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Sunday, January 21, 2007

A tale (tail?) of comets that did and did not amount to (Mc)Naught

Somewhere, I have a red T-shirt, with some weird picture and the words "I saw the planet Earth" written on it ... I bought it cheap, sometime back in the 80's, a while after Halley's comet was supposed to be an amazing sight in the sky ... but turned out to be a real fizzer - I never saw it ... nor did anyone else unless they were lucky, or had a telescope and knew where to point it ... so I was just a little skeptical when I started reading, a few weeks ago, about how this comet (Comet McNaught) was visible in the Northern Hemisphere and was going to become visible here, downunder ...
I dutifully checked out when and where to see it, and the first night it was supposed to possibly be visible - I totally forgot (but I don't think anyone else could see it anyway) ... then we had about 5 nights where the relevant bit of sky was either cloudy or full of smoke haze (probably from the bushfires down in Victoria) ... then finally tonight (well - techically "last night" seeing it is now after Midnight again) it was fairly clear ... so, at the predicted time - just on sunset, DH (Dear Husband) and I went outside to look ... and we looked and we looked ... and the sun set and the sky got darker and darker ... and we looked a bit more ... then DH got bored and came in here to fiddle with some star watching program on the computer to see where that said the comet was ... then finally, as the sky got even darker, I spotted it! ... in fact once I had found it, and it got even darker - it was a bit hard to miss!
... Unfortunately it was easier to see it, than it was to get a good photo of it ... but I did get this sort of OK one:


the tail looked even bigger later on, when the sky was even darker, but the darker sky meant my photos were not that great ... and I probably could have got a better one shortly after I took this, but DH stole the tripod! ... then when he finished with it, I decided to go walking with the dog and the camera/tripod, to try and get a photo with hills on the horizon instead of someone's roof. Unfortunately when I got to the first bit of high ground, the steet lights were too bright, and by the time I got to the further away bit of high ground, the head of the comet had totally vanished into the smoke haze/clouds that were right on the horizon and the tail didn't look very bright either.
Oh well I didn't get any really great photos, but at least I saw it! ... it has taken me 44 years to get to see something quite like that.
It is a pity I didn't get a few better photos - just before the comet became visible, I spotted the very thin crescent of the moon, just below Venus ... so seeing Venus, a tiny thing slice of the moon and then a comet, all together in the same bit of the sky, was rather a pretty sight ...
Hopefully there will be a clear sky again tomorrow ... and this time I might go find that hill a bit sooner, and, if DH isn't using it with his camera, I will use the tripod and a longer exposure a bit sooner (it was only when it got dark that I thought to go inside and find the tripod)
DH didn't get any decent photos either, even though he now has a digital SLR camera (second hand on e-bay ;-) trying to take photos of a comet, in a hurry, in the dark, is not the best time to try and work out how to use all the fancy settings/etc on a new camera ...

A few mintues after I took my "sort of OK" photo, with the flash turned off and using the tripod, DD (Dear Daughter) stood on the ladder (we had the ladder beside the house so we could see the horizon over the ugly tall roof on one of the houses behind ours, but when the comet bacame visible it was still high enough in the sky to see it while standing in the back yard) and she took a photo of the comet with my camera ... it was even visible with some camera shake, and someone's outside light on (I am glad they didn't put that on until AFTER I had taken my photo - the glare would have been right between the comet and where we could see it from down in the back yard) ... in fact I kind of like DD's photo ... the wierd reflections from the light in the lens make it look like the aliens are beaming in to the neighbours back yard or something ...



"Beam me up Scotty" ... I want to go and explore the universe!

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