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Quick, what do you call a comet that you can EASILY see while driving down the road, while in town, with a frosted windshield, non dark adapted eyes, last quarter moon in the sky, and still see a tail of over 1/2 degree? Give up?!?! I call that BRIGHT! HB has dramatically brightened (again) since I last viewed on 19Feb97 (was it really that long ago?). This is my first cleaar morning in awhile that I was able to go out, and it was worth it. HB loomed at me as I walked out into the back yard, I could easily see a tail over 1 degree in length without even trying. When I used the binoculars, the tail was traced to about 5 or 6 degrees, while observing in my back yard. The dust tail is dramatically brighter and accounts for the 1 degree visual sighting of the tail (from in town). By the time I went out to the darker sky site south of town, twilight was eating the eastern horizon rapidly. Have to wake up earlier and earlier to catch HB at its best. The dust tail was still obvious, extending more than three degrees toward the general vicinity of upsilon Cygni. The fainter, yet longer ion tail shoots out to about 6.5 degrees toward rho and tau Cygni. I lose it *out there somewhere*, and as bright as it is, and as long as it is under these not so good conditions, I can't help but wonder what it will be like next weekend with out a moon to interfere (and earlier in the AM, with no twilight)??? Clear Skies, Paul.
It is getting harder and harder to wake up for this comet, in spite of the fact that it is becoming more dramatic with each passing day. It's celestial geometry requires an early riser to catch HB at it's morning best. My alarm clock rings just before 4 AM, and I think, **already?** as I try to clear my head from the sleep that still lingers. I perform my daily ritual, stumble over the dog who sneaks into the bedroom in the middle of the night. Then I go to the window to see if the weather is kind to me. The worst would be snow, which I would have to get up and shovel. If it is cloudy, I am disappointed, but I can go back to sleep... so the weather is kind. If it is clear, I can go out and view Hale-Bopp, so the weather is kindest! This morning the weather is very kind. I can see HB looming brightly over my neighbors trees, this through a screened window (a bit dirty and frosty window at that!). I can even spot a bit of tail in these horrid conditions, so I eagerly go about my business of preparing myself. On the way to my convenient dark sky site, I sip my cup of coffee, and listen to NPR's morning jazz show. A sorrowful blues tune is on, it provides contrast to my mood as I sneak glimpses of HB. I continue down the dark country road, and I see more and more of HB's tail as my eyes make their subtle adjustment. With parking lights only for the last half mile, I can't help but think neighbors would be concerned if they were to witness my passing. Would my telescope suffice as an excuse for my prowler like ways? As I enter the crisp -6oF air, it is like a wake-up call, and the last vestiges of sleep are immediately gone. There is HB, now about 20o above the horizon. **Awesome!** my thoughts reberberate. This is indeed a great morning. The eye is all you need to enjoy this People's Comet. A bright star-like coma/nucleus, enveloped in a shroud. The tail sweeps broadly toward the zenith and is easily split into the distinct dust and ion counterparts. The dust tail is shorter, but broader and brighter. It has a serpentine like curve to it as the material streams away from the coma. My mind can't help but think of rotation, but I don't know if this is the cause for the almost helix like appearance. The straight ion tail is more subtle, but close inspection reveals a brighter streamer of material displaced about four degrees from the coma. This streamer is later confirmed with the 8 X 40's. Another very subtle appendage extends from the coma for about four degrees slightly divergent form the main ion tail, so tonight, I have the pleasure of seeing three (separate?) tails for comet Hale-Bopp. From this site, I can easily trace the ion tail to about 12 degrees, and further still using averted and jiggle vision. Jiggle vision you wonder? In case you haven't heard that term, it is merely my expression for a deep sky technique to reveal a faint, low contrast object. When centered on the field where the object *should* be, nudge the scope gently to create a slight jiggle, or vibration. The movement alerts the cones of the eye to a faint, amorphous object in the field. For comets, a modified technique of sweeping the binoculars back and forth slowly past the tail lets me trace it five degrees more this morning. Once I have it locked in, direct vision is sufficient to reveal it's faint, shimmering extent(s) to the eye. I make a quick sketch this morning to help me remember the details of this moringins visit with HB. The eastern horizon shows it's first signs of impending sunrise, I finish up and head home. Later, I manage to get Maura out of bed to come for a look. Her first glimpse is through that slightly dirty, frosty screened window, and she mutters **wow!**. We head outside where it is already getting brighter by the minute. She looks through the binoculars, and is speechless for a minute. She wishes she got up earlier to see HB when it was darker, (but in my mind I know she will wait for the more convenient evening hours of viewing later this spring).
