Shhh, be very quiet. We’re hunting comets: what McNaught looked like last week [updates]

22 January 2007

I got to stargaze for the second time in as many months on Saturday night. The only reason for a note of self-pity in that statement is that I missed the most spectacular part of the GREAT COMET OF 2007. Or whatever you want to call it. Whatever, anyway. I did actually get to see some of Comet McNaught, so I can now live vicariously through Southern hemisphere observers like Marie-Claire Hainaut, whose image is really, really great. Also compare Alex’s image below with Rob Ratkowski’s on SpaceWeather.com–a few days laterRob shot from about 80 miles Northwest of and about five hundred feet higher than us, on the summit of Haleakala on Maui.

Donn, Dave, myself, and assorted others at the VIS on Saturday night convinced ourselves that we could see some of the comet amidst the typically strong zodiacal light. It was sort of like really, really faint and stationary aurora. Fortunately, Alex recused himself from the bustling patio and hiked off to get the picture below. Below the picture, I quote from Donn’s email about the photo:

alex-mcnaught2006p1-070120scaled.jpg

This matches my visual impression but of course goes a
lot deeper. Exposure was 72sec at 800iso, 20mm f/2.8 on his D50.
That overexposed blob is the crescent moon! Just to the right of it,
embedded in the cloud, you can see Hualalai, so the glow at the shore
is Kailua-Kona. The zodiacal light shows well too, but the comet’s
streamers are a slightly different shade, so they stand out.

Anyway, it was a beautiful night: clear, cold, and dry. A good time was had by all.

The only bad news in all of this is that as the Moon waxes over the next few days, it will be (I predict) very hard to see anything of the comet, and it is due to fade out almost totally by the end of the month.

But what the heck, go try it, I’d love to be proved wrong. And, at worst, you might enjoy some stargazing.

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