2002 November 29/30
An excellent night; I can't believe I thought about not getting up! Skies were partly cloudy through early evening, but when I finally got under the sky at 1:30am it was clear with a limiting magnitude of 7.1. I first turned to the Flame Nebula, NGC 2024 in Orion, and was pleasantly surprised to clearly see the dark lane at 27x. I poked around the region and identified NGC 2023. This nebula is akin to NGC 1999 in being irregularly round, but the nebulosity is much fainter relative to the "central" star. Increasing the power to 79x brought out the nebula better, and was especially helpful in delineating the shape of NGC 2024.
With 27x, I thought i could make out a portion of IC 434, so naturally I went Horsehead hunting. 79x proved to be a great help in locating faint guide stars, and even in firming up the view of IC 434. The image was fleeting, but at best resembled a ribbon of cirrus. I was not able to see the Horsehead, but I had the feeling that just a little more contrast was needed... (Sketch)
After this strenuous exercise, my subsequent targets were relaxing showpieces of the winter sky.
A very decent night. I worked on a low power sketch of the Pleiades. A new object for me was NGC 1999 below Orion's sword. This bright nebula is irregularly round with a bright star in the center. Sketch. During morning twilight, I sketched Jupiter. Callisto's shadow was transiting and was well-placed on the northern edge of the SEB. Seeing was variable; I used 79x for the sketch. There was some nice structure in the SEB and SPR. The northern half of the planet was comparatively bland.
2002 Leonids (Nov. 19)
Unfortunately, I have no worthy data to report on this year's shower. I left Southern Oregon (cloudy, chance of rain) for Northern California (reputedly clear to partly cloudy). After two hours I finally hit a cloud break. I quickly saw four bright Leonids at 9:50UT, then hit a devastating dry spell where the sky was relatively clear but no Leonids appeared for 10 minutes. Then the sky closed up again. I drove to another break, and saw five or six leonids in 7 minutes, then another dry spell despite LM of 5.3 in Orion. It was mostly cloudy from 10:30 to 11:10UT, which corresponds pretty well to the derived peak. I saw 5 Leonids including one fireball while driving. My next stop was the best of the night. I saw 12 Leonids in five minutes 11:10-11:15UT with 30% obstruction and LM=5.4, including a -6 fireball with contrasting blue and red colors and a convoluted train. That cloud break, too, would pass.
I repeated the pattern northward, and grumbled the next day at the clear sky that arrived just a few hours too late.
2002 November 15
Just a quick note: This evening, there was a nice 22-degree lunar halo, complete but not colorful.
2002 October 18
This afternoon in Klamath Falls, I was treated to a really nice complex halo display. All of the arc forms that I saw
on June 3rd were present today, although the overall display was not as complete. I had been seeing colorful sundogs since the morning, and had sort of stopped looking. At about 1pm, I happened to be facing opposite the Sun and noticed a bright spot. I figured that this was an antihelion, and as a few minutes passed the parhelic circle became more prominent. It was never a complete circle, though. Around the Sun, both tangent arcs and a 22-degree halo were visible along with the sundogs. All of these were very nicely colored, and the parhelic circle extending outward from the sundogs was tinged blue. The left half of the display was much more prominent. At one point, there was a very bright 120-degree parhelion on this side, as well as lots of texture in the parhelic circle. Finally, I saw the intense but faint color of a left infralateral arc. The display soon waned as the clouds thickened, but at 4:37pm I saw for the first time a circumzenithal arc, colorful but very fleeting.
2002 Orionid Meteor Shower
October 17: This morning I watched meteors for 1.5 hours before morning twilight. Orionids were at a normal activity level for this date, 7 per hour. Overall meteor rate was good at 30/hour under skies that peaked at LM=6.8.
October 18: I watched meteors again this morning, with results similar to last night: average of 8 Orionids and 27 total meteors/hour.
2002 October 8/9
Tonight featured a power outage that didn't occur during a dark, stormy Full Moon. Almost all of the lights in the local area were out from about 8:00-8:50pm. The reduction in glare was tremendous, as I no longer had to place myself in an area where street and porch lights were blocked by trees. In this sense, my backyard came closer to a "truly dark" site. Airglow and a small touch of auroral glow were visible down to the northern horizon. Unfortunately, there was also some moisture in the air and maybe some invisible cirrus. Limiting magnitude at an altitude of 60 degrees above the northern horizon was essentially the same, 6.7, before and after the lights came back on.
I spent the short evening session watching for meteors, on the off-chance that the periodic Draconid meteor shower might do something unexpected. It didn't. Only one possible Draconid candidate appeared.
I also got up an hour before morning twilight. Unfortunately, the cirrus had become widespread. My best catch was the edge-on galaxy in Lynx, NGC 2683. I also observed Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter's NEB showed some nice structure. I stayed up until Mercury was just peeking through the trees below dimmer Mars.
This morning was clearly a notch above the last two, although not quite up to par. Contrast and transparency near the horizon was much improved, so I dropped down into Eridanus and Fornax. First, I stopped off in Sculptor to visit NGC 253. The big galaxy looked good this morning, and I couldn't resist sketching it.
NGC 1097, the barred spiral in Fornax was visible as an elongated halo with a bright nucleus.
I caught four galaxies in Eridanus that I had missed the previous morning.
NGC 1332: Nearly stellar with direct vision. Averted vision at 79x reveals a halo elongated NW-SE.
NGC 1395: Diffuse oval halo surrounding a bright stellar nucleus. Halo fairly large with averted vision at 79x.
