Photo: Comet on the horizon


Posted by on Thu, January 11, 2007

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Darin Boville
Comet McNaught is already the brightest comet in thirty years, according to Space.com, and is poised to get a lot brighter. This photo was made on January 10th.

There’s something special going on in the twilight sky over the next few days: A comet visible to the naked eye.

Comet McNaught is already the brightest comet in thirty years, according to Space.com, and is poised to get a lot brighter—maybe even up to forty times as bright as Venus (the brightest light in the sky aside from the Sun and Moon) as it races toward its closest approach to the Sun, from January 12-15.

This comet, like all comets, are one of nature’s great illusions. As comets approach the Sun they form their spectacular, ghostly tails. But contrary to what you you might think, the tail does not necessarily trail out behind the comet—the tail simply points away from the Sun, no matter the actual direction of the comet.

How to find the comet: The comet is visible to the naked eye but you will have better luck with a pair of binoculars—a small, inexpensive pair will do just fine. Wait until just after sunset (about 5:15 pm), then locate Venus. Venus is the bright, blue-ish "star" that appears in the southwest sky just before sunset. If you know where the Farallone Islands are you can simply draw an imaginary straight line from Venus to the Islands and scan with your binoculars at the line’s halfway point. You are looking for a small, fuzzy point of light with a tail. 

If you don’t know where the Farallone Islands are simply put your fist out at arm’s length and start searching two or three "fists" to the right of Venus at an elevation about halfway from Venus to the horizon. You should have until about 5:45 to see the comet, depending on the fog banks.

Early birds can also look for the comet in the morning sky—the south-eastern morning sky, starting about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Cross your fingers and hope for clear skies!


Comment 1
Thu, January 11, 2007 6:23pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

I went out to the parking lot at Montara State Beach tonight and ran into Darin there.  He was kind enough to help me and a couple of other folks find the comet.

Very Cool! This is definitely worth checking out.

Friday evening the comet was spectacular.  It was possible to follow the bright nucleus of the comet right over the horizon with the naked eye. 

I waited for sunset and went to the end of Weinke in Moss Beach and watched from the bluffs.  When Venus made its appearance I scanned a line from it to where the sun set. I caught a glimpse of the tail in the sunset afterglow with averted vision.  I wasn’t expecting it would be that low.  It first appeared as a white streak in the orange glow.  I stared for a minute or so around that area and the whole comet came into view as the haze in the sunset shifted.  It faded in and out of the orange haze, until it set about twenty minutes later.  At times, 7 power binoculars helped the view.  But, at times the view was better with the naked eye.

There are two more opportunities, Saturday morning and evening.  It will be a little closer to the horizon tomorrow.

Vince Williams
Moss Beach

If you missed it, keep trying. Start right around 5:15—I was out tonight at Moss Beach and the people I was with were able to spot it without my help with the naked eye—we also had binoculars, cameras, a spotting scope, and a telescope! The view in the telescope was wonderful.

Keep in mind that my directions are only approximate and that the comet will “set” very quickly. The best thing is to use are binoculars and scan a broad area to the right and below Venus. You’ll see it, weather permitting.

—Darin

To all Coastsiders and visitors:

It looks like it will be clear tonight (Saturday)—I’m planning on viewing the comet again in the paved parking lot above Montara State Beach (across from 3rd street).

If anyone hasn’t seen the comet yet feel free to stop by—I’ll have various scopes and binoculars to share—but feel free to bring your own binoculars, if you have them.

Come see the comet! (Weather permitting…)

Viewing should start right around 5:15 and will be over by 5:45.

Dress warm!

Hope to see you there,

—Darin