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Heads Up North America...Comet Machholz Visible Tonight
Comet Machholz ^

Posted on 01/11/2005 7:22:02 PM PST by My Favorite Headache

Comet Machholz (Comet 2004 Q2) Page

Comet Machholz is current overhead in the early evening. Comet hunter (and SJAA club member) Don Machholz discovered it last August. How he discovered the comet was described in his article in the SJAA Ephemeris.

The comet is now nearly overhead at California latitudes. In a dark sky it should be visible as a non distinct patch of light. As of January 4, 2005 it was even visible within the San Jose city limits. Unfortunately the weather there has not been cooperating.

The comet is easily visible in telescope finder or binoculars

TOPICS: Extended News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: astronomy; comet; comet2004q2; cometmachholz; greencomet
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1 posted on 01/11/2005 7:22:03 PM PST by My Favorite Headache
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To: My Favorite Headache

Too many clouds here to see it!

2 posted on 01/11/2005 7:22:59 PM PST by zzen01
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To: My Favorite Headache

The Discovery of Comet Machholz (Comet 2004 Q2)
Don Machholz

From the top:
1) Nothing should be in that area according to Uranometria.
2) Drawing the area surrounding the comet.
3) Showing the view through the telescope.
4) The back deck where the discovery was made.
5) The telescope used.
6) The official portrait of the comet.
7) Don Machholz with eye patch.

When I awoke at 3:20 on the morning of Friday, August 27, 2004, I knew what I wanted to do and why I was getting out of bed three hours before normal. This was a morning for comet hunting from, of all places, my back deck. This is rare, as I have a homemade observatory 100 feet from my house, and I use it for most of my comet hunting. In it are my 10-inch reflector, with which I have found 4 comets, 5" homemade binoculars (four comets) and an unmounted 5" homemade refractor, sitting in the corner(one comet). I had used the 10" reflector and 5" binoculars for searching earlier in the month to cover much of the morning sky, now I would use a different instrument on my back deck to cover the southern sky.

The telescope for this morning's session is a 6-inch, f/8 reflector Criterion Dynascope, one that I bought in 1968 for Christmas. It cost $200 and I paid all but $50 for it (my folks paid that). This telescope has very good optics and the main mirror still has its original coating. It has a clock drive, (my only telescope to have one) and I use this telescope for all the public and private star parties I do each year. The eyepiece I was using this morning has a 2-inch outside diameter which I have adapted to fit over the eyepiece holder to provide a field of view of about 1.8 degrees. The magnification is about 35. I often use this combination to show M24 at dark site star parties. Sometimes our guests say that this was the best thing they saw that night. I also use this setup for conducting the Messier Marathon, finding all 110 Objects from memory last spring from the desert in Southern California. This telescope/eyepiece combination is very comfortable to me. I had been out two mornings before, covering the first half of the area. Now I'm back for more.

After moving the American Flag out of its mount on the corner of the deck and leaning against the railing in order to get it out of my view, I began at 3:35 AM, picking up where I had left off, in the southern sky. I look through the eyepiece with my right eye, with an eye patch on my left, and slowly sweep southward to the horizon. At the end of each sweep I raise the telescope to the beginning position, move it slightly east, and sweep again. There are a lot of galaxies in this area, and I picked up a few: NGC 1316, 1398, 1395, 1399, 1404 and a planetary nebula, NGC 1360 (which I had once accidentally reported as a possible comet in 1977). With each of these objects, all looking like faint comets, I confirmed that they were not comets by checking them against my Atlas of the Heavens charts that I had with me at the telescope. This chart shows most of the galaxies and nebulae that I would normally pick up while comet hunting.

At 4:12 I picked up a faint fuzzy object, rather small. I looked closely to see if it was a double star or a small grouping of stars that simply appeared fuzzy. It was not. I then grabbed my star map to see if there were any known galaxies or nebulae in the area. It took me a couple of minutes to determine exactly where I was on the star map. There was nothing shown on the map.

