Monday, January 15, 2007

Brightest comet in 30 years. But WHERE IS IT?!!!

Note: If you'd like to comment, click on the 'comments' link at the end of this (or any other) entry. It's only in small font and many people new to blogger miss it.


Consideration of things celestial has given me a taste for space again. We are all made of stardust - heavy atoms forged in the heart of stars, and ultimately all the subatomic particles that make up those atoms were themselves created in the Big Bang, 18.5 billion years ago.

Anyway, with each blog entry I'll publish a photo from the Hubble Space Telescope. This one is of the spiral galaxy NGC 1512. It's taken in visible light wavelengths, meaning this is what we'd see if we could look at it with our eyes. It's GREEN!

It's also 30 million light years from us, and it measures 70,000 light years across. Think of it; light coming from a star on the edge of the galaxy takes 70,000 years just to reach the other edge!

If you click on the picture, you can see the same galaxy viewed in near-ultraviolet wavelengths. Wow.

I don't know if any of you know this, but Comet Mcnaught, named after Australian astronomer Robert McNaught, its discoverer, has been visible in our skies for weeks now, and has been, since new Year, the brightest comet in 30 years, surpassing even the spectacular Hale-Bopp(1997) and the ghostly Hyakutake (1996), both of which entranced me when they appeared.

Comet Hale-Bopp over Leeds

Comet Hyakutake

Bizarrely, this new comet has had almost zero news coverage, and I only stumbled across it when the BBC posted a few pics of it on their news site, tucked away so you'd never notice them unless you were searching for them.
On Friday, Jude's 11 year-old son, Jasper, arrived to stay with us over the weekend. Thinking it may be a rare opportunity, I took him up to the superb Graves Park, which has a clear view to the South West, the direction of the comet, just after sunset. Unfortunately it was too cloudy, though Jasper was entertained by trying to achieve flight in the strong wind blasting off the Dark Peak (sounds very Tolkienesque, dunnit?).
Saturday being a day of solid cloud and incessant rain, it was left to Sunday to provide clear skies, and provide them it did, so off we went to the park again, to watch the sun set and look for Mcnaught. Could we see it? Could we buggery! We even tried again an hour later before giving up.
It's so disappointing, given that this is supposedly so bright, that it isn't visible as were the aforementioned comets. Maybe it's because it's so low in the sky, or because it's only visible at dusk, rather than in the dark of night. The pics on the BBC site suggest otherwise though. Whatever, I'll try once more if it's clear tonight.
I can well understand how comets were regarded as ill omens, looking as ghostly and cold as they do. Even the pictures of comet nuclei (see below) taken by various spacecraft and Hubble Telescope show spectral, cold objects, fully in keeping with their manifestations in the sky.

If you've not seen Hubble's gallery, then visit the site and feel humbled!

The nucleus of Halley's Comet, seen on March 13, 1986 from 25,660 kilometers (15,950 miles) away, by the European Space Agency craft Giotto


I found this site, which seems to indicate several reasons why we didn't see the comet. It also gives a decent guide if you want to see it, but it seems that the Southern Hemisphere is now the place to get the best view.

Quote from the site:

"It’s already as bright as the brightest stars, but it is also sticking close to the glare of the Sun. For this reason the general public won’t be gathering on street corners to gaze at it, as they did Comet Hyakutake (in 1996) or Comet Hale-Bopp (1997). But amateur astronomers in north-temperate latitudes, with their observing know-how, have an excellent chance of spotting Comet McNaught in the next week or so, very low in the bright glow of evening twilight"

(Courtesy of Sky and Telescope)


  1. fucking awesome blog entry, bry! i have always been fascinated by astronomy and now ive got a bloke who is, too! AND youve got a big knob! life just doesn't get much better! :)

  2. Not just a big knob. An astronomical knob. Best of both worlds.

  3. So this is where the big knobs hang out.


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