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New Comet Now Visible to Naked Eye
Yahoo ^ | December 8, 2004 | Robert Roy Rritt

Posted on 12/08/2004 8:40:35 PM PST by Right Wing Professor

A comet discovered earlier this year has now moved close enough to be visible without binoculars or telescopes by experienced observers under dark skies. It is expected to put on a modest show this month and into January.

Comet Machholz will be at its closest to Earth Jan. 5-6, 2005, when it will be 32 million miles (51 million kilometers) away.

People with dark rural skies and a good map should be able to find it on Moon-free nights now into January.

Backyard astronomers have been watching Machholz for months through telescopes. It was spotted by naked-eye observers for the first time about three weeks ago from the Southern Hemisphere, said Donald Machholz, who discovered the frozen chunk of rock and ice in August.

"I saw it last night for the first time with the naked eye," Machholz told SPACE.com Friday.

Comets are made of rocky material and icy mixtures of water and various other chemicals. As a comet approaches the Sun, the surface is heated and essentially boils off. Scientists call the process sublimation. The gas and dust creates a head, also called a coma, and sometimes a tail. Sunlight reflects off the material, making some comets visible from Earth.

Comet Machholz, officially named c/2004 Q2, is not expected to produce the sort of spectacular display put on by comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 or the periodically stunning Halley's comet.

Astronomers cannot say exactly how bright Machholz will get, because it is notoriously difficult to predict the behavior of comets making their first observed close trip around the Sun. Scientists don't fully understand the composition of comets, nor their variety, so they don't know how much stuff will sublimate nor how fast.

Machholz is expected to reach magnitude 4.0, based on an early estimate. On this astronomers' scale, smaller numbers represent brighter objects. The dimmest things visible under perfectly dark skies are around magnitude 6.5. The brightest star, Sirius, is magnitude minus 1.42.

Recent observations suggest Machholz will do at least as well as first predicted.

"The comet is doing better than expected and is about 0.5 magnitudes brighter than expected," Machholz said. "So it will probably get brighter than the Andromeda Galaxy, brighter than magnitude 4.0."

The Andromeda Galaxy is the furthest object visible to the unaided human eye under dark skies. It is a magnitude 3.4 object.

If the comet were to become roughly magnitude 3.0, it would still appear common among the sea of stars available to dark-sky observers. City and suburban dwellers would likely not find it without optical aid. In either case, binoculars or a small telescope might reveal the comet as more of a fuzzy patch, and if it develops a significant tail, that could be visible too.

Machholz, who has found nine other comets, suggests looking for his latest discovery when the Moon is out of the picture, such as around Dec. 11 when it will be at its New phase.

"The comet can still be seen when the Moon is out, but it will be difficult," he said by email. "Use binoculars or a wide-field (low power) telescope, and/or get to a dark site."

The comet is low on the horizon now, where the atmosphere makes for poor viewing. By early January, the comet will be much higher in the sky, improving viewing conditions.

I haven't yet found a decent online map of its current and predicted positions; if I can't find one tomorrow, I'll draw one and post it.


TOPICS: Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: astronomy; comet; comet2004q2; cometmachholz; greencomet
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Worth a look if you're somewhere with a dark sky. I found it with non-dark adapted eyes in less than 5 minutes wtih a pair of 9 X 63 binoculars. I think you could see it with unaided eyes in a very dark sky if you dark-adapted for 1/2 hour. It looked brighter to me than Sky and Telescope's prediction; in a few days it should be a fairly easy naked eye object. I had it at -22 degres south, 4h 42 R.A. this evening at 9;30 CDT.

Finding it: draw a line between Betelgeuse, the top left, reddish star in Orion, to Rigel (the bright bottom right star). Go further along that line the same distance again. The comet is right there. It's about 2 degrees (the length of Orion's belt) south of 54 Eridani, which is really the only star easily visible to the unaided eye in the region; it's moving north, and by December 12 should be due East of 54 Eridani. By early January it will be much brighter and next to the Pleiades.