A more detailed star atlas sat in my observatory. Our dog Shadow and I went out to the observatory to bring back the "Uranometria 2000" atlas. It showed nothing. I marked the location on the map with the date and time. At this point I made a drawing of the area, showing the location of the comet in relation to the surrounding stars. If it is a comet it should show motion in an hour's time. This detailed drawing would help determine both the rate of travel and the direction of travel. This drawing was made to show the view I had in the telescope, with south to the top.

An even more detailed star atlas is on the computer in my house. We (the dog follows me everywhere) went inside and turned on the computer, bringing up a program called "The Sky". It showed a couple of very faint (magnitude 15) stars in the area, too faint for me to see.

There is a chance that this could be a known comet. At any time there are a few previously discovered comets visible in the sky, perhaps this was one of them. I went to the Internet to a site which lists such comets ( It showed no comets in the area.

By now it was 4:37 AM. I had first seen the object 25 minutes ago, and had 40 more minutes until morning twilight would interfere with my view of it.

I then went out to the observatory and uncovered the 10-inch reflector. I quickly found the location and put in an eyepiece giving 64x. I could see that the object was fuzzy, round and made a mental note of where it was in relation to the nearby stars. It seemed to me like it had moved a bit. I also uncovered the 5" homemade binoculars and examined the comet. In this instrument it was difficult to see, but it was visible.

I then went back into the house and tried to wake up the family. My wife at first did not want to get out of bed to look at it. I tried waking my two sons but neither wanted to get up to see it...they were too sleepy. When I went back out onto the deck my wife came out and tried to see it, but could not make it out very well due to its faintness.

I came back into the house and began writing up the report that I would need to send to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) in order to get the comet confirmed and recognized. They are the clearinghouse for new comet discoveries.

Also during this time I went to a Web site to see if this part of the sky had been covered by the automated search programs. It wasn't. During the past few years there have been an increasing number of large government sponsored telescopes patrolling the sky for asteroids and comets that may one day pose a threat to the earth. In the course of these nightly, automated searches, these instruments pick up many of the comets that amateurs would normally find. The comets are named after the programs that find them: LINEAR, NEAT, LONEOS, Spacewatch, Catalina. They search areas away from the sun, and the locations they have searched are plotted on the Internet. As if this isn't enough, a spacecraft named SOHO covers the area near the sun, its images are posted on the Internet and anyone viewing them can find (usually) tiny comets that evaporate as the approach the sun. These comets are named SOHO. The SOHO spacecraft also has a camera system (named SWAN) covering the remainder of the sky, it too has discovered comets.

With the advent of such searches, many amateurs have ceased visual comet hunting. Some have turned to using CCDs attached to their telescopes, which cover a small area of the sky with each image and can see very faint objects. These amateurs are trying to beat the automated searches at their own game. I have continued my visual comet hunting, nonstop, searching for at least an hour per month each month since I began on January 1, 1975. In the past I have done up to 553 hours of searching per year, presently I'm doing about 100 hours of searching per year, tailoring my searches to parts of the sky most likely to yield comets. This is based on a lot of factors, including knowing where the automated searches have been.

Shortly after 5AM I was out at the 10" telescope, making an estimate of the comet's brightness, size and shape. It had no tail. It was also showing some movement toward the east, and perhaps, it appeared to me, slightly to the north. I later learned that it's actual motion was 20 arcminutes (one third of a degree) per day to the east and slightly south. So in one hour's time it had moved less than an arcminute, a very small amount. Finally, the twilight was so strong I could no longer see the comet, so I came in to report it.

I searched for 1458.25 hours since my previous find (of my ninth comet) nearly ten years ago. (One does not include my independent discovery of Periodic Comet de Vico on September 18, 1995, which does not carry my name). I have searched for 7047.25 hours since I began comet seeking on January 1, 1975, nearly thirty years ago.

