Yay!! Woo Hoo!!! Wooot woooot! After three days of snow and clouds, Wednesday night turned out to be our best bet for seeing comet Panstarrs. We finally had sunshine all day! I bee-lined it over to Lynn’s house right after work. She gathered up her warm clothes, grabbed a bite to eat and looked up the directions to Tony’s.
Do we feel guilty about missing a club meeting? Naah, we just HAD to see this comet! As we drove in rush hour traffic we could see the sun slowly sinking in the western sky. As each turn took us closer to our comet encounter, we got more and more excited. We knew this could be our only chance of seeing it! It seemed like we hit every red light on the way out of town. We were sure we’d get there too late. Lynn kept watch on the GPS’s estimated time of arrival. We were making good time.
We met Tony outside his house and we trekked out past the barn, winding up a path to the observatory, then through the snow and up a hill to a flattened out spot in the snow. We all had our binoculars and Tony and his wife Tara brought out their cameras. The crescent moon hung about 40 degrees up, a guidepost for finding the comet. Soon the sun sank below the horizon and we scanned the sky. Using an outstretched arm with our hand in a fist to measure 10 degrees, we estimated the height of the comet. It should have been 10 degrees below the moon, roughly halfway between the horizon and the moon.
Now’s it’s around 7:20, our feet are frozen bricks, cameras are seizing up and we’re not sure we can make it back to the car in the dark without taking a tumble. No comet yet, but we’re not giving up. Around 7:40 Tony’s phone rang – a fellow club member called, they had spotted it! A brief moment of disappointment that we didn’t find it first gave way to a frantic search. We all had our binocs carefully scanning, straight down from the moon and slightly to the right until – there it was! I was so amazed by the beauty of it, the bright nucleus and the hazy tail behind it. I couldn’t see it naked eye, (that whole visual contrast thing) but Lynn was able to.
The picture above was taken by Tony. After a few seconds of exposure the comet seems to pop in the picture! It looks like it was just blazing in the sky but it was really more of a fuzzy without binoculars. When we first spotted Panstarrs it was about 5 degrees above those trees on the left of the photo. It didn’t take long for it to set, maybe 20 minutes or so. We kept watching it until the photo ops were gone and our feet just couldn’t take it any longer. It was a beautiful sight, well worth the trek and cold!
We made it back to town in time to meet up with our club members at the pizza joint we frequent after our meetings. A hot cup of coffee warmed my hands and a bar-b-que pizza warmed my tummy. We exchanged stories of our adventure and they caught us up with club news and the upcoming Messier Marathon! Watch for that adventure in April.
Not a bad night!
Another successful observing session: great fun, great people, great viewing!