1 posted on 12/08/2004 8:40:36 PM PST by Right Wing Professor
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To: Right Wing Professor

There was a comet a few years ago that went right over the north star.It was like the night sky itself was a giant clock and the comet was its hour hand. Pretty neat.


2 posted on 12/08/2004 8:49:26 PM PST by Nateman (The enemies of reason are allies of evil.)
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To: RadioAstronomer; edwin hubble; longshadow

Tsk! Letting the amateurs beat you guys at your own game :-).


3 posted on 12/08/2004 8:50:28 PM PST by RightWingAtheist (Marxism-the creationism of the left)
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To: Right Wing Professor
It was spotted by naked-eye observers for the first time about three weeks ago . . .

Amazing naked-eye observers can still make discoveries like this.

4 posted on 12/08/2004 8:50:57 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: Right Wing Professor

5 posted on 12/08/2004 8:52:32 PM PST by AntiGuv (ô)
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To: msdrby

ping


6 posted on 12/08/2004 8:53:12 PM PST by Professional Engineer (Pulled up behind 'em, pulled out my pistol, and blew 'em away. ~ Chuck Brodsky, minstrel)
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To: LibWhacker
Amazing naked-eye observers can still make discoveries like this.

Amazing what good eyes some people have. I know where it is, but I haven't picked it up yet without binocs, even with averted vision.

7 posted on 12/08/2004 8:56:07 PM PST by Right Wing Professor
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To: Right Wing Professor

All I see is the moon and a bunch of dots.


8 posted on 12/08/2004 8:58:25 PM PST by REDWOOD99
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To: Right Wing Professor

Are you way out in the boonies? Can't see anything around here.


9 posted on 12/08/2004 8:59:13 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: RandallFlagg

Ping!


10 posted on 12/08/2004 9:00:11 PM PST by CurlyBill (Mark Levin for the Supreme Court!)
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To: REDWOOD99

Cloudy here, darnit!


11 posted on 12/08/2004 9:02:15 PM PST by Judith Anne (Thank you St. Jude for favors granted.)
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To: Right Wing Professor

Could you put that into laymans (farm people) terms please?


12 posted on 12/08/2004 9:02:47 PM PST by ChefKeith (Life is GREAT with CoCo..........NASCAR...everything else is just a game!(Except War & Love))
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To: RightWingAtheist

Heh, it's the amateurs that have the time and telescopes to find these things (aside from the LINEAR comets). Us pros get too caught up in other things.


13 posted on 12/08/2004 9:02:57 PM PST by MikeD (Columnated ruins domino...)
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To: Right Wing Professor

This was described at space.com as the estimated position on January 5th, 8pm local time, at the northern mid-latitudes.

14 posted on 12/08/2004 9:03:17 PM PST by alancarp (When does it cease to be "Freedom of the Press" and become outright SEDITION?)
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To: Right Wing Professor

bump for later--


15 posted on 12/08/2004 9:05:02 PM PST by two23
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To: Right Wing Professor; Howlin; Molly Pitcher; MozartLover; Miss Marple; lepton; Species8472; ...

bttt


16 posted on 12/08/2004 9:05:56 PM PST by kayak (Merry CHRISTmas!)
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To: kayak

long way away bump


17 posted on 12/08/2004 9:09:02 PM PST by txhurl
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To: kayak; Brad's Gramma; Carolinamom; TC Rider; jern

Oh, here we go, back outside!


18 posted on 12/08/2004 9:09:37 PM PST by Howlin (W, Still the President)
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To: LibWhacker
Are you way out in the boonies

Rural Nebraska. As boonie as it gets. You might need to wait a couple of weeks to see it in the city.

19 posted on 12/08/2004 9:09:54 PM PST by Right Wing Professor
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To: Howlin

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I have to get up in the morning!

Oh well. BRB! :) Thanks for the ping!


20 posted on 12/08/2004 9:11:54 PM PST by Bradís Gramma (Proud Patriots dot com! Check it out!!!)
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