NGC 1407: Small, oval, evenly illuminated. Nearby NGC 1400 is an averted vision (AV 3 or 4) object, with a smaller halo and a central condensation.
Again, the sky was haunted by fog and residual smoke. I tried some faint galaxy hunting anyway, with two successes.
NGC 821 in Aries: Faint and confusing. Involved with a coupe of stars, but a diffuse halo definitely glimpsed part of the time with averted vision (AV4).
NGC 1232 in Eridanus: Surprisingly visible. Held steady with averted vision (AV2). Roundish and evenly illuminated, although a small central condensation was sometimes fleetingly glimpsed.
I wasn't planning to observe this morning, but insomnia got me out of bed for an hour before morning twilight. The sky wasn't great, with a noticeable low haze, so I experimented with mounting my binoculars on a tripod. I hit showpieces like M42 and M31, and also caught Titan next to the oval of Saturn. Jupiter was well-placed just below the Beehive cluster, and this pairing was a nice sight even though the sky was horrible in that direction.
This was a nice night, although the sky lacked a bit as far as contrast was concerned. I observed for two hours after the end of evening twilight. I sketched a couple of showpiece objects, and then looked at some fainter targets.
NGC 6633: A bright and splashy open cluster arranged in chains with a couple of condensations. It sits next to a bright star and is also impressive in binoculars. (Sketch) M22: Simply the finest globular visible from this latitude, especially with a 60mm scope. At 79x, many stars and star clumps are resolved, and there is a prominent dark indentation to the SE (lower right in sketch). The periphery is granular, and riddled with star chains. The cluster is irregularly brighter toward the center, but lacks a well-defined core.
Faint globulars NGC 6638 and 6642 sit within a few degrees of M22; they were both visible as fuzzy patches.
NGC 6774, an open cluster in Sagittarius near the "Teaspoon", is a nice cluster with looping chains and stars of two brightness classes. It looked best in binoculars.
NGC 6664: This open cluster is a faint sprinkle near Alpha Scuti. It would be more interesting near the meridian in more contrasty skies.
NGC 6823: This Milky Way open cluster in Vulpeculais rather faint and hook-shaped in a bright binocular field.
NGC 7217 in Pegasus was my faint galaxy for the night, and it was pretty difficult. With averted vision, it was a small, roundish, evenly illuminated patch.
NGC 7023: A reflection nebula in Cepheus surrounding a bright star. It was faint and amorphous with ill-defined edges.
NGC 7160: A small, bright, very compressed open cluster in Cepheus. Irregularly T-shaped.
September 2/3: Sketch of Double Cluster and Stock 2
I was glad that the smoke receded a bit tonight. Unfortunately, as I set up to look at Comet Hoenig, a cloud decided to cover that portion of the sky. Rather than moving on, the cloud simply grew until it draped over the zenith like a curtain. While waiting for it to vacate the premises, I viewed Uranus, Neptune, and the globular clusters M2 and M15. Skies weren't really that good (LM~6.5 and very mediocre seeing). Finally, just as the Moon was brightening the eastern horizon, the cloud cleared enough for me to get a sketch of the comet. Hoenig seems a little easier in binoculars than it was two weeks ago. It shows a sizable but rather dim central condensation, and a broadly elongated coma with a faint, short central spine.
2002 Perseid Meteor Shower Observations
I was able to cover the 2002 Perseids with observations on five different dates. Rates were in the ballpark of reasonable expectations.
Friday Morning August 9 from the Oregon Star Party (OSP)
1:30-3:03 am PDT (8:30-10:03 UT) 1.5 hours observing time
Limiting Magnitude (LM)=6.6
23 Perseids (mean magnitude 2.4) , 25 Sporadics (mm=3.5)
Perseid rate: 15/hour
Saturday Morning August 10 from OSP
2:05-3:07 am PDT (9:05-10:07 UT) 1.0 hours observing time
32 Perseids (mm=2.8), 27 Sporadics (mm=2.9)
Perseid rate: 32/hour
Sunday Morning August 11 from OSP
1:40-3:44 am PDT (8:40-10:44 UT) 2.0 hours observing time
Hour 1: 35 Perseids (mm=3.2), 17 Sporadics (mm=3.2),
2 Kappa Cygnids (mm=2.5)
Hour 2: 42 Perseids (mm=2.7), 16 Sporadics (m=3.3)
Monday Morning August 12 from Chiloquin
2:50-3:23 am PDT (9:50-10:23 UT) 1.5 hours observing time
58 Perseids (m=2.1), 10 Sporadics (m=2.6)
Perseid Rate: 39/hour
Monday Evening/Tuesday Morning August 12/13 from Chiloquin
10:50pm-1:56 am PDT (5:50-8:56 UT) 3.0 hours observing time
Hour 1: 36 Perseids, 13 Sporadics, 1 Kappa Cygnid
Hour 2: 50 Perseids, 5 Sporadics, 2 Kappa Cygnids
Hour 3: 51 Perseids, 16 Sporadics
Tonight featured excellent transparency, with very nice contrast in the Milky Way. On the other hand, seeing was medicre, so I spent a lot of time with binoculars and low power.
I again viewed the open cluster NGC 6231, and attempted a sketch of this far-south object. Culminating less than 6 degrees above the horizon, many of the fainter stars are dimmed to invisibility. I also sketched the Barnard 142/143 dark nebula complex near Gamma Aquilae (sketch). This region was very impressive, with the center of B142 pure black, surrounded by a dark gray halo that adjoined the brilliant Milky Way.
