with many small sparkles of low-wattage stars. Direction is moving northeast. Rough guess at magnitude 11 and no apparent tail structure.
And that's it for now. I wanted to catch both of these before the Moon interfered or the clouds came back. Either way?
I'm still out there chasing...
August 1, 2006 - At the Observatory: Confirming 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2)...
Comments: Normally this would have been one of our "Starry Nights" programs, but the camp plans have changed and we won't be having the troops in tonight. Considering how terribly hot it is right now, it seems like a relief. Stay home in the air conditioning... Putter in the pool... Skip the drive, right?
John N. is also a very strong observer and 177/P defeated him last week. It's not that this comet can't be seen - but what you can see it with. He had written me earlier that he had the updates for the computers and MegaStar and was planning on going to the Observatory to make sure we are all current there as well. It's a clear night.... And there ain't no way that I'm going to turn down another set of eyes to help me confirm this cam-domet!
I loaded up all three pairs of binoculars, dressed as cool as I could and headed out. John had the dome open and the mirror cooling when I arrived and also had updated the MegaStar system on the 31". As we sat and talked waiting for dark, Joe came as well. Like the two of us, there's a curiousity going on here. Joe had also spent the last few nights trying to locate the comet at his home observatory with no success. Yet, he is another person that has complete and total faith that what I say can be seen can be seen. He thinks he had it on - but like the rest of us, wants that confirmation for co-observers as well.
Weird lot, aren't we?
So as the Moon lights up the landscape, the stars come out to play. John heads in to get alignment on the 31" and get it set on the comet before it crosses the meridian and I just want to know I'm not crazy. As soon as I can see 51 Herculis I go for the binoculars and pow... there it is. (you notice that's a soft "pow", because this is a soft comet. ;) Joe had brought along a very detailed locator chart and although he and John were teasing about chalk outlining my body as I laid flat out on the concrete - at least they were listening. I described what I saw and described the star field.
Joe is also a very experienced observer and although he couldn't catch it in his bigger binoculars, he knows I'm not kidding and asks to use mine. Now you can make that two chalk outlines to credit to forensic science, because his bones are on his back on the concrete as well. I grabbed the little 5X30s and away we went. And he sees!!! I can just barely make it out in the little binoculars, but we can compare what we see of the starfield easy enough. While we're laying there, the temptation is too great not to starhop and start picking off Messiers. Even with the first quarter Moon hanging out, you could do half the binocular list challenges in nothing flat. At least until John re-appears and asks if we'd like to see 177/P!
Well, hot damn. Confirmation just doesn't get any better! With a 31" aperture F7 telescope and I do believe a 19mm eyepiece, happy comet 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2) has now been totally confirmed at 10:30 p.m. ESTD. The really weird thing is that it isn't that much brighter in the big scope! One thing we all noticed was that it has a gauzy appearance. While most comets appear to look more like unresolved globular clusters, this one looks like a planetary nebula - a supernova remnant. There is a slight fan to the coma and absolutely no nucleus whatsoever. I know all of us had grins 10 feet wide!
About that time one of the young lady counsellors had returned for a quick peek through the scope and John turned it on the M13 while Joe and I went back out to slap each other's backs and do everything but high-five. When the young lady returned, Joe gave her a constellation tour and John also came back out. All three of us have completed our globular cluster studies and all three of us can't keep from grinning and joking that this comet is as vague as the Palomar globulars. Who knows why it can be seen in binoculars, but not in a telescope? Is it the "can't see the forest for the trees" type of thing? Or something to do with surface brightness? No matter what the answer is, the important thing is that we nailed it.
Confirmed kill, sir.
June 31, 2006 - Comet 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2)....
Around midnight I went out in search of the comet with the 16X50 binoculars. Am I going crazy or am I the only one who can see this thing? It's listed as magnitude 8... or magnitude 13... depend on who you want to listen to. Reality check? If it were 13 I couldn't see it in the binos. Next check? If it were 8 it would be walking out as clearly as the M13. Can somebody please explain to me why I can see something in binoculars, but it can't be spotted with even a large telescope?
It's south of the "Keystone"....
LATER THE SAME NIGHT
And I'm back again tonight. It's still beyond hot and the haze has turned the Moon quite orange. Still, I know what's going on in the sky and it was with great pleasure I took out the binoculars and had a look at the Moon and Spica mixing it up.
