Skip to comments.Two comets lighting up skywatchers' interest
Posted on 05/14/2004 5:05:13 PM PDT by SwinneySwitch
Hale-Bopp they're not, but two comets headed toward Earth are lighting up skywatchers' interest nonetheless.
The comets, which were discovered only recently, probably never will come in viewing range again. And they're big enough and close enough to see with bare eyes or just binoculars, a fairly rare event.
One, known by the cute name NEAT, already is visible in the evening sky and will make its closest approach to the sun, reaching peak brightness, on Saturday.
The second, known as LINEAR, appears in late May. Both will be visible right after sunset during the first part of June.
The comets are quite a bit fainter than Hale-Bopp, which swung by Earth in 1997, looking like a great flashlight in the sky.
Cary Chleborad, president of the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society, used binoculars earlier this week to spot NEAT in the southwest sky from his home. What he saw, he said, was "big, bright and fuzzy."
Comets are balls of gas and icy dust. The fuzzy part Chleborad saw is vapor coming off the comet's body as it nears the sun. The heat of the sun creates a comet's signature tail.
Comets NEAT and LINEAR were discovered in 2001 and 2002, respectively, and are named for the government-sponsored programs in which they were found.
NEAT stands for Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking project, which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. LINEAR stands for Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program, and is run by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Both programs are designed to spot asteroids and other "near-Earth objects" that might collide with our planet.
Neither comet is on course for a collision, but do come close enough to make a pretty sight _ at least from some vantage points.
Jenifer Evans, a member of the LINEAR team, said viewers in Australia, Chile and other points south of the equator now have fantastic views of both comets. "The Southern Hemisphere has been just loving this," she said.
LINEAR made its closest approach to the sun in April, so by the time it reappears to stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere around May 30, it will have dimmed, becoming hard to see without binoculars, especially in cities and other light-polluted locations.
NEAT, too, may be somewhat obscure even at its brightest, a fact for which Steven Pravdo is slightly apologetic. "I don't know what people in general would expect, but it's not going to jump out at you like the moon," said Pravdo, an astrophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Lab who discovered the comet.
Maybe they'll impact in Provicetown MA.
You are a cutie!
Anybody seen either of these lately? They aren't visible here at all.
Do you know what general direction we should look in?
(I'm sorry, I just couldn't pass that one by!)
Don't bother unless you have a scope.
But a scope really shouldn't be needed. If someone can't find NEAT with binoculars they probably can't find it with a telescope either.
West, around 30 degrees elevation, 10 PM. I've seen the comet the last four nights with binoculars from a not particularly dark site -- urban but trees blocking street lights. Probably visible naked-eye in a dark area.
For directions see the Sky and Telescope map. Use Venus as a starting point to find bright stars if you don't know them. Imagine a vertical line through Procyon, and a line to the left through Castor and Pollux. The comet is a bit above the intersection of the lines.
The Sac Bee published a day-by-day plot of the comet's position but with no background stars or planets. Their mapping skills are on a par with the wisdom of their editorials.
Sky and Telescope - This week's sky at a glance.
Check the link. There are good charts for using the Moon to locate Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Saturn as the Moon moves across the sky from evening to evening.
Ive got some cool footage of halle bop recorded with nightvision with a shooting star bisecting its tail
Thanks for the chart.
Light pollution is bad enough around here, but we have overcast skys everytime there is a celestial event here as well!
I need to get back to the desert
alas, I see that Sky and Telescope's server is now overloaded.
How comet NEAT might appear in the night sky in mid-May, 2004, as seen at 10 p.m. from mid-northern latitudes.
Space.com - Comet NEAT Visible in Evening Sky.
Anyone remember this thread?
"He even said that something significant would be revealed on April 16th that would put things into motion."
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