NGC 6704 was discussed on the rca-l list; it was visible in the SOD as a small, faint hazy patch at low power. It appeared two-lobed at 79x, with a couple of stars fleetingly resolved. Another obscure cluster nearby, Basel 1, was also faint and nebulous at 27x, but with an unconcentrated appearance and more stars resolved at 79x. After looking at these, nearby M11 was nearly blinding.
I looked at M9 through binoculars, and found the dark nebula B64 to be very prominent and of even opacity. Near the Corona Australis border with Sagittarius, glob NGC 6723 showed up nicely in binoculars and at 79x had a fluffly appearance to its edges as if on the verge of resolution.
I rounded out the night by hitting three easy AL list double stars, and poaching a view of M31 from the fall sky to come.
June 29/30: Ikeya-Zhang meets M5 (sketch)
I did a short session tonight, mainly to view Ikeya-Zhang near the globular cluster M5. The comet has faded dramatically, and is poorly condensed. It is visible in 8x56 binoculars, but I concentrated on the view in the SOD as the comet and M5 just fit into the field of view at 27x. While of roughly equal angular size, the two objects contrasted in brightness and structure. The comet was diffuse and amorphous, with gradually fading edges and a hint of internal structure in the form of perpendicular rays. M5 is very strongly condensed, with a bright core and several brightness gradients in the halo. Some brighter projections into the outer halo are revealed to be star chains at higher power.
June 10: Partial Solar Eclipse
After some broken cumulus early in the event, I was able to view the partial solar eclipse unimpeded. I used projection through the SOD, as well as a Mylar viewer. At maximum, about 60% of the solar diameter was obstructed. There were quite a few interesting sunspot groups, all but one of which were covered at maximum. The remaining group was partially eclipsed earlier, then emerged. Numerous faculae were visible near the limb.
June 8/9 More faint galaxies
The sky was decent again tonight, with LM at least 6.8 near the zenith. It was cool, dropping to 32 degrees and becoming moist when I stopped at 1am. I tooled around in Virgo, looking at sub-Messier galaxies. I also glanced at Ikeya-Zhang, and saw a bright (-6) Iridium flare and a pass of the ISS/Endeavour complex.
NGC 4216: Relatively bright and very elongated. Strongly condensed toward a stellar nucleus at 79x.
NGC 4261: Faint, strongly condensed to a stellar nucleus. Round.
NGC 4365: Impressive. Bright and rather large, oval. At 79x, bright nucleus appears to be elongated perpendicular to the elongation of the faint outer halo.
NGC 4429: Close to a bright star. Very small and faint.
NGC 4526: Stellar nucleus, faint outer halo. View hindered because galaxy sits between two bright stars.
NGC 4753: Relatively bright but diffuse. An oval smudge with flat surface brightness.
June 6/7: Galaxy-galavanting, Globulars
I tracked down more sub-Messier galaxies and globulars, kept in touch with Comet Ikeya-Zhang, and watched brief passes by ISS and Endeavour (separated by 7 minutes time). It was slightly drier and noticeably cooler than two nights ago; skies were slightly less contrasty with possible auroral glow around 2:00am.
NGC 4414: Relatively easy with high surface brightness. Noticeably condensed, scarcely elongated at 79x.
NGC 4494: A little elliptical on the path to NGC 4565. Nearly stellar at 27x. Small and shapeless with flat surface brightness at 79x.
NGC 4565: Easier than I remember with this scope. Clearly elongated at 27x; at 79x a stellar nucleus was suspected.
NGC 4725: Intriguing. Easy at 27x, with a misty appearance. 79x revealed a nearly stellar nucleus with a small bright surrounding area. The outer halo was large and scarcely elongated.
NGC 4125 (Draco): This elliptical appeared small and bright, with rather high surface brightness. 79x revealed a bright nucleus and narrowly elongated halo.
NGC 5248 (Bootes): This spiral showed up at 27x as faint and oval. It appeared evenly elongated with no sign of a nucleus.
NGC 5466 (Bootes): A nice surprise; I don't think I've viewed this loose globular with the SOD before. It was obvious at 27x, and very slightly condensed. The huge outer halo was noticeably elongated E-W.
NGC 5897 (Libra): Somewhat similar to 5466, this globular appeared rounder and more compact, with more abrupt fading of the edges. It was evenly illuminated.
NGC 6144/M4 (Scorpius): NGC 6144 is the small globular that is prominent in astrophotos of the Antares region. It was visible as a flat and featureless fuzz. Nearby M4 was nice with partial resolution.
Comet Ikeya-Zhang: In the SOD, the comet has a nonstellar central condensation that runs perpendicular to the general elongation of the coma. The overall size is impressive, with the edges fading into the sky background. The surrounding star field was quite rich.
June 4/5: Galaxy-hopping, Comet Ikeya-Zhang, Dark Nebulae
The middle of the night was clear and warm, if slightly moist. I concentrated on galaxies in Canes Venatici, observing NGC 4214, 4244, 4449, 4490 and 4631 in addition to the M-objects. M106 was the most impressive galaxy, with its large elongated halo. NGC 4449 and my old favorite NGC 4631 were also worthy of detailed sketches. Comet Ikeya-Zhang was easy with binoculars: large and misty with a noticeable small central condensation. It was somewhat elongated, but I didn't see a tail. The surrounding field was very nice in binoculars. Sketch.
I capped off the night by viewing a few dark nebulae and sweeping the Milky Way with binoculars. B142 and 143 near Gamma Aquilae were especially nice.