I assembled the e-mail and sent it to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT). I then faxed the same message to them. A follow-up phone call confirmed that the message had been received. I got ready to go to work; I work as a research and development technician at Coherent, a laser and optics company. I also work as a real estate appraiser.

It was six hours before I heard the news from Dan Green of the CBAT. The comet was confirmed, imaged by Robert McNaught and G. Garradd. It was named Comet C/2004 Q2, the next day (Machholz) was added to it.

3 posted on 01/11/2005 7:23:18 PM PST by My Favorite Headache (I Watch TV, What Do You Want From Me?)
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To: My Favorite Headache
A couple of days before Christmas 2004...about 2 weeks ago.
4 posted on 01/11/2005 7:25:09 PM PST by My Favorite Headache (I Watch TV, What Do You Want From Me?)
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To: My Favorite Headache

I am not very good at reading your star chart. Now-a-days I can find Orion's belt - so where do I look from there?

5 posted on 01/11/2005 7:25:14 PM PST by rface (Ashland, Missouri - Monthly Donor / Bad Speller)
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To: zzen01

I've been trying to see it here (NH) for several days, but we've had a pretty constant cloud cover.

6 posted on 01/11/2005 7:25:22 PM PST by LibFreeOrDie (A Freep a day keeps the liberals away.)
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To: My Favorite Headache

7 posted on 01/11/2005 7:26:02 PM PST by My Favorite Headache (I Watch TV, What Do You Want From Me?)
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To: zzen01

Too polluted in Fresno to see if there are clouds.

8 posted on 01/11/2005 7:26:27 PM PST by stboz
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To: My Favorite Headache

We haven't seen the night sky in several weeks due to bad weather here in S.E. MI. :>(

9 posted on 01/11/2005 7:26:33 PM PST by TMSuchman (American by birth,rebel by choice, MARINE BY GOD!)
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To: rface

Let me see if I can help you...right now on the east coast for the next 90 mins is the best time...

10 posted on 01/11/2005 7:26:37 PM PST by My Favorite Headache (I Watch TV, What Do You Want From Me?)
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To: My Favorite Headache

At precisely what latitude? What time during the night?

11 posted on 01/11/2005 7:26:45 PM PST by dr_who_2
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To: rface

12 posted on 01/11/2005 7:27:42 PM PST by My Favorite Headache (I Watch TV, What Do You Want From Me?)
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To: TMSuchman

Ditto here in Wisconsin. One clear winter day last weekend, but we're mired in fog and slush right now.

13 posted on 01/11/2005 7:28:53 PM PST by July 4th (A vacant lot cancelled out my vote for Bush.)
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To: My Favorite Headache

Machholz comet visible from earth 01-07-2005 16:51

Star-gazers will be able to view the Machholz comet on moon-less nights with the naked eye from Thursday through the end of this month. The next time the comet will appear will be in the next century. The comet was at its brightest on Thursday night, when it reached its closest to the Earth, at about 50 million kilometers away. Over the following three weeks, it should be easily viewed in open fields, and even more clearly with optical aids. The Machholz comet has two tails, stretching in opposite directions. It's named after Danald Machholz, an American amateur astronomer who first spotted the comet last August.

As 2004 draws to a close, skywatchers have yet another opportunity to view a naked-eye comet. Comet Machholz has been brightening steadily and conditions are now prime.

So far this year, there have been four comets that have managed to attain naked-eye visibility. Last spring, comets Bradfield (C/2004 F4), NEAT (C/2001 Q4), and LINEAR (C/2002 T7) all reached third magnitude, while in July another comet discovered by the automated LINEAR project (C/2003 K4) briefly peaked at sixth magnitude.

On the astronomers' magnitude scale, smaller numbers denote brighter objects. The dimmest objects visible under perfectly dark skies are about magnitude 6.5.

Discovered on Aug. 27 by veteran comet hunter Donald E. Machholz of Colfax, California, comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) has been brightening steadily during the past several months while approaching both the Sun and Earth.

