Friday, August 12, 2011

A marvel in the darkness

While a potentially very bright comet has just been found by the PANSTARRS telescope, there is another good comet for small telescopes and binoculars visible right now in the northern sky, C/2009P-Garrad. Two weeks ago it passed the bright globular cluster M-15 in Pegasus as it moves westwards towards the summer Milky Way. This comet will be unusual in that it is expected to stay bright enough for amateur astronomers to follow it visually with modest telescopes for months to come. It will stay high in the sky for months and away from the glare of the Sun. However it will pass close to the north celestial pole which for some will keep it near the horizon at that time. I made this drawing with my 15-inch truss-tube from the usual site at a semi-rural airstrip to the west of my city. At 142X the beginnings of a tail were plainly visible, and the comet itself was easy to see despite the rather poor skies that night. Currently the moon is too bright and the skies are too hazy for it to be worth the effort to look for the comet here, but in a week's time the moon will no longer interfere and observation will be possible, weather permitting. The Perseid meteor shower is also now peaking, but unfortunately the full moon will drown out all but a few of them. So I'm going to wait until next year to watch for them since the moon will be a thin waning crescent next year on August 12th. The comet however will be visible through much smaller telescopes than the 15-inch, which I was using that night mainly to look at galaxies and nebulae. For more information about the comet that had recently been discovered, refer to the links below. There is the possibility this one might become the second great comet of the twenty first century because it may become visible during the daytime! The first great comet of this century was McNaught, which blazed across the southern sky back in 2007 and was seen during the daytime from the northern hemisphere too.

I will be posting other drawings soon I made of galaxies, nebulae and star clusters through the 15-inch, and I will also include drawings of the same objects through small telescopes to illustrate why aperture matters.

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