June 3: Another Very Nice Atmospheric Halo Display
During the morning hours, a spectacular display included a circumscribed halo, complete parhelic circle and infralateral arcs. See this page for a sketch and details. May 23: Nice Atmospheric Halo Display (sketch)
At around 9:45am Thursday morning, I was waiting for someone in a parking lot in Klamath
Falls, OR. With not much else to do, I noticed there was some cirrus in the direction of the
Sun and decided to check for any halos. I was surprised to find dual circular halos around the
Sun. My first thought was that I was seeing a circumscribed halo.
The top of the outer halo was bright, colorful and flattened, an appearance I usually
associate with the Upper Tangent Arc when the Sun is high. The rest of the halo was
circular and whitish, although the bottom part of it was quite dim. My "fist guess" of its radius
was about 24 degrees, although all portions but the top were wide and diffuse.
A few degrees in (radius ~20 degrees) was a fainter halo, noticeably brighter at the sides.
In fact, the top and especially the bottom were all but invisible. I took this to be the normal
22 degree halo, and the brighter lateral portions to be parhelia or sundogs.
Then I saw the 9 degree halo. Much closer to the Sun, there was an obvious thin white circle,
slightly brighter below. A 9 degree halo is formed from refraction of sunlight through pyramidal
ice crystals, while the normal halos result from hexagonal crystals. No doubt there was a
mixture of both. But this also meant that I could be reading it wrong. The inner halo could be
another pyramidal halo of 18 or 20 degrees, and the outer halo might be the 22 degree halo.
Or, both could be pyramidal halos. In fact, the diffuse nature of the bright outer halo seemed
to suggest that it was a combination. Or, I could go back to my original explanation of the
circumscribed halo. In this case, the outer halo should touch the inner at the top and bottom.
It didn't appear to do so, but then again the inner halo was very faint. Unfortunately, I was
unable to see any of the more exotic arcs that might have given me a better reference.
Without so much as a pencil or notebook on me, I went into the store and purchased a set. I
thought about buying a one-time camera, but decided against it as I doubted that it would
capture anything except the bright upper arc. Besides, I didn't know if the display would still
be going on when I got out. It was, although slightly diminished. I made sketches and notes
until about 10:45, when everything had faded drastically. Nonetheless, the main structure
of the display continued through at least 11:30am. Later in the day, there wasn't too much
going on at any time that I checked, except for brilliant parhelia as the Sun was getting low.
I'm still playing around with the HALO simulation program, but doubt that I will ever know
exactly what was going on in the realm of light and ice. Nice to look at, anyway.
I've actually been out observing a few times, looking for the faintest fuzzies visible with the SOD, but haven't had time to post. The gist of my observing has been that I'm really bumping up against the limits of my scope and my patience when it comes to seeing fainter galaxies...
Last night, I returned to "bright" objects and did a swing through most of the Virgo Messier objects. I wasn't feeling so hot, so it was more of a challenge than usual...
At the end of this session, I did a sketch of M13 and Comet Ikeya-Zhang, sharing the same binocular field. The above is an attempt to illustrate this very attractive pairing. The comet appeared larger and brighter but more diffuse than the globular cluster. M13 had a large core and a distinctly oval shape, while the comet's coma faded very gradually toward the edges from a rather diffuse central condensation. A tail was visible, but not quite as bright or conspicuous as shown in this sketch (depending upon your monitor and display settings). Did I mention that I wasn't feeling so hot when I made the sketch?
May 4/5 and 5/6: Eta Aquarid Meteors
The Eta Aquarids, a major shower for more southern latitudes, are more elusive up here. Not only is the
radiant at a low elevation when morning twilight begins, but the weather in Oregon during the first week of May is typically atrocious. Until this year, I had yet to see an Eta Aquarid.
May 4/5: I got in a bit of observing from 10:20-11:40UT on May 5. There was a bit of cirrus and fog
around, that intensified as the moonlight started hitting it. Still I was able to find an
fairly dark, unobstructed field for almost all of the session. Mean LM was 6.40. However,
in 1.34h Teff, I saw only 12 meteors, including only 3 Eta Aquarids. I was hoping for a few
more, even from latitude 42.5N, but I'll take it since this shower has always been a washout
for me. Weather's supposed to move in tonight, so I doubt I'll be able to try my luck again.
May 5/6: The clouds didn't get here as planned; still, I had a hard time getting out of bed in the
morning even with the clear skies. I wound up dozing until 3:40am PDT (1040 UT); then hurried out
for a 45-minute watch. The skies were better than last night, with much better contrast in the
Milky Way. Mean LM was 6.5; probably sleepy eyes knocked down my star counts. There was
a faint pillar where the Moon was about to rise, but no real problems until twilight was advanced.
In 0.75 hours of Teff between 1055-1140 UT, I saw:
6 Eta Aquarids (mean magnitude 1.8)
4 Sporadics (mean magnitude 3.5)
The highlight of the watch should have been a -1 earthgrazing ETA that went low along the
southern horizon; unfortunately, I was facing northeast and just caught it out of the corner
of my eye. Later, a magnitude 0 ETA took a higher path in the south; I was able to enjoy
this one, as well as a magnitude 2 ETA that shot over my head. 4 of the ETAs left wakes
Lyrid Meteor Shower: I got extra sleep in preparation for a couple hours of observing. (I.e., I ignored the planetary alignment, and the rest of the interesting things in the evening sky.) Sunday was a beautiful, clear day. When I woke up, I found...clouds. The Moon was surrounded by a lot of haze. Luckily, it dissipated somewhat.