And then I had to look for 177/P again. Oh, it's there.... And it's moved. Now just a little south of 51 Herculis, the field stars are quite distinctive and it has about half the apparent diameter of the M13 - but only 1/10 of its brightness. V645 is nearby and by defocusing I can see that the comet isn't even coming close to approaching this magnitude 6 star. Yet... Yet there are other stars in the field that must be around magnitude 9 and when I scatter their light it truly is comparable.
July 29, 2006 - Chasing 177/P...
Along about 11:30, I'd had enough of being in the water and it was time to get out the binos and see if I can't pinpoint this elusive comet again. By the time I had dried off, moved the mosquito lanterns around where I wouldn't get chewed and got the binoculars out, it was right around 11:45. Maps? Nah. I am quite aware of the general location and one quick sweep reveals our large and very diffuse friend west/northwest of Delta Herculis and in a very bright field of stars. If you want to see this comet, you have got to think outside the box. What you are looking for has no nucleus, no ion tail, and is totally diffuse. M13 looks like a beacon compared to it, ok? If you want to get a feel for it, chase down M54 with the binoculars. It's a round contrast change that's moving up the sky at a pretty incredible pace! While it might not be exciting chasing such a dim fuzzy around the sky, that's comet hunting. If it drives you crazy trying to confirm one round, hazy spot... try picking a magnitude 12 round hazy spot out of galaxy field! Welcome to comet hunting... 177/P is easy compared to 41/P.
July 25, 2006 - Chasing Comet 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2)...
When the last of the "thank yous" had died off and they were gone again, we were back to the comet. Once again, I could see it in binoculars and it has moved very close to the edge of the Milky Way stream. At this point, it is as diffuse and unresolvable to binoculars as the Milky Way is, but that round signature is a dead give away. Using the tools at our disposal, I take my own calcuations from the map and we try those coordiantes. No luck. John called Bruce, has him access on-line ephemersis and we find out I am less than 2 minutes in RA off on my earlier calculations. Still no comet... But I can see it! Binoculars out, others search to no avail, but it's there, daggone it. You aren't looking for something that smacks you in the head.... You're looking for a round diffuse area.
And eventually we just give up because the hour is late and we all have to work the next day.
What we didn't know then, but Joe confirmed immediately once he was able to access the internet, was that my call was on. It is there, but moving at such an incredible speed that my initial calculations and even Bruce's were off by just a matter of about 4 degrees... 4 degrees isn't much to a pair of binoculars - but it's light years to a telescope. Joe also confirmed my magnitude estimate was also within fairly close and we were both blown away by just how quickly 177/P is smoking up the sky. And John? Ah, he's got it's number now... The next time we try, the computer will take control! While my own observations and guesstimates on sky position are close?
I can't beat MegaStar. ;)
July 24, 2006 - Chasing 41/P Tuttle Giacobini Kresak... First views of 177P/2006 M3 (Barnard 2)...
Comments: Sorry to have missed my opportunity last night, but Vampyre duty calls and although I went to sleep by mid-afternoon, I unfortunately did not awaken until the comet was too low to observe. Wanna' try again tonight?
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: Meade 25mm IV to locate, 12.3mm ED Epic to study
Time In: 10:00 pm EST
Sky: 9/10 stability, 9/10 clarity. LM6
Now almost due east of Delta Virginis (roughly 5 degrees) 41/P should have been rendezvousing in a small area of galaxies which simply could not be spotted. Very small and diffuse, the coma shows no concentration towards the nucleus and no visible tail structure. By defocusing on a nearby 8th magnitude star, my guess from last observation might be a little bit low... Perhaps it is around magnitude 10 or slightly less. Moving roughly east/southeast, and if I have the trajectory right, it will be skirting along a very conspicuous chain of stars to the east making it somewhat easier to spot for future observations. Catch this one before the Moon returns or you'll never see it.
I put away the scope because I am dog tired from working the night shift and head back inside to begin to process my notes. As always, I sit down and have a check on the email and I see an observing alert from a friend who also likes to chase comets and he has sent me a rough diagram of what part of the sky to check. Although the skies are darn near perfect, I really don't want to go out, but it's really no trouble to take the big binos out and have a scan for a friend.
Athough instructions are stone cold, comets are discoveries... And half the fun is discovering them, eh? So I start a sky sweep with the big binos... Then I freak. Holy cat on a hot tin roof sundae!!! Do you know what we've all been overlooking? Buh, buh, buh, buh.... Unless I am missing my guess we are talking about a magnitude 8 that can be spotted easily in binoculars to the northwest of Alpha Herculis and on the field edge with DoDz 7! Oh, my.... This is my first look at 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2) and I'm wonderin' if there's a globular cluster that I might be looking at to account for this one!
