Society for Popular Astronomy

A Night with the Comet
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Author:  mike a feist [ Mon Dec 17, 2018 8:10 am ]
Post subject:  A Night with the Comet

A series of observations during the night of Sunday /Monday, 16th/17th December 2018.

16/12/18; 2305-2325 UT: Earlier in the evening it was cloudy and pouring with rain, so went to bed. Awoke at about 2300 UT to find that the clouds were clearing away, so ventured out into the garden with 8x40 binoculars.The Gibbous Moon with Copernicus near the terminator, was in the west and hidden from view. To the left of M45 , in the binocular, and just below the star 36 Tauri, was the immediately obvious Comet Wirtanen, as a fuzzy patch with indistinct edge. Very soon bits of cloud intruded and so went back to bed. (Obs. #15).

17/12/18; 0100- 0150 UT: Awoke at 1pm and found the sky was clear and the the Moon had set. The Pleiades + Comet were high in the west and the Comet was easily seen in the 8x40 binocular and also observed in the Nikon 15-45x60 spotter through the window. Rather awkwardly high up, so I took the 8x40 binocular into the garden from where I could just see the Comet above my roof ridge. Then using the 8x30 USSR binocular, I attempted to compare the comet to the three unresolved open clusters nearby in Auriga, M36, M37 & M38. M36 and M37 seemed brighter but smaller than the Comet whereas M38 seemed larger but fainter? Then went back to bed! (Obs. #16)

17/12/18; 0350-0430 UT: Awoke and made some tea. Noticing that the Pleiades and hence the Comet could be seen from the upstairs west window( despite light pollution). I followed these two objects for a while as I drank the tea! Using 8x30 USSR binoculars watched first M45 become lost in the conifer tree tops opposite (
at about 0415/0420) and then star 36 Tauri and finally the now rather faint fuzz-ball of the Comet Wintanen touched the foliage at about 0430 UT. And so to bed, again! (Obs. #17)
Regards maf

Author:  brian livesey [ Mon Dec 17, 2018 11:12 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

With the comet inside your foliage Mike, watch out that your plants don't get frostbite :wink: .

Author:  mike a feist [ Wed Dec 19, 2018 7:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Tuesday, 18/12/18, 2345-2400 UT: The skies were grey and rainy in the evening but clouds broke just before midnight, enabling another, quick view of Comet Wirtanen. The Gibbous Moon ( with the terminator near Aristarchus) was now nearby and becoming intrusive. To the garden with 8x30 & 8x40 binoculars and picked out the Comet as a fuzzy spot near to a 6th magnitude star in Persei (the Comet was still just in Taurus). Within the fov was also the 56 + 57 Persei pair and 54 Persei, an easily recognised group. However the clouds soon obscured the sky so went to bed. (Obs.#18). Regards maf.

Author:  mike a feist [ Sun Dec 23, 2018 7:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Since my previously reported observation of Comet Wirtanen nothing has been seen! Weather inclement, and last evening, the Moon was visible, Capella and the 'kids' were picked out in the spotter very high up, but the brilliant Moon was the ' fly In the ontment', being nearby, it washed-out the comet completely!
Perhaps I should have posted this under a new heading... as 'Nights without the comet' ! Regards maf.

Author:  jeff.stevens [ Mon Dec 24, 2018 12:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Lovely observations, Mike. I must make an effort to see this, and your post has inspired me to try on the next clear night. I’ve been a tad busy this year with work and other commitments, but I would love to catch a sighting of Wirtanen.

Best wishes, Jeff.

Author:  nigeljoslin [ Mon Dec 24, 2018 7:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Spotted it below and between Capella and Eta Aurigae yesterday evening with the 14" , Mike, but of course I suffered the same problem as you, the close moon robbing it of detail. Appearing much smaller this time in the bright moonlight, all I could make out was something reminiscent of a faint, face-on galaxy, a fuzz with a centre!

Author:  Paul Freeman [ Mon Dec 24, 2018 7:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Just able to spot Comet Wirtanen around 5:45 this evening below and to the left of Capella. Very faint, slightly fuzzy. I used my 15X70 bins and could only just locate it thanks to the chart on Heavens-Above. Tried again around 7:30 but by then the moon had risen and was swamping everywhere with light so could not see it at all. Glad to have seen it though.

Regards, Paul.

Author:  mike a feist [ Tue Dec 25, 2018 9:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Monday, 24/12/18, 1800-2190 UT: From the backdoor used the Nikon 15-45x60 spotter to locate Comet Wirtanen before the brilliant Moon would rise above the distant roofs, the daytime clouds having cleared. Using Capella (alpha - 13 Aurigae) as a starting point . Followed a zigzag line of 7th and fainter stars towards Menkalinan (beta -34 Aurigae) and then a fainter row up to find a 6.5 magnitude star and two fainter ones making a neat triangle. (NB. There are many many faint stars in this area on Uranometria and my other starmaps but a dearth of labelled ones!). The indistinctly-edged small fuzzball was nearby. It was not exactly obvious but noticeable with attention. By 1900 UT, the brilliant Moon flooded the sky and I went in. (Obs. #19).