My first hour of observing from 1008-1109 UT (3:08-4:09 PDT) was quite entertaining; I saw 19 Lyrids, by far the highest hourly rate I've seen from this shower. There were also 10 sporadics. The limiting magnitude was a bit shy of 6.4. The haze thickened a bit just as the Moon was getting out of the way, so at first there was no great jump in limiting magnitude. The Milky Way was already looking a lot better, though. When I started my second hour of observing, it was nice and clear overhead with LM~6.9. Lower in the sky, it was about half a magnitude worse. Still, conditions had improved greatly. And the Lyrid rates went into the tank.
Over a half hour from 1109-1139UT, I saw only 4 Lyrids along with 5 sporadics. Rates might
or might not have picked up later; I didn't find out as at this point the haze returned thicker than ever and ended the watch. Still, it certainly was not bad for an April morning.
The brightest Lyrids were 3 at magnitude -1. Even these didn't leave noticeable wakes. There was a -2 sporadic just after I stopped observing.
DATE: 2002 April 21/22 BEGIN: 1008 UT END: 1139 UT
OBSERVER: Wes Stone
LOCATION: Long: 122.867 West; Lat: 42.576 North
City & State: Chiloquin, OR Elevation: 1300 meters
RECORDING METHOD: Counting/Tape Recorder
PERIOD(UT) FIELD Teff LM LYR SPO
1008-1109 16.5h,+30 1.00 6.35 19 10
1109-1139 " 0.50 6.63 4 5
Totals 1.50 6.44 23 15
Mean Magnitudes: LYR 2.4, SPO 3.1
My first extended observing session in over two weeks was hastily-arranged but rewarding. I got up at 4am and observed Comet Ikeya-Zhang through binoculars. The comet now has a larger, more diffuse coma. The tail is wider but not nearly as bright; I could trace it to about 3 degrees. The comet remains an easy naked eye object at m1=3.9. This morning it was nicely placed near Delta Cephei. At 27x, the coma has an asymmetrical appearance (sketch). I didn't try higher powers. C/2002 F1 (Utsunomiya) has been stalking the eastern horizon since its discovery. A week or so ago, reports from northern temperate locations trumpeted it as a miniature Ikeya-Zhang. Unfortunately, it was cloudy here then, and the comet keeps sinking further into the twilight glow. I looked for it anyway, and was dismayed to find that it was behind a hill with morning twilight already bright. I almost called off the search, but before long (about 5:10am) I saw a pale white glow like an out-of-focus star in my binoculars, just above the trees (sketch). I could even see a stubby tail.
2002 April 3/4
With an iffy forecast for Thursday night, I decided to tack a comet-viewing session onto the marathon Klamath Refuges birding tour that I finally got to do on Wednesday. Time ran short, and I got to my chosen observing site just as twilight was ending. I made a quick telescopic sketch at 27x in twilight, and then turned to the binoculars. Ikeya-Zhang had no real surprises in store; it looked about like it did last night, and the night before, and the night before that. However, the juxtaposition with M31 made this a must-see. The core region of M31, along with the coma and the brightest portion of the tail, all fit in the field of view. M31's inner portions showed well, and actually the galaxy was visible to an impressive extent, but without the contrast or impact it shows when high in the sky. (There was some cirrus present but invisible, as well as some high haze and dust.) M32 was barely visible and essentially stellar, and M110 escaped detection. The comet still shows the strong, bluish central condensation, and a tail that is bright for 3 degrees and then faint for another 2 degrees plus. The southward branch is still present, although perhaps neither as prominent nor as separated from the main tail as on March 31 when I first noticed it.
(I've been busy this week, and then I took Wednesday off, so while I've looked at the comet every evening I haven't had time to post all of my observations and sketches. These will probably show up when I do a scrapbook for this comet.)
March 31/April 1
Ikeya-Zhang: more of the same. Binoculars revealed the branched tail, with a total length of over 5 degrees. The coma magnitude was about 3.3. The spine in the tail was less prominent, giving the brightest portion of the tail a more symmetrical appearance. At 79x, the pseudonucleus was nearly stellar, with a flattened bright area surrounding it. Several jets were visible.
I used most of the session to locate a suitable horizon for the M31 appulse on Thursday. Weather looks iffy right now. Spinks Community Park has a nice western horizon, but a lot of glare from lights to the east. Still, this will probably be my site. the zodiacal light was prominent, and the comet was a subtle spectacle even to the naked eye. M31 was greatly reduced in splendor due to the low altitude, a testament to the brightness of Ikeya-Zhang.
While diddling around with the scope back at home, I came across NGC 2360 in Canis Major. This open clusterhas a nebulous appearance at 27x. There is a line of brighter stars across the northern part of the cluster, and a sprinkling of faint ones to the south.
This night featured a true dark window, and I concentrated solely on binocular viewing of Ikeya-Zhang. The comet retains a strong bluish central condensation, with a swept-back appearance to the coma. The head of the comet was very close to Mirach (Beta Andromedae). This brighter, orange star gave a nice contrast.
At the close of twilight, the tail revealed two distinct branches. The tail arises from the coma with a slightly off-center spine, and starts off bright and narrow. About 2 degrees from the coma, a faint branch takes off southward from the main tail. The tail in this region shows faint filamentary structure. The faint branch broadens into a slightly yellowish glow. The main tail is obvious for about 3 degrees, then broadens and becomes faint out to a total length of about 5 degrees. Near the end, there is a narrow section of slightly higher surface brightness.
