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Brightest Comet In Decades Now Visible

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the dust-off-the-binoculars dept.

Space 35

mlimber writes "Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1), the brightest comet in decades, is currently visible to the naked eye in the early evening and early morning sky for the northern hemisphere. The northern latitudes have the best view, but it can be seen even in the southern hemisphere during the day with the right equipment. Another image is available as NASA's astronomy picture of the day." Here is a graphic of the comet's evening location from 40 degrees north latitude.

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let's land on it! (-1, Offtopic)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525344)

well geeze if it's that visible, it must be close. We should have landed on it! Or at least caught it and dropped it into the ocean to fight global warming lol

Wonderful.... (2, Insightful)

Eggplant62 (120514) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525350)

Unfortunately, no one's perfected that device where I can wipe the clouds out of the sky so I might be able to see this event from where I call home, in the Detroit area. It's been cloudy here for the last four or five days running, so much so that it precludes viewing the comet at all. Once it does clear, the light pollution pretty much drowns out any possibility of seeing anything other than the moon in the sky. Yuk, I hate living in a heavily-populated northern clime.

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525480)

Yeah, same goes here in Edmonton, where we're due for a blizzard tonight. :( And here I had a perfect reason to break out the ol' 4.5" that goes woefully underutilized most days...

Re:Wonderful.... (3, Funny)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525602)

And here I had a perfect reason to break out the ol' 4.5" that goes woefully underutilized most days...

I can't bring myself to do it...

Anyway, the map is helpful if you can recognize Altair, but a bit less so for those of us who have to locate anything in the sky by the Big Dipper and Orion. I don't understand how if it's the "brightest comet in decades" I haven't noticed it, though. Hale-Bopp was pretty obvious. Is this one going to be getting much brighter than it is now?

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525646)

I can't bring myself to do it...

LOL, yeah... thanks... both of you. Bastards. ;)

Re:Wonderful.... (2, Funny)

Surt (22457) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525922)

I can't bring myself to do it...

Oh come on, it's not like 4.5" isn't a perfectly respectable width, I'll admit mine is only a little wider.

Aperture size (2, Funny)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#17527642)

Nah, 4.5" is just the size of the aperture.

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

D'Eyncourt (237843) | more than 7 years ago | (#17536474)

"I don't understand how if it's the "brightest comet in decades" I haven't noticed it, though. Hale-Bopp was pretty obvious. Is this one going to be getting much brighter than it is now?"

2 reasons why: 1) up to about a week ago the comet wasn't particularly bright, and 2) it now appears fairly close to the sun so it is visible for only a short period of time in the morning and evening twilight.

All predictions concerning comets are unreliable (anyone remember Comet Kohoutek?), but IF this comet retains its output for some time after its closest approach it should be fairly spectacular BUT unfortunately for those of us in the northern hemisphere it won't be visible.

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

coastwalker (307620) | more than 7 years ago | (#17539136)

Comet Khoutek got me into astronomy - though I never saw the blasted thing either

Hale-Bopp was a fantastic sight here in South West England though, worth the wait I think :-)

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

incast (121639) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525614)

"And here I had a perfect reason to break out the ol' 4.5" that goes woefully underutilized most days.."

Wayyyy too easy.

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

Nos. (179609) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525962)

Yeah, that storm is coming here (Regina) tonight or tomorrow. I'm hoping to get a glimpse of it tonight, but the good news is, its brightness isn't going to peak for a few more days, so this weekend should provide a better opportunity, providing its not cloudy.

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

zyl0x (987342) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525652)

I'm going to drive out of the city into a more rural area. You could always hop on a bus to the edge of the city, or drive if you have a car. Maybe you'd have more luck there?

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

bdonalds (989355) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525908)

Do you work for the Detroit Tourism Board?

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 7 years ago | (#17533694)

Unfortunately, no one's perfected that device where I can wipe the clouds out of the sky so I might be able to see this event from where I call home, in the Detroit area.
Actually, the thermonuclear cloud evaporator does work quite well. It will clear the sky of clouds in a jiffy. You just have to make sure that the single cloud which it creates won't block your view of the comet.