Getting brighter

This comet currently is glowing at around magnitude 3.5 and is visible to the naked eye in dark, non-light polluted skies, though much better seen in binoculars or telescopes. This kind of brightness makes Machholz a very fine comet from the viewpoint of a serious amateur astronomer, but it doesn’t appear that this comet will become the kind of spectacle that Comet Hale-Bopp was in grabbing the broader public’s attention.

Yet this is an auspicious circumstance, as Machholz is now the fifth naked eye comet in 2004. Twice before, in 1911 and again in 1970, four comets managed to reach naked-eye brightness within a single calendar year.

But when Andrew Pearce of Noble Falls, Western Australia saw the comet without any optical aid on Nov. 19, it put 2004 into the books as a record year for naked-eye comets.

At this moment the comet’s motion across the sky is toward the north, making it increasingly well placed for Northern Hemisphere observers. During January, according to calculations made by Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the comet will move north of the celestial equator, tracking from southern Taurus on up into the constellation Perseus.

From a brightness standpoint, the comet has also been performing excellently; in fact, running nearly twice as bright as predictions had originally suggested.

Observers who have looked for the comet during the late evening hours could readily see its bright, bluish-white head surrounded by a fuzzy cloud of dust and gas called the coma.

Happy comet campers

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Begbie, observing from Harare, Zimbabwe with 15x60 binoculars, said, "The comet is becoming spectacular. The coma is highly condensed and the dust tail is broad and prominent."

"I couldn’t take my binoculars off the comet!" exclaims Brian Summers, a magazine editor from Katonah, New York. "It was an ‘instant pickup’ – just point the binoculars and there it was!"

"Machholz’s comet very much reminds me of Comet Kobayashi-Berger-Millon," said Long Island, New York amateur, Sam Storch. "I remember that comet from the summer of 1975 and like Machholz, it passed relatively near to the Earth and also displayed a very condensed nucleus and a large coma."

John E. Bortle, a well-known comet observer from Stormville, New York, describes Comet Machholz as "a strange looking beast; its tails are relatively weak, but the separation (lag-angle) between the classic ion tail and the "thing" that passes for a dust tail, is huge (more than 90 degrees!)."

Bortle believes "the comet will continue to be a very nice sight in January when we can view it high in the evening sky."

During mid-December, the comet’s coma appeared ½ degrees across (equal to the apparent size of the full Moon). That size translated into an actual diameter of 384,000 miles and with Machholz continuing to approach both the Sun and Earth in the coming days, the coma’s size can only continue to grow larger.

Comet Machholz will be closest to Earth on the night of Jan. 5-6, 2005, when it will be 32,256,000 miles away.

On the evening of Jan. 7, it will conveniently pass just a couple of degrees to the west of the famous Pleiades star cluster, making for a pretty sight in binoculars [Map]. The comet will probably be cresting at its brightest right around this time, perhaps peaking at around magnitude +3.3, which would make it equal in brightness to Megrez, the star that joins the handle with the bowl of the Big Dipper.

"I have been most impressed with recent views of comet Machholz from Palm Springs, California," writes Robert Victor, an astronomer who served for many years at the Abrams Planetarium of Michigan State University. "I am looking forward to its passage near the Pleiades in early January."

From the discoverer

"It has been a pleasure for me to watch this comet grow and develop," Don Machholz told "I have also had a few months to plan for the time when the comet reaches this point. As a result of having a bit of lead time, I wrote a PowerPoint talk, giving it at local astronomy (and other) clubs during the last couple of months.

"In recent weeks, while the comet has been rising during the mid-evening hours, I've been inviting friends and neighbors to my house for 'private' viewing of the comet," Machholz said. "Other local astronomers and I will be holding a series of public star parties at various locations in the foothills, showing the comet and Saturn and other stuff to the public. We've been doing public star parties for years, but I believe this is the first time we've been able to show a Comet Machholz."