There was a brief semi-dark window, where twilight had almost ended and the Moon had not yet risen. I got in a quick view of Ikeya-Zhang, which really has not changed much in appearance. The tail may have widened somewhat, and the coma may be a bit more diffuse. Overall, though, it has much the same aspect of two weeks ago. High haze and local wood smoke, made the skies none too impressive, and really horrid once the moon cleared the ridge.
Jupiter looked really nice at 79x. The GRS was nearing the preceding limb, while the disk of Io was egressing from transit. Io's shadow was near the central meridian on the north edge of the SEB, and Callisto was just off the north following limb.
Tonight's comet viewing conditions were not as good as last night's. Ikeya-Zhang had approximately the same appearance as last night through binoculars. The most interesting view was at 118x. The central condensation seemed a bit more diffuse. Jets sprang out from the elongated pseudonucleus in both the preceding and following directions. There was also a very short sunward jet. The preceding jet had a condensation within it, about 45" from the pseudonucleus. I was unable to observe long enough to determine whether this was a background star or a fragment. Overall, the coma seems wider and rounder, but the internal structure retains the swept-back, parabolic shape. The tail structure is similar to last night.
The Moon featured Aristarchus, Herodotus and Vallis Schroteri on the terminator, a real treat.
Despite moonlight and broken cloudiness, Ikeya-Zhang is still looking very good. In fact, even with the poor conditions it was just as prominent to the naked eye as during my last observation. The coma remains at m1=3.6, with perhaps a slight transfer of brightness away from the central condensation (leading to a more diffuse naked-eye appearance). The tail is obvious to the naked eye, and binoculars sweeps gracefully out to about 4 degrees. The end of the tail was very near M33, but in the moonlight the galaxy was difficult to distinguish in binoculars.
Through the scope, the comet shows an elongated central condensation with jets spraying out to produce an asymmetrical high-brightness area. A couple of spines are visible in the tail, which seems wider than before. Some filamentary structure and branching can be made out.
I did both an evening and a morning session on this night, which saw the temperature drop to 6 degrees F.
Ikeya-Zhang was very impressive. To the naked eye, the coma is essentially equal in brightness to eta Piscium at magnitude 3.6. Two to three degrees of tail were visible to the naked eye despite slight moonlight interference. The central condensation is intense and nearly stellar; binoculars show it enveloped in a halo. The condensation seemed to take on a yellowish cast in binoculars, but remained bluish in the scope. In binoculars (sketch), the tail stretches for at least 4 degrees to the star 107 Psc, and is bright for most of its length. In the 60mm at 79x (sketch), the nearly stellar condensation is surrounded by a flattened bright area with several weak jets evident. Outside of this, there is a colorless halo that gradually merges into the tail. A tailward fountain is visible, and the tail splits briefly about 10-15' from the nucleus before it starts to widen and become diffuse. The tail surface brightness is very high. I commenced the morning session with a view of Comet C/2000 WM1 (LINEAR), my first look since December. What a contrast to Ikeya-Zhang. This comet actually shows up best in binoculars as a diffuse bar. At 27x (sketch), there is a faint, poorly condensed head and a fainter broad tail. The comet is roughly 8th magnitude. At one point, a faint artificial satellite passed through the tail.
I also tried for Comet C/2001 OG108 (LONEOS), but my luck ran out. My flashlight died in action while I read the map, and I had to go into the house to get another. When I did find the field, I suspected that the comet was very near a pair of 10th-magnitude stars. The SOD didn't have the firepower necessary for me to be sure. So, I watched the sky brighten. NGC 7128, in the same low-power field, is an interesting little open cluster. I'll mark it down to observe under better conditions.
Tonight wasn't quite as cooperative as last night, but there were still enough sucker holes to allow an interesting observation of Ikeya-Zhang. I also made an out-out magnitude estimate, and judged the comet to be at m1=4.0.
I had planned to do high-power observing, but the clouds were too obnoxious. The big news was the tail's changing appearance. The tail was straighter, narrower, more symmetrical and brighter over the first 3 degrees. It looked like a narrow searchlight beam, and also was more obvious to the naked eye than before.
Finally, there were a few substantial breaks in the clouds, and at times the entire sky was beautiful with the zodiacal light and winter Milky Way prominently displayed. Low in the west, I was still dodging clouds to view Ikeya-Zhang. Nevertheless, the comet was an easy naked-eye object when in the clear. The first section of the tail (<1 degree) was visible to the naked eye.
In 8x56 binoculars, the coma remains bright and intensely condensed. I didn't try a magnitude estimate due to the variable conditions, but the coma was significantly fainter than eta Piscium (magnitude 3.6). The central condensation is bluish and slightly elongated. The first degree of tail is very bright and has a soft curve southward (overall position angle is toward the ENE). There is an off-center spine near the north edge of the tail. The tail quickly widens, diffuses and recurves. At best, it can be detected to a length of 4 degrees. At 7:42pm (3:42 UT), A 7th-MAGNITUDE METEOR PASSED THROUGH THE TAIL FROM THE NE! What a trip!
In the 60mm refractor @ 79x, there is little near-nucleus detail, but filamentary branches are visible in the first 30' of the tail.
Despite prospects for a good night, my observations of Comet Ikeya-Zhang were brief due to porchlights and wood smoke. It remains at m1=5.4. The tailward fountain continues to fade near the nucleus, but its effects are still visible farther along the tail.
