Sunday, October 28, 2007

With the gang - 17P/Holmes

Session name: 20071027.1935

Larger images: Marked up | Unmarked
Compare with this Perseus image from this post, where Comet Holmes is obviously unseen in the general area.

The comet continued to capture out attention and interest. Under other circumstances a disappointing lunar occultation of the Pleiades past midway on our moonrise would have been center stage. But not. Not with the comet of 2007 juicing up Perseus. Tycho had SN1572 in Cassiopeia and we have comet Holmes. Different as they are in nature is as great as the excitement of this new temporal light in the sky.

I arrived at TotL to see Ben already set up with his Tele Vue 76 aimed at Comet Holmes. He invited me to the scope asking if I saw any peculiar features. After getting eyepiece-adapted, a bright stellar point was visible on the interior, southwest edge of the nucleus. This larger nucleus continued to appear off center towards the east-southeast direction (towards the trailing side in the refractor's field of view) within the coma. The coma's circumference had a bright, consistent brightness, however, its interior was uneven with some dark patches. This was most pronounced on the leading edge, like a backward "C". This was the greater side of the coma as mentioned earlier that the nucleus was slightly displaced to the trailing side. AAA'er Bruce Kamiat (report) pointed out this feature which Ben & I agreed to seeing.

Ben & I disagreed on sizes. At first, I grossly over-estimated the size with a wrong mental image of Jupiter. I suggested the size of the nucleus to be something four jovian diameters, the overall sie of the head to about 6 jovian disks. Ben's estimate was more reserved as one jovian disk. Mars had cleared the trees so we used the ~12 arc second martian diameter to measure the components of the comet's head. I estimated the nucleus to be 3~4 martian diameters across, if I remember Ben's was less. On the leading edge, the coma was about 2 nucleus diameters and on the trailing edge about 1 1/2 nucleus diameters.

Down to our south, an area we call Turtle Pond Observatory (TPO) another crowd of astronomers had naked eye and optics turned to the sky to show the passing public. Turns out it was Kentaurian with some of the AAA'ers: Rich Rosenberg, Bruce Kamiat, and Joe; Rik Davis joined shortly after. They came up to TotL to join in on the cheer. Hawaiian George came by and so did Team Totl'er Kin riding in with a small group of TIME'S UP! riders led by Rich. Debbie, a dog owner, who used to observe with us appeared tonight. We had a thin regular flow of pedestrians passing through as we were eager to share sights with pointed fingers and optics.

Seeing was not the best and a light breeze caused scope shake when the magnification was increased to 117x on the Takahashi refractor. When the air calmed for a steady view the Moon was absolutely stunning along the terminator. Cruising along the line sunset it was difficult to ignore craters Langranus and Petavius. Rimae Petavius runs across the crater's floor. To the northeast, sunset begins where the far eastern walls of Mare Crisium try to repel blackness. Not for long.

A small diversion while near the comet was to spot NGC1528. A bright open cluster that I prefer with a darker sky without a nearby ~17d moon. Tonight only the brighter members stood out in a loose, sparse arrangement of crisscrossing arcs of stars. The same comments apply for M31 and M32 but for one pedestrian we gave here a small survey of the different heavenly objects.

During our observing session we placed a towel on one of the street lamps to block of the glare in our direction. The other lamp to our east spilled its light casting long thin shadows to the west. From high in the east, Moonlight competed casting darker, harder, shorter shadows. Crisp as bacon.

Lastly we visited Mars before packing up. It was still rising and seeing was not greatat even at an altitude of ~34°. I thought I may have seen some detail at magnification 117x but it didn't agree with Brian Tung's Mars Map. I thought I saw a dark band running central across the diameter of the disk, rather a large chord instead of an equatorial band. The trailing limb had a greater darkening on it.

Kin, Ben and I packed up for the evening a bit past 1AM. We pulled the towel from the street lamp to bring back the illumination and shadows leaning east.

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