Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE continues to improve, and as of Tuesday night
it has moved into the evening sky (while also still being visible in
the morning for a few more days).
I caught it Tuesday night at 9:30 pm. The sky was still a bit bright,
and although the comet was easy in binoculars, it was a struggle to see
it with the unaided eye. However, over the next fifteen minutes the sky
darkened, and it looked pretty good by 9:50, considering the partly
cloudy sky. I didn't attempt a photograph; this photo is from Sunday morning,
in twilight and with a bright moon.
I've learned not to get excited when I read about a new comet. They're
so often a disappointment. That goes double for comets in the morning
sky: I need a darned good reason to get up before dawn.
But the chatter among astronomers about the current comet, C2020 F3
NEOWISE, has been different. So when I found myself awake at 4 am,
I grabbed some binoculars and went out on the deck to look.
And I was glad I did. NEOWISE is by far the best comet I've seen
since Hale-Bopp. Which is not to say it's in Hale-Bopp's class --
certainly not. But it's easily visible to the unaided eye, with a
substantial several-degree-long tail. Even in dawn twilight. Even
with a bright moon. It's beautiful!
Update: the morning after I wrote that,
get a photo,
though it's not nearly as good as Dbot3000's that's shown here.
Tomorrow, Sunday September 8th, is an interesting astronomical event:
a nice conjunction of a slim crescent moon and gibbous Venus, with
Saturn hanging above and to the left of the pair.
That alone isn't anything unusual, though
they'll be a lovely naked-eye sight just after nightfall.
But here's the kicker: they'll be quite a bit closest during the daytime,
best around 2-3 in the afternoon,
Which makes for a fun exercise: can you find the crescent moon
during daylight, then use it to guide you to Venus (right above it,
about a degree away) and Saturn (about 10 degrees away, down and left)?
They'll be just a little east of due south, and about 40 degrees up.
You'll definitely need binoculars to find Saturn, and they might help
in finding the other two as well, depending on how bright and how hazy
your afternoon sky is. Once you find them, a low powered telescope view
should show Venus' phase and Saturn's rings. Venus is gibbous, alas;
it would have been fun to see two crescents lined up one above the other.
If you have trouble finding them, wait until 3:30 pm, when they'll be
transiting. At that point, you should be able to point due south,
sweep your binoculars (or just your eyes) up just short of halfway to
the zenith, and the moon should be there.
If you don't get a chance to watch the daylight conjunction, or don't
have binoculars or a telescope handy, at least take a naked eye look
at the trio at nightfall.
Mars and an early view of Comet ISON
As long as I'm reposting tips from my
SJAA Ephemeris Shallow Sky column,
there's another interesting thing in the sky this month:
Comet C/2012 S1 ISON. Yes, that's the "super comet" that's supposed
to become brighter than the moon. No, it won't be bright yet.
It's still super wimpy, and worse, it's still in the morning sky,
so it's not an easy or convenient target.
On the other hand,
through September and October, Mars and Comet ISON will be
within a few degrees of each other. So if you're willing to stay up
(or get up) for early morning dark-sky observing, and you have a
big telescope, this could be a nice view.
The comet won't be very impressive yet -- it's only expected to be
10th magnitude in September -- but such close proximity to Mars makes
it easy to find and keep track of. In September, the pair don't rise
until about 3:30am, and that won't change much for the next few months.
The comet will probably stay below naked eye visibility at least
for the next two months, brightening from 11th magnitude in early
September to maybe 7th magnitude by Halloween.
As September opens, ISON makes a triangle with Mars and M44, the
Beehive cluster. The comet stands about 2 degrees north of the Beehive
and about 5 degrees east of Mars. But it closes with Mars as the month
progresses: by the end of September you can find the comet about two
degrees north of Mars, and by the middle of October they'll be down to
only a degree apart (with ISON brightening to about ninth magnitude).
About that Beehive cluster: right now (September 7 through 9),
Mars is passing right through the Beehive, like an angry red wasp
among the smaller bees. Should be a nice view even if the comet isn't.
It's a good binocular or even naked eye view (though great with a
So if you find yourself up before dawn, definitely take a look.
I finally got a chance to take a look at Comet 17/P Holmes.
I'd been hearing about this bright comet for a couple of days, since
it unexpectedly broke up and flared from about 17th magnitude (fainter
than most amateur telescopes can pick up even in dark skies) to 2nd
magnitude (easily visible to the naked eye from light-polluted
cities). It's in Perseus, so only visible from the northern
hemisphere, pretty much any time after dark (but it's higher
a little later in the evening).
And it's just as bright as advertised. I grabbed my binoculars, used a
posted by one of our local SJAA members,
and there it was, bright and obviously fuzzy. Without the binoculars
it was still easy to see, and still noticably fuzzy.
So I dragged out the trusty 6" dobsonian, and although it has no
visible tail, it has lots of structure. It looked like this:
It has a stellar nucleus, a bright inner area (the coma?) and a
much larger, fainter outer halo. There's also a faint star just
outside the coma, so it'll be fun (if we continue to get holes in
the clouds) to see how fast it moves relative to that star.
(Not much motion in the past hour.)
It's nice to have a bright comet in the sky again! Anyone interested
in astronomy should check this one out in the next few days -- since
it may be in the process of breaking up, there's no telling how long
it'll last or what will happen next. Grab some binoculars, or a 'scope
if you have one, and take a look.