I did a "deep" wide-field sketch of the M81 group with fair results. I saw the Red Spot Hollow on Jupiter, but did not attempt a sketch due to just-fair seeing.
Venus is becoming visible as the evening star. I noticed it in the southwest at about 6pm.
Comet Ikeya-Zhang remains impressive. Estimated magnitude is 5.4 tonight. In binoculars, appears as a slightly out-of focus star with a thin tail jutting out for a degree or so. The tailward fountain noted yesterday is obvious in the binox. I concentrated on higher-power viewing tonight. The coma is condensed enough to handle 118x with ease, but this additional power yields little extra detail. The central condensation is bluish and irregularly nonstellar, giving rise to several jets that curve tailward. These create a broad fan, more intense on the south side. The southern portion of the tail is most prominent, and splits from the fainter and shorter northern component. (Sketch at 79x)
I scanned 30-some Messiers with my binox, and also remembered to catch a couple of southern objects in Puppis: Carina's Ruby Necklace (NGC 2451) and the Cosmic Powderpuff (NGC 2477) as they peeked above the trees.
February 28/March 1
Tonight was the first in two weeks with a dark, moonless window to observe Comet Ikeya-Zhang. The comet has brightened spectacularly, to the point of being visible to the naked eye despite low elevation and interference from the zodiacal light. A faint 1-degree tail is visible in 8x56 binox.
In the Scope of Death at 27x, the comet is striking. A highly condensed coma (m1~5.5, DC=7, Dia.=4.5') consists of an intense blue nonstellar nucleus with bright nebulous surroundings. A thin spine arises off-center from the coma to become the brightest part of a gradually widening tail. Tail length at this magnification is ~0.75 degrees.
A quick magnitude estimate of Ikeya-Zhang showed it to be m1=5.9. In 8x56 binox, the comet looks like a fairly condensed (DC=6) globular cluster. The comet appears round. No tail is visible, with interference from the Moon.
A morning session reacquainted me with some of the summer deep-sky objects, but I failed to see C/2000 WM1 (LINEAR). The comet did not rise above Chiloquin Ridge until twilight was intense, and even then was in an area partly obstructed by trees.
I began this rather warm evening with a sketch of Jupiter at 118x. Seeing was fair, with some all-too-brief moments of impressive steadiness. The Red Spot Hollow was obvious, but the GRS was invisible. The SEB showed dark structures preceding and following the RSH, and also on the following limb. The SPR continues to be complex, with a distinct dark wedge rising to meet the GRS. The NEB showed 3 dark areas, and a white oval or hollow at one point in the N edge. Much of this edge faded gradually. No distinct NTB was noted.
Comet Ikeya-Zhang is nearly magnitude 7.0. Again I had difficulty with smoke and local light. No obvious tail. At 79x there is a stellar nucleus closely surrounded by a bright oval area and a faint outer halo.
My evening comet viewing was nearly a loss. While I was able to see C/20002 C1, a bright porchlight hindered telescopic views. Shifting fog and wood smoke also hampered my observations. I was able to estimate the comet's magnitude at 7.1 in binox. It is certainly much brighter than during my first observation, and remains strongly condensed. No tail was noted, not surprising given the conditions.
In the early morning, I viewed Jupiter and made a sketch. Europa was invisible during transit. Its shadow was reasonably prominent in the SEB. I briefly viewed a few galaxies in Leo and Coma.
For the third consecutive night, I observed Comet C/2002 C1. The comet appeared similar to last night, with the stellar nucleus more pronounced. It was a fuzzy star in 8x56 binoculars. I estimate the coma magnitude at 7.5, the diameter at 3.5', and the degree of condensation at 6.
My sketch object for tonight was the planetary nebula NGC 1535 in Eridanus. The nebula is vaguely nonstellar at 27x, but an interesting object at 118x. The central star is visible, closely surrounded by a bright inner ring. A partial outer ring of irregular brightness is glimpsed at times. (Sketch)
I briefly observed NGC 2392, M1, M79 and the M81 group.
This evening, I again looked at comet Ikeya-Zhang, focusing on the view at 79x (sketch). While the comet was condensed, the nucleus was nonstellar. The coma was elongated to the NE, with a couple of possible jets. I also sketched M78. NGC 2071 was visible nearby, with the best view at 79x.
On the evening after learning of the discovery of Comet C/2002 C1, I was fortunate enough to have clear skies. Thanks also to the New England Patriots for driving for the win and making the end of the Super Bowl coincide with the end of astronomical twilight. Observing the comet didn't figure to be easy, though, as it was low in the SW sky. From my place, this horizon is most affected by local light pollution, and there was also a thin pall of smoke. Nevertheless, I found the comet promptly. It was small and round, with a stellar nucleus and high surface brightness (sketch).
Afterwards, i swung over to the M42 region and was impressed with the amount of nebulosity in the NGC 1973-75-77 grouping. M42 itself also showed nice texture and faint color. I completed the nebula tour with views of NGC 2024, M78, the Merope nebula in the Pleiades, and the Crab.
After a couple of hours of warming up, I went back out to catch the reappearance of Io from eclipse. Seeing was just fair on Jupiter. Titan and Iapetus were nicely presented near Saturn. To close out the session, I viewed M41, M46/47, Ngc 2244, M81-82, and NGC 2903.
