Hi everyone, it’s time again for a long overdue post. The sky has not been empty, and the morning sky is very full of observable comets right now. The somewhat overrated Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), hailed by excited media as “Comet of the Century”, is careening towards the sun, and actually was quite ordinary looking, if not dim, until these past few days, in which it has brightened three magnitudes. Only this week is it finally approaching naked-eye brightness. However, this post is not about ISON, as there is currently a brighter comet in the sky… Comet C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy).
As with the rest of the better comets out now, it requires an early riser- I awoke at 4:00 A.M. to observe it. However, it was quite a sight. Dragging myself out with my 15×70 binoculars, I found it easily between Leo’s Sickle and Leo Minor. It looked like a diffuse ball, moderately bright but easy to see in the binoculars, with possibly just a hint of a slender tail. Honestly, I would have drawn a sketch, but it was so bitterly frigid (22 deg. F) that any attempt would have failed. If I had done a little more thinking, I would have tried to photograph it, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, I probably missed my one chance to do so, as the weather isn’t going to be favorable and the moon is ever dominating the sky as it approaches 2nd quarter on Sunday.
However, I found the early rising well worth it, as many jewels of the sky were in prime positions for observing. I looked at M42, of course, as I always do; as always it was quite breathtaking in my binoculars. I actually brought out my little 6″ F/5 and observed it with that as well, and it didn’t disappoint (I also swung it over to Lovejoy to take a look- but I couldn’t discern too much more detail at a glance than the 15x70s). I also casually roamed Auriga’s 3 open clusters- M36, M37 and M38- and took a look at M35 as well, another open cluster. I thought about hunting down ISON, but dawn was beginning and stars were fading, and I deemed it too low in the murk of the atmosphere and not bright enough to be visible through the light pollution in the east (I didn’t know that it had a spike in brightness). I encourage you to take a good pair of binoculars and search out some of the visible comets.
I hope to be making some modifications to my SCT soon, so come back for posts about that in the future!