Monday, 24/12/18, 2145-2150 UT: Before bed, thought that I would have another look at the Comet because the Moon could now be hidden behind the yew-tree with Auriga and the Comet visible above it. However the Comet was now very high up and access using the Nikon spotter with its straight-through eyepiece was hopeless, so swapped it for the Acuter 15x65 which has a 45 degree one. Panning with an alt.- az. tripod nearby he zenith is not easy but finally located the area and noticed that the fuzzy indistinct patch of the Comet was now near or even on top of one of be fainter stars of the triangle. The clouds began to build again and so to bed. (Obs. #20)
Regards maf.

Author:  mike a feist [ Fri Dec 28, 2018 8:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Thursday, 27/12/18, 1810-1945 + 2130 UT: Sky clear and no Moon. Located the Comet amongst the faint stars of northern Auriga, heading towards delta and 45 Aurigae, as a fairly large indistinctly-edged smudge. Initially used Acuter 15x65 but using was 8x40 binocular also showed it and was found to be a better instrument to used to follow the unfamiliar starfield up from beta Aurigae. Obvious movement noticed. (Obs.#21). Regards maf.

Author:  jeff.stevens [ Wed Jan 09, 2019 9:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

I'm very late to the observation attempt, but I had some time last night, and the opportunity of clear skies to head out and observe. I used the finder chart for Wirtanen from Heavens-Above. I was initially using an 8x56, but then switched to my 66mm William Optics refractor with a wide field eye-piece. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. I've attached a diagram with a red cross showing where I believe Wirtanen should have been nestling at 11:30pm on Jan 8 2019.

The sky transparency did seem to be deteriorating. I could detect familiar objects such as M37, M36 and M38, but even they were more prominent using averted vision. Light pollution has a big impact in my area. If it stays clear this evening then I will have another attempt using a larger telescope.

However, it was a beautiful evening, and I really enjoyed standing out under the stars on a moonless night.

I was also treated to the beautiful sight of Jupiter and Venus this morning, in very clear skies. The pre-sunrise colours are so dramatic. I always find it hard to describe the different shades of blues that are visible, and then that stunning area where the pre-sunrise banana blush huggling the horizon heralds the onset of sunrise. I love the gradient starting from low in the west, where night is losing its grip, sweeping overhead and down into the light blues of the east. I've attached a couple of pictures taken using my mobile phone. Jupiter is just visible in the photo with Venus (if you look really hard). It doesn't really do the scene justice, as the pair were quite a spectacular sight to the unaided eye.

The skies stayed clear for my cycle commute home too, and again I was treated to a those gorgeous twilight colours, which seem to change within the space of 30 seconds. The latter shows the crescent Moon. I couldn't resist standing to watch. If I may steal the words of William Henry Davies, from his poem "Leisure", "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare".

Best wishes,

File comment: Muscida Starfield
2019-01-08-23h30mUT-Muscida.jpg [ 107.43 KiB | Viewed 1995 times ]
File comment: Venus & Jupiter
IMG-2093.jpg [ 78.33 KiB | Viewed 1995 times ]
File comment: Crescent Moon
IMG-2097.jpg [ 83.15 KiB | Viewed 1995 times ]

Author:  mike a feist [ Thu Jan 10, 2019 7:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

It was interesting to note that the comet could not be seen in larger equipment than mine, confirming that my decision not to continue looking for it was indeed a wise one.
Lovery orange-red sky here at sunset, Wednesday, with the crescent Moon, here too. Regards maf.

Author:  jeff.stevens [ Thu Jan 10, 2019 9:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Good morning Mike. I finally spotted it in my 8 inch telescope at about 11:00pm last night. It took me about half an hour to get dark adapted enough to see it. It was at the edge of visibility, and I really could only be definite when using averted vision. I had to use the detailed star map shown on the Heavens-Above website.

I’m glad I made the effort, but I wished I had been able to see it at its best.

Best wishes, Jeff.

Author:  RMSteele [ Thu Jan 10, 2019 11:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Yes, it's interesting to see that it took Jeff with an 8 inch to catch a glimpse now. Actually the comet has been a difficult thing to find with common telescopes and binoculars even when at its "best" from locations that suffer the ordinary scale of light pollution these days - where the limiting mag is commonly about 3 and eyes cannot properly dark-adapt, that combined with the overall low visual surface brightness of the comet - made it a hard thing indeed, disappointingly so no doubt for inexperienced and enthusiastic souls who read the blurb about it.

Well done Jeff.

Kind thoughts, Bob

Author:  jeff.stevens [ Thu Jan 10, 2019 7:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

Thanks Bob. It was a very enjoyable session. It’s not often I use my telescope, as I prefer unaided eye and binocular astronomy. I spent a bit of time looking at M37, M36 and M38. Given the sky conditions, I managed to see some lovely intricate detail. M37 was the first deep sky object I managed to find back when I first started observing in 1995.

Best wishes, Jeff.

Author:  nigeljoslin [ Fri Jan 11, 2019 8:15 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Night with the Comet

I love M37 at magnifications above about 150x, Jeff. So sparkly and deep, such a velvety background!

I too have been unable to see the comet on my last couple of observing nights, due to the limiting magnitude of localised, cruelly positioned cloud belts!

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