Comet hunting


Yesterday in Melbourne the day started just like the ones before: with a completely clouded sky. However, the first hints of blue showed up right before noon, and by 3pm we had a gorgeous day, with open skies from horizon to horizon and not a cloud on sight. Perfect weather to hunt for a comet.

Actually, "hunt" may be too strong a word, as it wasn't really trying to hide itself. I went once more to Port Melbourne just before sunset, found a good spot on the beach and sat down to wait. The sun disappeared on schedule at 20:40, and Venus was (very) visible high towards the west some twenty minutes later. The thin crescent Moon was also very beautiful, with the dark side perfectly visible through binoculars (and barely visible to the naked eye).

I first saw comet McNaught at 21:30, almost directly to the south (I would have seen it earlier, had I not gotten up for a walk because of the cold), on a still bluish sky. The head was very bright (but significantly less than Venus, which was about to set by this time) and the tail extended, well, forever (until it disappeared into the glow of the sky). Through binoculars it was a great sight, very bright; the tail was extending for at least for 20 degrees until it became indistinct.

This was the first day the comet was visible from Melbourne because of the wet weather of the last week, and many people went to the beach looking for it; I saw more people with binoculars and a guy with a digital camera set on a tripod on the footpath. "Regular" beach goers were very curious about all this and about that weird thing in the sky; as soon as I first looked at it with the binoculars, a group stopped to ask whether that thing was "a meteorite or something". When told it was a comet, one of them asked "is it famous?". Well, now it is. Another couple asked me "do you know what's that special thing there in the sky?" and were very excited to learn it was a comet. The local newspaper The Age reported that they got hundreds of phone calls from people asking what it was or reporting a UFO; some even asked if what they were seeing were the remains of the satellite destroyed by China a few days ago...

The guy with the tripod was also attracting lots of attention, mainly because the comet was much brighter in the camera's display screen than to the naked eye; there were even people taking pictures of the display with mobile phones, which worked better than I'd expect. I took pictures of the comet on film, so I still don't know how they turned out; on ISO400 film, the camera selected an exposure of 7 seconds, which seems about right (but, since the comet was not actually visible through the view finder, I'm not that sure I had it pointed at the right spot...). If they come out ok, I'll post them here.

I went home around 22:20, when the air started to become hazy and the comet started to fade quickly; it has probably set just before 11pm. Comet McNaught is visibly becoming fainter as the days progress and it gets away from the sun (or, at least, that's what people who saw it in previous days are reporting); still, it should be very visible again tonight, and possibly even tomorrow, weather permitting (right now there are scattered clouds in Mebourne and the south-western horizon is not visible, but it's still early; the forecast for tomorrow is of "clearing showers").

(P.S.: some photos taken from Port Melbourne by someone who is probably not "the guy with the tripod" mentioned above are on Flickr)


I have started for comet-hunting now.. I dont know how long I would go, but I enjoys each moment of my hunting. I m Rahul Zota from Bhuj-INDIA. I use an 8-inch reflector for hunting. I scans eastern and southern skies for 2 hours. My sweeping style is vertical. I live in a city, hence my sky is not so good for hunting. But I can see 3 magnitude stars in the horizontal sky. I am also planning to buy a 12-inch Dobsonian.

Happy hunting...

i am alireza yasi from iran - tehran.
mr wilson it is good to tell us about your hunting device .
comet hunting is one of the intresting jobs in astronomical works.
be successful .
have a good sky.

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This page contains a single entry by Wilson published on January 23, 2007 10:22 AM.

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