A schedule of upcoming talks by Don Machholz can be found here.

January and beyond

Continuing northward, the comet will slip less 2 degrees to the east of the famous variable star, Algol in Perseus on the night of Jan. 16-17. The comet will reach perihelion at around 22 hours G.M.T./5:00 p.m. EST on Jan. 24, when it will be 112,019,920 miles from the Sun.

The position of comet Machholz at 9 p.m. local time from mid-northern latitudes on various nights as it climbed higher into the sky during December. Click to Enlarge
Since the comet will be more-or-less opposite the Sun all during this "flyby," it should easily be visible in a dark sky.

Then during February, March and April, Comet Machholz will become circumpolar from mid-northern latitudes. Or in other words, during this time frame it will always remain above the horizon, appear to neither rise nor set. During the second week of March, it will pass within half-dozen degrees of Polaris, the North Star.

Our latest "guesstimates" Machholz’s brightness in the coming weeks, is for it to gradually dim to about fourth magnitude by the end of January and to around fifth magnitude by the third week of February. Those blessed with very dark skies might even be able to continue following the comet with just their unaided eyes until about the middle of March. Of course, the comet could always dim much more rapidly . . . or, conversely, a sudden unexpected flare-up could also occur as well.

But these are extreme cases. So far, the comet has performed very well and there is no reason not to believe that it will continue to delight Northern Hemisphere observers for at least several more weeks.

Once again, we should stress that the darker your observing site, the better the comet will appear. With the bright Moon pretty much out of the way during the first half of January, prospective comet observers are likely to have their greatest success.

After comet Machholz whirls around the Sun on Jan. 24, it will head far out into space. Traveling in a highly elongated orbit, taking it far beyond the known limits of our solar system, it could again return to the vicinity of the Earth and Sun about 119,000 years from now.

14 posted on 01/11/2005 7:29:46 PM PST by My Favorite Headache (I Watch TV, What Do You Want From Me?)
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To: Howlin


15 posted on 01/11/2005 7:29:58 PM PST by kayak (Have you prayed for your President today?)
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To: My Favorite Headache

there's too much outside lights where I am at tonight, and there's clouds. I go out to the country on the weekends and I'll look this Fri and Sat nights. I get a great sky where I go

16 posted on 01/11/2005 7:39:59 PM PST by rface (Ashland, Missouri - Monthly Donor / Bad Speller)
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To: rface
Here, try this. From Orion's belt view through Taurus the Bull and the Pleiades, the little star cluster otherwise known as the "Seven Sisters" (and logo of Subaru).

Machholz will be a fuzzy little ball just up and to the right of the Pleiades this evening. Good luck spotting it! It's been so overcast here in southeastern Wisconsin, dense fog this evening, that I've only had occasion to view this comet once since it's been rising steadily overhead.
17 posted on 01/11/2005 7:41:37 PM PST by Chummy (Liberals -- the other Red meat.)
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To: My Favorite Headache
"...comet Machholz...could again return to the vicinity of the Earth and Sun about 119,000 years from now."

Maybe, just maybe, that's when the Looney Left may get its first glimpse of reason.

18 posted on 01/11/2005 7:43:28 PM PST by Chummy (Liberals -- the other Red meat.)
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To: My Favorite Headache; Howlin
Just went outside to take a peep and found the comet easily due to very clear skies in NC this evening.

Facing west, we looked virtually straight up and found the Pleiades, then began looking in that area. It's visible, as a fuzzy ball, to the right and slightly 'below' the Pleiades. Hubby spotted it without the binoculars but I didn't have my glasses with me so couldn't see it with the naked eye.

19 posted on 01/11/2005 7:47:57 PM PST by kayak (Have you prayed for your President today?)
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To: Chummy

good map. I'll look this weekend

20 posted on 01/11/2005 7:58:49 PM PST by rface (Ashland, Missouri - Monthly Donor / Bad Speller)
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