Friday, November 02, 2007

Elementary, my dear comet

Thanks to Mike McDowell, birding digiscoper and skywatcher extraordinaire, I found out about Comet 17P/Holmes, which is currently visible in the constellation Perseus.

It was really easy to find, because Perseus is just to the right and down from Cassiopeia, the sideways W in the eastern sky and one of my favorite constellations. If you know your Greek myths, you’ll know why Cassiopeia, her daughter Andromeda, and Perseus are together in the sky.

Anyway, find Cassiopeia; go right and down a little toward Perseus, and start scanning with your binoculars or spotting scope. We have a very dark sky out at the Marsh House, so it was easy to find the comet. I think you could probably see it even in the city, though. Mike has a photo of it on his blog. It’s like a big light blob in the sky, as though someone out there is shining a flashlight back at the earth. I couldn’t see the head or tail of it with my binocs, but I may go out there with the scope tonight (more power!).

The last time I saw a comet was late 1973 or early 1974. I was nine, and I had a terrible ear infection. I’d heard about Comet Kahoutek and begged my mother to wake me up around 2a.m. so I could see it. She did (gotta love that mommy!), and we saw a small bright smudge in the sky (the comet was a big disappointment to scientists because it was so dim). I can still see that smudge in my mind, still remember standing there with my mom in the backyard holding my hand to my painful ear in the cold of winter, and seeing the first (and until last night, the only) comet I’d ever seen in my life. (I won’t even go into the tragedy of missing Halley’s Comet in 1986 due to overcast skies.)

Ever since watching the moon landing a few years earlier, I had wanted to be an astronomer; that dream would intensify until 5th grade, when my teacher Mr. Steussey ruined math for me. I knew then that giving up on math meant giving up on my dream of being an astronomer, but what can I tell you? Mr. Steussey was a jerk who threw chalk at students for giving a wrong answer, and who once picked me up by the waist and held me up to the blackboard to do a problem at the top of the board that he’d intentionally picked for me to do because I was so short. (I can’t remember if I’ve told you about this little trauma before; if I have, sorry to repeat.) After that, I never wanted to do another math problem again, so astronomy was out. (Obviously, I had to get over that feeling, but I still hate math.)

Don’t despair for me, however; by then Jacques Cousteau’s TV show had caught my eye and I had decided to become an oceanographer. Ah, the dreams of youth! So resilient!

But I digress. Get out there and see a comet tonight; it should be visible for the next few nights, so don't miss it!

22 comments:

Larry said...

Great! I'm always interested in things like that but half the time I don't actually see anything.-I will surely try to find it.

FranIAm said...

Hmmm - this must be checked out.

BTW- hope you have come over or will do so, to check out the 2 compelling videos that your workplace denied you.

Mary said...

Thanks for the tip, you multi-talented woman!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

You mean to tell us that you missed seeing Comet Hale Bopp? That one was easy to see and you did not even need a telescope!

I had a horrid math teacher too that ruined math for me in school. It's awful how they let some of the worst people teach math.

pissed off patricia said...

Mr Pop did watch Jacques Cousteau and that's is why he's a marine biologist.

I know nothing of the night sky except it's one of the most beautiful sights one will see in their life.

dguzman said...

Yup, I missed Hale-Bopp. I can't remember why--maybe not visible in TX? Or else--what else?--overcast.

Anonymous said...

For more night sky info, try these three great sites. http://jackstargazer.com/Currentshowscripts.html http://spaceweather.com/ http://www.skyandtelescope.com/

Cindy

dguzman said...

Thanks, Cindy!

KGMom said...

Goodness, Delia--so much math pain. And I share it, though I wasn't picked up to do a problem (I am 5' 6" and I had a woman teacher!).
Did you not see the Hale-Bopp comet several years ago? It was amazing--long long tail and visible for days.
I read that this current comet has NO tail, so you might not see one.
Oh, now reading down through other comments, I see you answered the Hale-Bopp question--too bad, it was riveting.

John said...

I saw this one over the weekend. It was good to see it, even though the comet was just a smudge above the horizon. The last time I saw a comet was when I was an undergraduate - about 8-10 years ago. I never saw Halley's Comet.

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