I will be back....
July 21, 2006 - Chasing Comet 41/P Tuttle Giacobini Kresak... Joyriding...
Comments: Going for something difficult? Yes and no. This time of year I would much rather be seeing how low I can push the 12.5 in the southern skies than trying to pick something out of the west! However, after more than 5 years of working on my comet studies, I have got to use tonight's very clear, moonless skies to advantage.
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 25mm Meade IV to locate field, 12.3mm ED Epic to study
Time in: 10:10 p.m. EST
Skies: 8/10 stability, 9/10 clarity, LM 6
Object: 41/P Tuttle Giacobini Kresak
Notes: Thankfully fairly well positioned above the early evening sky glow, this comet isn't easy even with large aperture. Positioned northeast of Delta Virginis and well away from smaller galaxies which might be interpreted as cometary. When located, I see no stars in Uranometria which have a designation and the field is fairly barren except for those that hold roughly a magnitude 11 and below. Variable RT is also nearby.
This comet is very indistinct, doesn't not appear to have a nucleus structure and if there is a tail, it is not apparent. It is very small and the best thing I can compare it to is also nearby NGC 4713. While an inclined spiral galaxy and a comet are not the same thing, 41/P's diameter is roughly about the same as the narrower portion of this galaxy and the comet is slightly brighter. My own personal magnitude estimate would be slightly fainter than 11.
One more confirmation is needed, so wish me luck that the clear skies hold!
May 8, 2006 - The Vampyre, the Ring and a Comet... (73/P Schwassman-Wachmann C)
Comments: Well, as much as I would have like to have been able to get up at the precise time that 73/P C passed through the Ring Nebula, I'm afraid that just plain exhaustion had gotten a hold on me and it was about 90 minutes after the event before I could make it out with the telescope. Realizing I don't have much time before I have to leave, my choice was the Celestron 4.5 and the 25mm eyepiece that was already in the scope.
At the time of my observation, the pair were very well separated, but it was still quite a unique view to see both in the eyepiece at the same time. And... what a great way to assess magnitudes! Sky conditions tonight were pristine, but still very moonlit. There is still a tiny little stellar nucleus, but I also know the magnitudes of some of these stars by heart and we've got a 10 on our hands. Between coma and all, the comet is no larger than the apparent 60" of the smallest portion of M57, but I truly think moonlight is robbing some of its diameter. Tail? Very, very faint and the little telescope is simply not able to pick up coma structure. But, wow... Both of them! My guess from last night at magnitude 9 holds good! While I'd say the Moon is taking away at least 2... This comet is fading, baby...
And we're watching it.
May 3, 2006 - M13, 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann B and C,
I kept puttering around for quite awhile - mainly just looking at the stars and waiting for Hercules to really clear the sky poop. Jupiter is at opposition tonight and it is certainly a grand site with the bright stars and Moon. After a certain point in time, I couldn't stand it any longer and figured I'd go shoot the M13 to assess sky conditions. What the?????? Doing a double take and knowing the track the C component of 73/P was taking, I was very surprised to see what appeared to be a daggone comet with its tail sticking straight up in the air! After a little chart work, I found out in a great big hurry that it's the B component! Not as bright or as grand as the one I've been chasing, I'd say this little dude is holding around a magnitude 7...
But what of its big brother?
Oh, I found it alright. And still just as grand, but oh how it rocks in the telescope! The nucleus is just as sharp as a tack and the tail formation is so much clearer than in binoculars. Not far from U and W Herculis, the telescope helps to confirm that it is definately a magnitude 5 and the tail extension is at least 15' and probably far longer if I could hang out longer to let it rise higher and that daggone Moon to set!
May 2, 2006 - Chasing 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann...
By now Hercules has risen quite sufficently to get a look at the C component of 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann. First off? M13 and as I lower the binoculars... POW! There it is about two fields due east. You absoutely cannot miss it west of the c - d alignment of stars. Out of curiousity, I steadied myself and defocused on 59-d Herculis which would appear to be a fifth magnitude star by the charts. You know what? The C component is every bit as bright. The coma is perhaps a magnitude dimmer, but the nucleus has got to be clocking right in there around 5.
I probably watched that crazy comet for an hour. I swear before all that's holy that you can see it move! Part of me really wants to go get a scope and whack it down - but the other part of me knows what time it is and what time I have to get up. Duty calls...
