Skip to comments.Surprise Comet Streaks Into Solar System
Posted on 12/20/2002 6:31:36 PM PST by djf
Astronomers have received a holiday bonanza in the form of the arrival of a previously unknown comet that has entered our part of the solar system. The comet was discovered by a Japanese amateur astronomer, Tetuo Kudo, early on the morning of December 14, said Clay Sherrod, an astronomer with the Arkansas Sky laboratory.
"In mid- to late-January the comet will be favorably placed for early risers in the northern hemisphere and will probably be visible to the naked eye, at least toward the end of that month," Sherrod said. "Certainly binoculars will aid in spotting the comet and exposing any tail that it might show."
Named Kudo-Fujikawa (and officially designated C/2002 X5), the comet is moving east-southeast through the constellation Hercules.
Halley's comet orbits the Earth every 76 years, and its next scheduled visitation is in 2061. Astronomers hope that the newly discovered comet, C/2002 X5 Kudo-Fujikawa, will provide an equally impressive show for viewers here on Earth.
Photograph copyright Stocktrek/CORBIS
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"The comet is a swift-moving object and currently is easily visible in the northeastern skies during pre-dawn hours, showing a pretty distinct tail and large coma (head or halo, caused by the emanation of gases and other materials as the comet warms up on its approach to the sun). The tail appears to be slightly less than one-half degree and several spikes in this tail have been recorded (on December 15) by imagers in New Mexico," Sherrod said.
The jury is still out regarding just what kind of show Kudo-Fujikawa would provide Earth-based viewers when it is closest to the sun, but there is a prospect that it would be a "textbook comet," Sherrod said. "However, the visibility during its greatest brilliance will be greatly hampered because of the comet's angle of approach to the sun and the Earth-sun-comet positioning during that period."
Towards the end of January, the comet will be approaching the sun and swinging behind it from Earth's vantage point, thus getting lower and lower each successive morning into early February.
"In February the comet will be more favorably placed for observers in the southern hemisphere, and there are some estimates that suggest that the comet could attain a brightness equal to the bright planet Venus (a magnitude of less than 4)," Sherrod said.
Magnitude is a measure of brightness used by astronomers. The lower the magnitude value of an object, the brighter that object is.Objects that shine with a magnitude of less than 6 are usually visible with the naked eye. Kudo-Fujikawa is currently being seen at a magnitude of between 7 and 8.
Much of what Earth will be able to see of Kudo-Fujikawa is contingent on the activity that occurs when it is closest to its pass by the sun (perihelion) on January 28, 2003, Sherrod said. At that point it will be only 16 million miles (25 million kilometers) from the sun. The average distance of the Earth from the sun is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers).
"The retrograde orbit (meaning the comet is coming in at an opposite direction in relation to the orbits of the primary planets) of this comet and its close pass from the sun at that time have suggested to many, myself included, that the comet might potentially break up from solar radiation and solar wind. If this does indeed occur, then we might expect more volatile activity from this object than if it passes perihelion totally intact and unscathed.
"Now, if this does happen, then we might expect an incredible comet to be visible as the inner, more volatile and rare gases are exposed to solar radiation," Sherrod said.
For more precise instructions of how to find the cometand Sherrod's regular updates on its progressplease visit the Arkansas Sky Observatory.
Suppose that the "comet" tail is exposed on purpose. Couldn't it be argued that the "comet" was actually wanting to be gazed upon?
I am in the process of building a small observatory to house my 10" Schmidt Cassegrain Catadioptric telescope. It's currently on an equaltorial mount, but it will be on a permanent pier once the observatory is built..
It uses a series of lenses an mirrors and is computer operated. It has a database of over 65,000 objects and is operated with a numbered key pad, where one can punch in the coordinates of a specific object and the telescope will go directly to it. It will also be able to be operated remotely with software that will control the telescope from my desktop PC inside my house.
I currently obtain images using a film format with a 35mm camera, but hope to obtain a used CCD digital camera someday in the near future. They are expensive but they are much more sensitive to low light objects than film, and there is no film processing involved, you get the image on the computer screen almost instantly. Once the image comes up on the computer screen it can then be moved into photoshop for enhancement and further digital processing. I have some photographs of the Planet Saturn, and Jupiter, and several of the Orion Nebula, and many shots of the lunar surface, all on film format. If I can figure out how to post them I will. That's something I just haven't done yet, but need to figure it out.
Having images piped directly to your PC and being able to control the telescope from inside is very cool and a must in my book (who wants to sit outdoors all night long in the cold, lol?). Ditto CCD. Amazingly, not so long ago, neither of these was possible. And the big scopes out there nowadays would astonish amateurs of 20 or 30 years ago. Just wish I didn't live so close to the city.