This night showed obvious signs of steadiness, with even Sirius untwinkling to the naked eye. Fog formed as well, so my main menu item was Jupiter. I managed to use 118x for most of my sketch. The Great Red Spot was just past the meridian. The Red Spot Hollow was obvious and usually appeared hollow, but at intervals I could catch a glimpse of the Spot itself. The South Polar Region continues to show a lot of subtle structure.
Tonight's view of Jupiter featured a shadow transit of Europa and a transit of the Great Red Spot (sketch). Europa's shadow was a small, rather obscure dot against the fairly dark northern border of the SEB. The Red Spot Hollow was evident, at first glance looking like a discontinuity in the SEB. The SEB itself was full of very subtle structure, but the seeing allowed only tantalizing grief glimpses. The South Polar Region was less contrasty than on 1/29.
The cirrus clouds didn't hold off, but the serious clouds did. As a result, I was able to observe a nice transit of Ganymede's shadow. Seeing was fair to good, and the temperature was 18F at 8:20pm.
The shadow was immediately apparent at 79x, as a dark dot south of the SEB (sketch). Closer observation revealed a thin belt at the same latitude as the shadow. The SPR was mostly unstructured, with a slightly darker wedge on the following limb. The SEB had some subtle structure, including a projection into the Equatorial Zone near the meridian. The NEB was darker and narrower than the SEB, with a few moderately darker internal condensations. A thin band followed much of its southern edge. The thin NTB was visible for much of the disc's diameter, and appeared to meander slightly. The NPR was moderately well-defined, with hints of a belt at its southern edge.
A clear night with a Full Moon in the middle of a cold snap. I observed from 7:10-8:20pm PST, and the temperature dropped from 18F to 15F. By morning it was below zero.
After initial turbulence associated with cooldown, seeing was fair. I turned the scope on Jupiter first (colored sketch).
The SEB was a pale pinkish-orange. The Great Red Spot itself was not visible, although the GRS Hollow was often glimpsed. Aside from a slightly darker feature just following the hollow, the SEB was relatively uniform in brightness. South of the SEB, there was significant activity. A thin zone separated the SEB from grayish banding to the south; this separation was most obvious on the following half of the disc. All areas to the south of this zone were grayish and might as well be called the South Polar Region, as there was no clear definition of belts and zones. Most prominent were two wedges of darker gray, extending northward toward the SEB. The preceding of these seemed to have its vertex near the following edge of the GRS Hollow. The South Polar Region seemed attenuated toward the preceding (W) limb, and a couple of segments of subtle belts were visible here. The SPR proper showed up as a dark cap over the pole.
The Equatorial Zone was bright and creamy, with no hint of an Equatorial Band. There were no significant projections into this zone from either of the Equatorial Belts. The NEB was a dark and variable reddish-brown. An irregular dark line ran through the center. Two darker areas were visible, one near the meridian and one toward the preceding edge. Between these darkenings, the northern edge of the belt was diffuse. The North Temperate Belt was difficult to differentiate in this area, but showed up as possibly double on the following half of the disc.
The North Polar Region was much less prominent than the SPR, with little structure. It was darker on the following
After Jupiter, I turned to Saturn. I was kind of "looked out" by then, but it was a nice sight. Titan and pinpoint Rhea were off opposite ends of the rings. And, of course, the Moon was brilliantly impressive, with the ray systems of Tycho and Copernicus on display, and bright pockmarks standing out in the maria.
This was a bonus evening, as clouds were in the forecast. I caught Mercury as it was about to set, but the atmospheric turbulence disrupted viewing. The Moon was very nice, however, and at an ideal phase for observing shadow detail. Saturn was also rewarding, with segments of the Cassini division apparent at first glance. The seeing was variable, but I judged the ringed planet worthy of a sketch. There were some irregularities in the belts of the equatorial and south temperate regions. The shadow of the disc on the rings was visible. I only took a quick look at Jupiter, and noted Io and Ganymede aligned N-S off the western limb.
I got up in the middle of the night. This was a very dark and clear night for the middle of winter, with LM=6.8. The first object I turned toward was Jupiter. Io's shadow was transiting, and was very near a condensation in the SEB on the E edge of the GRS Hollow. The two objects were confusingly similar in the just-fair seeing.
I did a detailed sketch of M35. At 27x, NGC 2158 was easily visible as a small fuzzy patch. I briefly looked at M42, M3 and M51, and then went inside for hot chocolate. When I returned, I did 2 hours of meteor observing. No major showers are active at this time of the year, but rates were fair with 33 meteors overall (report).
January 10/11: Jupiter, Saturn
I observed for a couple of hours around midnight, under slightly hazy skies. Seeing was generally impressive, with much detail on Jupiter including Io's shadow and a hint of the Great Red Spot (sketch). Saturn showed a dark South Polar region and a wide, dusky belt near the equator. The planet's shadow is now apparent on the rings where they slip behind Saturn's SE limb. I suspected Cassini's Division a couple of times, but the main detail in the rings was the contrast between bright Ring B and Ring A, which fades gradually toward the edge.
While transparency wasn't great, I did take cursory looks at the Orion Nebula and many of the open clusters that grace the winter Milky Way. This is a good time of the year to catch M46 and M47 in Puppis, two very different clusters in the same binocular field.
2002 January 8/9: Jupiter
I observed Jupiter for an hour this morning, hoping to catch Io's shadow in transit. I was not disappointed, as the shadow was fairly prominent on the north edge of the SEB. The sketch shows the planet about 15 minutes after the shadow crossed the central meridian. Good seeing prevailed early in the observation, then deteriorated near the end. Variable fog was also present. Observations prior to 2002 are now in the archives.