April 28, 2006 - 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann C...
There is no doubt whatsoever that comet 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann (component C) is very, very visible under average sky conditions to small binoculars. The 5x30's picked it right up, and the 16x50's slammed it. It only took me all of about five seconds to find it and the coma was extended nearly to the point where it included Xi CorBor. My best guess (which is poor for binoculars) is that the nucleus is coming in at least around magnitude 6.5. The skies were too trashy to get a good handle on the length of the tail, but my guess would be no less than 30'.
Part of me would really like to go fetch the scope out and have closer look, but I also know that I've pretty much reached my limits of physical activity for the day. Laying my binoculars down on my lap, I started feeling sorry for myself because it doesn't seem like it's been all that long ago that I would have been up off this chair in a heartbeat and getting the scope back out. About one more beer and one more meteor was all it took to realize that I haven't got a thing to be ashamed of, you know? There's folks out there who are probably inside watching television when they could be outside watching a comet and the remains of one burning up in the atmosphere!
April 19, 2006 - Herschel Hunting, Chasing 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann and the Ghost of Omega Centauri...
Comments: What a beautiful night! Very, very impressively clear skies for this time of year - a nice 9/10 for clarity, 8/10 stability and reaching right towards 6 on limiting magnitude. I love it when there's stars out there I don't even remember! (well, i do... but just don't see them that often. ;)
Time to break out the dob and do a little Herschel hunting, eh?
For the record, I was using the 12.5 Meade, the study grade 25mm and 10mm eyepieces and started right around the neighborhood of 10:30 p.m. (and if you want me to be more precise about times? forget it. i don't want you to know how dreadfully long it takes for me to find some of these things! ;)
First off? Hydra before it gets too far west. M48 is classed as H VI.22 and it's always awesome in a big scope at low power. Full of chains and graceful archs of stars - as well as what appears to be a distant red giant. Planetary nebula NGC 3242 was very good at low, and exceptional at power. Elongated slightly and looking very much like an overstated ring with a blooming central area, this one was very easy to just stare and stare at. It seems like the more you look averted, the more details you can see!
NGC 2811 was next. Faint, slightly stretched, and gives the slight appearance of a barred spiral with a faint foreground star. NGC 3621 was quite a shock after that one because it was so bright I had no problem picking it up direct as I starhopped. It is also a little stretched, but has a definate core region. NGC 5694 was an unresolvable globular cluster that was actually a little larger than what I thought it would be. Aversion gives a sense of a grainy texture.
By now a good hour or quite a bit more had passed and I moved further out into the back field to get a wide open skyline for Virgo. This area of the sky is a real mother, so I started with M104 to get my bearings.... Headed northeast.... and promptly got toasted. Wait a minute here! I came out here to de-stress - not to get confused! So, ya' know what? I had ta' get out the maps big time.
The ones I am sure about are NGC 4442 south of M87, cuz' there's nothing else in the field but a slightly elongated galaxy with a brighter core. NGC 4762 sits east of Epsilon and is such a nice edge-on that it is also positive. And that's darn well it! I've played around in here for more than two hours and seen so many galaxies that I'll sleep seeing galaxies just like you still see the bobber when you close your eyes after fishing, ok? I know I was on a bunch of them - but ya' gotta' be positive.
One thing I am positive about is 73/P Schwassmann-Wachman. It's heading northeast and tonight there are no bright field stars with it. It still has a very pronounced and sharp nucleus with a slight tail to the southwest.
And now? Now, it's hours and hours later than I started and Spica is as high as it's going to get and I want to know... I have to know. And so I drop in the 32mm 2" Televue, move the counterbalance and set sail. Almost on my knees, I knew the moment the scope touched it that I had not been dreaming. Omega Centauri is indeed visible from here. It is not beautiful, for it is nothing more than a big, round contrast change with a grainy texture and no concentration towards the core...
April 17, 2006 - Chasing the C-Component of 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann
While I watched another meteor zip south, I resisted the temptation to pick on Abell 2065 and kept on searching. When I hit on the C-component of 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann, there was absolutely no doubt that I was looking at a comet! It's bright!! It is not terribly big... About the size of a small globular cluster, but the nucleus is very sharp with a hazy coma and a slight tail pointing towards the southwest. Right now it's skirting along in Corona Borealis south/southwest of Alpha.