This morning I awoke at half past four and after checking the sky from the north upstairs hall window and seeing the comet and its fine tail well above the trees through three panes of glass, I dressed hurriedly and reached the observatory at a quarter of 5 o'clock. The naked eye view was stunning in a sky so transparent that I had little trouble locating a 6.4 magnitude star near Polaris (using the RASC OBSERVER'S HANDBOOK 1997 chart, p. 41), the summer Milky Way girdled the eastern sky in dazzling light, the comet's bright coma exceeded only by Vega and Arcturus, while it tail reached well up into Cygnus roughly 15o (both dust and ion tails clearly visible). The view was a sight one wanted to share with friends. After uncovering the SCT, I spent perhaps 10 minutes scanning the apparition with a 2-inch 40 mm ultra wide ocular at 32x, the morning's -1oF temperature not phasing my pleasure. Thinking the view was too good NOT to share with others, I finally walked into the office, grabbed the Minolta and two lens, and walked out again to the telescope. After first trying a 50 mm lens, I settled on taking a wide angle frame, and so attached the camera and 28 mm for a piggyback ride. Because of the telescope's angle, the view nicely framed Hale-Bopp in the lower left, Deneb near center, and Vega in the upper right. As twilight was just becoming discernible, I shot a 7'00" exposure at 5:36:01 while hand guiding on the pseudo nucleus using a 102x Ortho Guide ocular. God willing, I'll do the same tomorrow, but will do so an hour earlier. Afterwards I spent some time studying the coma and the waves of material spraying forward of the nucleus, almost appearing like chunky cumulus cloud forms, while upping the magnification to a 6.7 mm (191x) and than to a 4.8 mm (268x) ocular. As a thin waning crescent Moon and Jupiter (first morning sighting this year) climbed above the southeastern horizon, I decided to see JUST how long I could follow the comet before daylight overtook its stellar-like nucleus. An observing log follows:
CST Comet Hale-Bopp Sun Comments (-6UT) Alt Az Alt Az Alt Az ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- 06:50 39.0o 74.8o -3.7o 94.4o 8-inch Meade 2080LX6 f/6.3 SCT 26 mm SP (49x & 1.06o field) Moon 10.2o 127.0o Jupiter 7.1o 128.5o 07:08 41.6o 77.4o -0.9o 97.4o Sun's limb broke horizon 07:14 42.6o 78.3o 0.5o 98.5o Sun cleared horizon lost comet within that minute
Another clear morning, doubly blessed by it falling on a weekend. I head out at four AM, with my telescope this time. HB is bright, but subdued. There is a thin veil of haze over the land, I verify it's existence from the halos cast about the streetlights. This morning M39 should lie within the tail of HB, and I eagerly drive into the country. As always, when I get out of the van, I just watch for awhile, soak up HB photons, so that I might remember. The ion tail suffers this morning from the haze. It extends straight and sword-like toward M39, but barely making it this far. Through the binoculars I see a consistent milky appearance to the background sky, and the limiting magnitude reveals my earlier suspicions. Yet the dust tail is nice and bright, and I can once again see a serpentine like presentation. But not as profuound as two mornings ago. I set up the scope for a low power view. At about 32 power, the coma/nucleus region is impressive and very bright. It overpowers all field stars, who struggle to compete with this monster in their midst. I begin to sketch, seeing more detail as I strive to accurately record the appearance of HB. But no picture, drawing or CCD image I have ever seen comes close to the first hand experience of a live view. The coma shows a strong stellar central condensation with a shroud of material resembling a jelly fish encompassing the stellar core. This is unlike Hyakutake which from my recollections was more diffuse. The SW quadrant of the coma is brightest, with a bright knot of material seemingly making the appearance of a separate core. I can also see an arc-like apparition of material on the sunward side of the coma. I am reminded of a bow shock. Are these a figment of my imagination? Arcs within arcs, I struggle to sketch, keep warm (-3oF this AM) and train my dobsonian on the comet. I am frustrated by clouds encroaching on HB's corner of the sky. They look thin and wispy, yet menancing. I retreat to the van to warm up while I wait for them to pass. The clouds are gone, but not for long I fear. I look through the eyepiece again, and see the same structure. I sketch it in, hoping to confirm it at 100X. As I strive to add as many field stars for reference, HB once again succumbs to the Earth orbiting clouds of vapor in our own atmosphere. A quick glance around me tells me I need to pack up for the morning. Disappointed, yet jubilent, I spent another hour and a half with comet HB. It is now 5:50 AM and the eastern horizon bears witness to the approaching dawn.
Clear skies, and enjoy! Paul.