Re:Wonderful.... (1)

Lectrik (180902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17536232)

Unfortunately, no one's perfected that device where I can wipe the clouds out of the sky so I might be able to see this event from where I call home, in the Detroit area.


Actually, the thermonuclear cloud evaporator does work quite well. It will clear the sky of clouds in a jiffy. You just have to make sure that the single cloud which it creates won't block your view of the comet.


well... It's not so much the clouds as the sun itself which is making it difficult for me to see the comet (working hours suck) so instead of using your TNCE on the clouds. Perhaps If we used my Orbiting Solar Reflector Bat-station to block the sun it would solve a majority of our problems including global warming... i shouldn't watch futurama or (adamwest)Batman before posting

Mmm (2, Informative)

SuperStretchy (1018064) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525360)

MMmm another [slashdot.org] good date night! Its nice and crisp outside too.

Re:Mmm (2, Funny)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525464)

I'm not sure why you find astronomy and the fruit of a palm tree compatible, but I'll be sure to bring some when my D&D group/LUG/WoW clan go watch this comet.

Civil twilight (2, Informative)

lpangelrob (714473) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525466)

Chicago is at 41 degrees north, and civil twilight lasts from 6:11 AM to 6:46 AM, and 5:08 PM to 5:43 PM CST, if I read it right.

Since I can only see it in the morning, where will the comet be in the morning?

Re:Civil twilight (2, Informative)

Mard (614649) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525594)

Here you are, the morning skymap: http://spaceweather.com/images2007/08jan07/skymap_ north_m.gif [spaceweather.com]

Re:Civil twilight (1)

beckerist (985855) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525662)

Was this just for this morning? I know it won't change an awful lot each day, but comparatively, relative to the other celestial objects it moves right along. What coordinates does this apply to too? It will (obviously) be visible at quite different times of the day dependent upon your longitude, and will appear at different elevations given different latitudes...

Re:Civil twilight (1)

Mard (614649) | more than 7 years ago | (#17526304)

Um, I don't have those answers per se, but I can provide rampant speculation which should quell your concerns!

It will be in more or less the same location TOMORROW morning and night (I doubt you'd notice a difference as a casual observer, although precise equipment of course would need new numbers and stuff to find it), but past tomorrow it should begin moving much faster as it's reaching the curvy-fast part of its orbit where it comes closest to the sun and slingshots back around. Then unfortunately, after it ricochets back around and will probably be brighter than any comet we've observed in the last 100 years, it will only be visible from the southern hemisphere at night (and daytime observations of comets are boring). How unlucky :(

Regarding different times based on longitude, that is easy as heck. It's relative to sunrise and sunset, because really all you're trying to do is get as good a shot before it heads out of view. Think of it this way, in a few days (middle of this month) it will be closer to our sun than Mercury. It is rapidly speeding in that direction now. It is actually visible every day from sunrise to sunset, but the sun is a bright bastard and does not allow the comet to outshine it. You must observe it at sunrise or sunset because that's the only time when the sun's bastard rays are hidden long enough for the comet to become visible, but of course since the comet is almost the same relative location in space from our perspective, it will quickly follow the the sun over the horizon. I suggest going out at around 5pm local time, or whenever sunset is. Enjoy the sunset, and keep an eye on the horizon right after the sun dips below. It should be fairly easy to find if you have a clear view of the horizon and proper viewing conditions (no haze or low clouds), as it has been growing brighter every night for a while.

I'm going out to observe it tonight, but being that I live in such a southern latitude (Florida), I suspect I have little chance of spotting it even with good viewing conditions... my only saving grace is that I have the ultimate horizon to view this comet from (the beach), and we've got beautiful clear skies tonight... high pressure and insanely low humidity, so I may in fact get a better view than some of my cloudy neighbors in the north! I hope!

Good luck, yourself!

Re:Civil twilight (1)

Eggplant62 (120514) | more than 7 years ago | (#17526476)

My understanding is that you should be able to see it in the eastern sky preceding sunrise. Spaceweather.com [spaceweather.com] has some pretty good photographs of how it has appeared in the sky over Norway and other locations, and ephermides to help in locating it in the sky in your location.