Maybe I'll start out with one of those 10" Dobs from Orion for $600. Just slew and look, easy peasy (but cold and uncomfortable). :-)
#$%!@#$. Nothing's EVER easy.
But I thought Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp were impressive, too. Had Hale-Bopp been as close as Hyakutake--that would have made for a memory of a millennium!
Hayakutake was especially prominent, if I remember correctly. With other comets, you look up and say "Now which one of those is the comet?" With Hayakutake, you'd look up and say "OH, Look at that!"
"A theory that ancient peoples may have migrated across vast distances in response to catastrophic encounters with comets. The possible existance of a lost pyramid-building civilization in the period before 3,500BC.
I'm thinking I'll buy it.
Isn't he one of the more prominent researchers in your field of interest (which is, judging by your fascinating posts, ancient archaeology/human history)? I recall him having some theory that Europeans were mining near the Great Lakes long before Columbus.
I'll probably go to Barnes & Noble in town and get it.
I've not seen him associated with the copper mines in that area.
The last I saw of him was a one hour documentary about the megaliths/pyramids underwater off the coast of Japan. He stated that they were natural formations and when shown what appears to be a large human face chisled into one of the structures, he said: "Humans may have 'tinkered' with them before the sea level rose and covered them.'
He also said that if anyone finds anything written on the structures to call him and he would be on the first plane back. lol
Sorry, this is all I know.
I am currently in the process of building a 8' diameter domed observatory to house it in, as the set up time can take over an hour, and then tear down time etc.
These are all amateur observatories, some home made, some manufactured small backyard obervatories.
The scope is an LX-200 Meade Instruments 10" diameter, Schmidt Cassegrain. Mounts need to be strong, if one plans on conducting astro photography or CCD imaging. Some mounts are metal pipes filled with fine sand to help eliminate sound vibrations, some are concrete. My observatory is in the early stages of building, as I only have limited time to build. But should be done by summer.
I will post some images probably when the observatory is complete. Haven't had much scope time due to work and the construction project.
I was fortunate enough to live during my high school years in the small Ohio town where Leslie Peltier lived. Peltier was at the time arguably the most famous amateur astronomer in the world. He had written one of the classic books on amateur astronomy, "Starlight Nights", and in his lifetime he discovered 12 comets, six novae, and made over 130,000 variable star observations.
As a young man he hand-built the unique Merry-Go-Round Observatory which he used countless times to make many of his discoveries:
By the time I came to know him (late 70's), he had built a much larger, more traditional domed observatory to house a larger telescope (the above photo appears to have been taken from within the domed observatory).
It was through Peltier's telescope that I first saw the spectacle of the shadows of the mountains on the Moon along the terminator of the half-moon. I fondly remember eating fresh apples from one of the trees in his yard as a friend and I gazed up into the skies.
I'm not sure how much his setup cost in total. Surely the original "merry-go-round" observatory from which he made many of his discoveries was built at minimal cost, so it doesn't take a fortune to become a successful amateur astronomer. His larger observatory, of course, cost a reasonably substantial amount.
Try abebooks.com : have done business with them for about 2 years and never had a problem.
With these telescopes he independently discovered twelve comets and six novae and made over 130,000 variable star observations. Wow, that's a very, very serious amateur! 130,000 variable star observations translates to around ten a night for 40 years. I wonder how many potentially serious amateurs today are frittering away their nights on the internet instead of observing? You'd think Al Gore would be ashamed to show his face in public. ;-)
Back in the 80's I read a story about Japan's top amateur comet hunter. IIRC, the guy actually lived in Tokyo! I can't imagine doing any serious astronomy with that much light pollution around me. But he had spent a small fortune on his observatory and there was no way you could argue with his accomplishments in amateur astronomy.
He also had an amazing pair of binoculars that he had spent many, many thousands of dollars on, and that he used to scan the sky every night. I can't remember exactly how much he paid for them, but it blew me away when I read about them. I didn't know such things existed . . . But they definitely put my 11x80s to shame. Anyway, if he found anything of interest, he'd go straight to the telescope to check it out. If not, he'd fall back on his regular systematic searching, shooting pictures all night.
Here's an 8'diameter homemade obsveratory. He used red lights outside as it's doesn't affect your night vision.....This is similar to what I am currently building......
They use binoculars due to their extreme wide field of view. For that specific application, hunting asteroids and comets, they are hard to beat. They can cover a lot more sky, much faster than astronomical telescopes that have much smaller field of views.