The skies did not look very promising this morning, but decided to go out anyway. Being marginal, I decided to go out to the most convenient dark sky site, just south of town on Hartsville Road. The skies out there aren't the best, but convenient. Limiting magnitude for my eye, about 5 to 5.5 at the zenith, compared to 4.5 to 5.0 for me at the PSO. So, I set out to do some observing, maybe things would improve. I would soon regret my decision not to head out further from these blasted streetlights. Shortly after I set up the scope, I sat back to sketch HB via a binocular view. Things were improving, and as I sketched, more and more detail became visible in the tail, especially the broad, fan shaped dust tail. I could immediately discern it's subtle twist and curve as the material from the comet spread out from the coma/nucleus. This general shape has been apparent for the last few weeks. It is a broad shallow curve, encompassing maybe the first half degree away from the coma. There the curve blends in with the general structure of the tail. This morning as I was sketching the rough-in, I could tell that things were improving rapidly. Usually when observing, you can detect changes in the weather (unfortuneately most times for the worse) with a sudden or slight change in the wind, or a noticeable change in temeperature, or humidity as a front moves through. But this mornings change was heralded only by a slight pick up in the wind. But that was enough to blow off the thin veil of clouds that was in the area. Suddenly, the Milky Way (barely visible) was growing in intensity, as transparency improved. HB's dust tail showed more structure than I remember seeing in the past few weeks, highlighted by a few streamers. Nice, I thought to myself, if only I were to have headed north where it is darker! To late, by the time I got on the other side of town, it would have taken up most of my limited observing time. So I continued to enjoy the show from where I was. Estimating the stellar appearance of the coma, I put HB at about the magnitude of Altair. I am sure my estimate is low, as I did not attempt to estimate it's total magnitude using the Sidgwick method (so that's the name of the method I have been using all these years to estimate galaxy/nebulae brightness...). With the eye, and through the binoculars, I noted a pale yellow color of the coma and near-coma tail. This is most striking with the 8 X 40's, and is something I noticed before, but never mentioned. Yellow color is indicative of dust, and shows up in color photographs. Has anyone else noted this visually? It is a stiking contrast to Vega, which has a B-V of 0.0, Altair at 0.22, and Deneb at 0.09mb-v (color index where negative values are blue Rigerl= -0.13, higher positive values indicate white, to yellow to red ie Aldebaran = 1.54 and Betelgeuse = 1.85). When viewing through the telescope, I lose this impression (of color), perhaps because of the more striking appearance of the multiple shrouds! Yes, I was not hallucinating when I looked through the scope these last few days! There are arcs, within arcs, within arcs! To quote John Leppert, **waves of material** being dispeled from the coma/nucleus. It is really an incredible sight. I did my best to capture it in my sketch. You know, my first impression was of diffraction rings. Wow! I thought, the seeing is great! But how can a diffuse object have diffraction rings (well, they are there theoretically)? Silly me. They seem to show up best at about 100X, at least with my scope. As with any observing session, it too rapidly comes to an end. After looking up from my scope to sketch a star in the field, I notice I no longer need the red flashlight my cold fingers are holding. The clipboard is bathed in the subtle glow of twilight. When did that happen? No wonder I am losing contrast, the sky is brightening!
Until next time, Clear SKies, Paul.
This evening, I again viewed the comet over a period of several hours with binoculars from the comfort of the house, first locating it within 40 minutes of sunset with the naked eye (20.1o altitude and 309.7o in azimuth), and an hour later at 8 o'clock in a nearly dark sky (13.1o and 319.0o, respectively). At 9 o'clock thin cloud was seen to occasionally obscure and than uncover it in rapid fashion, skidding across the coma from the west and than appearing to ripple along the length of its tail. As the coma disappeared the cloud was back-lighted by the bright nucleus nearly giving a view similar to that seen in the Orion nebula. The whole effect was really quite lovely. My last view at half past ten, was of the comet framed on either side by two large spruce trees while the horizon was aglow in the diffuse light of a developing aurora at 1.5o altitude and 344.9o in azimuth.
I awoke at half past four to find the comet high in the northeast and last night's aurora still active across the northern horizon and nearly reaching upwards to the brilliant coma. The diffuse arcing light and the comet appeared of about equal brightness and both remained so until twilight overtook the splendid sight. Since the SCT is out of commission for my taking photographs, I again opted for the comfort of a chair, the tripod mounted 8x56 binoculars, and making a drawing in the calm 2oF late winter air. The field offered a stunning sight of perhaps forty or more suns, among them were three bright stars, two at 4.5 magnitude and the other at 5.1 magnitude (6, 11 and 13 Lacertae, respectively). An observing log and the positions of half of the thirty stars relative to Comet Hale-Bopp that were included in the drawing follows:
CST Comet Hale-Bopp field stars comments / other object(s) (-6UT) Alt Az mag PAo sep Alt Az ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- 05:05 23.0o 52.5o Celestron Pro 8x56 binocular (8x and 5.5o field) Twilight began at 05:10 22hr40.2min RA +41o31.3' DEC dust tail PA 331-325o out 5o ion tail PA 321-305o out 5o 4.5 313 2.4o 6 Lacertae (SAO 52079) within tail 4.5 001 2.7o 11 Lacertae (SAO 52551) 5.1 069 47.0' 13 Lacertae (SAO 52317) 6.4 355 3.7o SAO 52211 6.8 240 1.4o SAO 52140 6.8 320 3.4o SAO 52028 within tail 6.9 355 2.8o SAO 52218 7.0 352 40.2' SAO 52239 within tail 7.0 235 1.4o SAO 52155 7.0 355 3.1o SAO 52217 7.1 181 52.7' SAO 52247 7.1 337 1.4o SAO 52190 within tail 7.1 003 3.5o SAO 52262 7.1 347 3.7o SAO 52162 7.3 345 3.6o SAO 52156