Phenobarbital and tennis shoes (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525748)

in 3.. 2...

Re:Phenobarbital and tennis shoes (1)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17529384)

Hey, I'm not cutting off anyth... wait, are those NIKE tennis shoes? And I get a purple armband? All right! Where's the scissors?

Re:Phenobarbital and tennis shoes (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#17530990)

Don't forget your pocketful of bright shiny quarters!

i'm a karma whore... so what? (4, Informative)

east coast (590680) | more than 7 years ago | (#17525900)

A better article [space.com] that gives some easy to access maps and a bit more technical information.

BTW: Does anyone know if there are future prospects for this comet? Everything seems to point at January 15th being the end of it's visibility.

Re:i'm a karma whore... so what? (1)

Mard (614649) | more than 7 years ago | (#17526460)

After it reaches its closest point to the sun and begins the return trip half of its orbit, it will still be viewable from Earth... but only from the southern hemisphere at night. So for us (the civilized northern hemisphere, I'm temporarily ignoring Australia because it's usually convenient to do so), January 15th is the end of visibility.

Re:i'm a karma whore... so what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17537302)

Being constantly ignored by Americans is one of the reasons we call ourselves the lucky country. Mate :)

And if you are living under the southern cross, the comet should come into view around around the 17th and will very quickly move higher into the sky and south from the sun. For a very good comet site including charts, go to http://www.skyhound.com/sh/comets.html [skyhound.com]

Re:i'm a karma whore... so what? (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 7 years ago | (#17528328)

I suggest heavens-above.com [heavens-above.com] as another good possibility, because they allow for very careful localization (you can feed in your town location or your lat/long) and they'll provide a map showing the comet's position against the background stars over time for your location.

They also provide such maps for the ISS, the HST, and most amazing of all, iridium flares. One of my fondest-ever memories was working night-shift at a big manufacturing place and getting all the geeks in the place out in the parking lot at 11 PM, all staring up in the sky, saying, "WHAT are we going to see?" and suddenly *FWOOOM* there's the brightest flash anyone's ever seen and then it's gone and everyone's like "what the HELL?"

Becomes visible in southern hemisphere (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 7 years ago | (#17528346)

Someone in an above thread posted a link to a NASA animation [nasa.gov] of the orbit.

If you give the Java Applet (before anybody complains, I'd like to see you do something like this via AJAX) a minute to load and fiddle around with the controls, you can rotate around and see the comet's path relative the earth, adjusting the date a day at a time.

As you can see, between now and Jan 15th, the comet moves almost directly between the sun and the earth, and is completely lost in the glare. As the earth moves around a little further in it's orbit, the sun, comet, earth no longer form a nearly straight line, so it becomes visible again, but because it's orbit is highly inclined (it flew basically over the sun's north pole), the comet at the same time passes below the ecliptic plane. Unfortunately, this will probably be when it's at it's brightest. The upshot is our friends in the southern hemisphere should be able to catch some twilight glimpses of it then. lso, if the comet does get as bright as some of the optimistic estimates (Magnitude -8), it will even be faintly visible during the day (all over)! It will fade out of sight through February.

With an perihelion of only 0.2 AU and an aphelion of over 5000 AU, we can bet that it will be a long time before this comet swings back through the inner solar system.

The next Heavens gate... (1)

ekimminau (775300) | more than 7 years ago | (#17526678)

How long before we hear about another group of Keds wearing, custom web site creating freakazoids who drank the koolaide for a trip on this bad boy?

Re:The next Heavens gate... (1)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 7 years ago | (#17530622)

The next heaven's gate will most likely include several /. members who believe in space elevators and life on other planets.

Sounds alot like the setup for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17531178)

...Al Steiner's _Aftermath_ over on storiesonline.net where his fictional comet Fenwell hits the Pacific Ocean and sends his characters on the way to a nuclear winter--if they can manage to survive the collapse of civilization and constant pouring rain until the sun comes out....

The spooky factor comes from the way the various scientists all thought their fictional comet was rather bright....... Check it out here: http://storiesonline.net/story/34601 [storiesonline.net]

--The AC
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