Heading northwest, I tried my luck with the B, G and R components, but with no success. I think I might have seen something northeast of Psi, but then I might be on a small spiral galaxy as well. What I caught was totally diffuse and nothing more than a very small round contrast change.
Feeling pretty good about myself, I made sure to mark my notes for Joe to review for my comet hunter's gold. Then I went hunting for some comparisons, eh? The best I could come up with was NGC 6229 in Hercules. It's right about the same size and brightness. Another samll, faint fuzzy in outer space east of Tau. It even has a star with it - but one far more bright than 73/P's nucleus. Ah, well. At least I'm still giving it my best shot.
March 4, 2006 - Comet 2006/A1 Pojmanksi...
Comments: Woo hooo!! It's a clear morning and I'm awake on my own long before Venus has even cleared the distant treeline. The first thing I did was press my face against the bedroom window that faces east to make sure there were stars and the second was to start coffee.
Realizing I had plenty of time before dawn, I attended to my own health needs first. With fresh dressings applied, a cup of coffee, an english muffin and the happy pills swallowed, I am ready to put on the parka and snowboots and crunch across the snow covered backyard to have a look at this bad boy!
Yesterday, my friend R. Jay GaBany had sent me this photo of the comet from his remote observatory in Cloudcroft, NM. I was really impressed! (that brat beat me to it... ;) Since I'm still working on my comet hunter's gold project, I knew I had to try - but didn't want to wear myself out by going up the stairs to check the maps. I know I can do it. I had heard it was fairly near Venus, so that's where I started out...
But that's not where it was.
Holy eukanuba dog food! This son-of-a-gun is clear up in Aquila! In the big binos, it looks all for the world like a planetary nebula does in a large telescope. It definately has a greenish tinge to it, but unlike most comets does not look like an unresolved globular cluster. The nucleus is very sharp and the coma seems to glow around it! No tail... But needless to say, I'm grinnin' like a fool. I'm just astounded that it's that high in the sky!
Of course, being out means that I've got to at least compare it to the M13, M22, and M4 - don't cha' know. For overall brighness, I'm not rating the coma at more than 6. Of course, this also means that I've got to have a look at M11, M24, M17, M8, M6 and M7 as well. I mean, after all.. You can't just be out there and see the stuff of summer and not want to look at it!
But, I kept goin' right back to that comet. If there's a one degree tail, it's got someone with better eyes and better skies than me to see it. It really is fascinating, and I watched for about 15 minutes or so until I just got so tuckered out from holding the big binos up that I figured I'd better quit and scribbled up my notes. You don't know what I'd give if I were capable of carrying even the little scope out there to have a look! For a moment, the thought crosses my mind of grabbling the handle on the "grasshopper" and wheeling the dob out - but I don't want to end up back where I was.
Right now I'm just happy to have caught Pojmanski!
March 7, 2006 - Comet Pojmanksi on the tail of the Dolphin...
Comments: It's 4:30 a.m. I can't sleep. The pain in my head is so intense that I feel like I just want to beat my head against the wall to make it stop. Nothing touches it. No drugs I have been given will stop it. I make myself a cup of coffee and sit in the dark watching Venus rise through the east window. I smoke a cigarette and remind myself that what is... is. I can't give up. I can't cry and hide.
And I can't let what's happened stop me from being who I am.
I took the big binoculars out with me, even though my hands shake a bit too much. Right now? I don't care. The moment I breathe in the fresh air and see the stars a little switch kicks on and suddenly it's not so bad. When I'm here, nothing can hurt me and I push what I feel away and let the pleasure of what I can see take over. I scan Aquila for Comet Pojmanksi and find myself smiling when I catch it hung on the tail of Delphinus. Its nucleus is less sharp and a quick check on M4 shows me that it is perhaps a magnitude or more dimmer than that great cluster. I lay the binoculars beside me on the park bench and fumble through my parka pockets for paper and pen amoungst the many things that coats with many pockets hold. Holding my little squeezie red light with my teeth, I home in on Pojmanski once again and make my rough field sketch for my Comet Hunter's Gold.
And when I put it away, I delight in the stars. I hop to all the bright and beautiful things in the heavens and a sweet peace descends. I give a prayer of thanks that I am here. Perhaps one must understand what bad truly is to fully appreciate that which is good. If it is a trial, then I will stand tall. I remember the vision of the Milky Way that remains forever imprinted on my mind and my time has not ended yet. I sit there on the parkbench until dawn begins to stain the sky...
And I rest at last.