2004 June 24/25: Comet 29P/Schwassman-Wachmann is in outburst again at magnitude 11-12. At 160x, the comet appeared highly condensed, with a bright stellar nucleus immediately surrounded by a small bright zone. A very faint outer coma was visible with averted vision, but the comet's total diameter was still only ~1 arcminute.
2004 July 13/14:Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann: Appearance has changed since my last look in late June. It is still visible at 76x, but appears slightly larger and much less concentrated. A stellar core reveals itself only in faint flickers; the rest of the coma is round and evenly illuminated even at 230x. Diameter 1.5'; DC~6. Maybe elongated slightly N-S. Sketch.
2004 November 5/6:After visits to M13 and M92, I swung over to the south, between Pisces and Pegasus. There I found 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. This comet has undergone a couple of outbursts recently. Tonight, it was as diffuse as I have ever seen it. The comet appeared almost evenly illuminated, with a very low surface brightness and edges that faded into the background sky. It was about 3' in diameter, but elongated slightly NE-SW. Sketch.
Date/Time: 2003 August 30; 6:40UT/10:00 UT
Observing Location: Oregon Star Party/Ochoco Nat'l. Forest
Description: 29P is faint but readily visible (estimated magnitude of 12). Coma diameter is ~1.5'. No tail; coma is round with a prominent nonstellar central condensation. The inner 30" of the coma is rather bright, while the outer coma is much fainter and best seen with averted vision. Comet's motion is to the WSW as shown in sketch. The comet is easily visible at magnifications of 75x and up.
Other notes: This comet has recurrent outbursts; I previously observed it in 1996.
Description: C/2001 HT50 is rather faint (magnitude ~11.5) but obvious. There is a stellar nucleus of magnitude ~14. The coma diameter is ~2' and slightly elongated N-S. There is a hint of indistinct jet structure in the inner coma. Outer part of the coma is very diffuse. Comet's obvious westward motion is shown in the sketch.
Selected additional observations of C/2001 HT50:
2003 February 2/3: I searched for C/2001 HT50 (LINEAR-NEAT). At 44x, nothing was visible. I almost gave up at 95x, but then I noticed a glow near a 9th-mag. star. 127x confirmed it as a separate blob, very small and without a bright nucleus.
2003 March 4/5: I hopped over to C/2001 HT50 (LINEAR-NEAT) near the bright double star Epsilon Monocerotis. The comet was rather easy at 127x, a diffuse glow about 1' in diameter. The coma has a stellar central condensation, and flares to a mini-tail on the ENE side. Sketch.
Description: 2P/Encke looks to be gaining in size and brightness, although it is still a fairly difficult object. The central condensation is small and weak, without a stellar nucleus. The brightest part of the coma is an oval, about 1' on its major axis and elongated E-W. The western part is brighter. This is surrounded by a fainter 5'-diameter halo with no clear edge. The westward motion of the comet is quite apparent over 1 hour, as shown on the sketch. The surrounding star field is very rich and attractive. Surprisingly, an UltraBlock narrowband nebula filter makes the outer halo easier to see.
Other notes: I previously observed this comet during its 1994 apparition.
Selected additional observations of 2P:
2003 October 21/22: Encke was predictably a pretty tough object, but I was able to detect it at 76x. I used a composite of 114x and 160x to sketch the star field. The comet was very faint (AV1). It had a stellar central condensation that was occasionally visible, surrounded by a faint 0.5' coma that seemed elongated E-W. The coma looked larger at lower powers.
2003 November 13/14: Comet Encke has grown and brightened since I last saw it. It is now faintly visible in 8x56 binoculars. It is an obvious and interesting object in the 10", with a coma that is about 15' in diameter. The coma is diffuse, with a small and faint central condensation at the tip of a vaguely parabolic inner coma. The inner coma also shows a faint central spine pointing toward the NW. Sketch.
2003 November 21/22: I observed Comet Encke through broken clouds. The comet is somewhat brighter than it was a week ago, but retains much the same appearance. The coma is broad and fan-shaped, opening to the NW, with a brighter inner portion that takes up about 1/3 of its diameter. There is an indistinct central condensation. The northern wing of the coma appears brighter, and there are subtle jetlike spikes to the N and W. At 44x, there is just a hint of a tail to the SW, maybe 20' long and at the threshold of perception. Sketch.
2003 December 2/3: I made a quick observation of Comet Encke. I wasn't expecting it to be clear, and I lingered at work and got home with limited time to spare. I took the 10" out and jumped on the comet without the niceties of collimation and cooldown (probably no great loss; the collimation was OK later and thermal problems were probably dwarfed by the bad seeing). The Moon was bright and glaring, and there was a bit of a haze. LM near the comet was worse than 5.0. Encke wasn't visible in 8x56 binoculars, but showed up as a diffuse blob at 36x. The best view was at 76x with the UltraBlock filter. Under the conditions, Encke looked dimmer than on Nov. 21/22, but its shape and characteristics were about the same. Coma diameter was about 7', and there was no tail, just the familiar fan shape in PA~275. There was a small condensation near the point of the fan, and the fan seemed to have a central spine. There also seemed to be a slightly brighter jet at PA~200 (this part of the coma was relatively brighter than before). I made a rough sketch, but was only able to observe the comet for about 10 minutes before it slipped behind a tree.
Date/Time: 2003 November 23; 5:00 UT/6:15 UT
Observing Location: Chiloquin, OR
Instrument: 10" f/4.5 Dobsonian Reflector. 10mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow.
Magnification: ~230x. FOV: ~13'
LM: 6.6 (at zenith) Seeing: III (Antoniadi Scale)
Comet Sky Location: Pegasus
Description: 43P is small, faint and round. It is roughly magnitude 13.5, and the coma diameter is ~0.7'. The coma is slightly condensed, with an inconspicuous nonstellar nucleus. The coma appears larger when averted vision is applied for an extended period. The edges of the coma are very indistinct. The comet moved SE by about twice its coma diameter over 75 minutes.
Other notes: This comet is difficult. I glimpsed it at 160x, but it was much more obvious at 230x.
5) C/2002 T7 (LINEAR)
Date/Time: 2004 February 10; 3:20 UT
Observing Location: Chiloquin, OR
Instrument: 10" f/4.5 Dobsonian Reflector. 10mm and 15mm
eyepieces. Also 8x56 binoculars.
Magnification: ~114x and ~76x. FOV: ~25' and ~38'.
LM: 6.8 (at zenith) Seeing: III (Antoniadi Scale)
Comet Sky Location: Pisces
Description: C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) is easily visible in 8x56 binoculars. I estimate its magnitude at 7.3, with a moderately condensed coma of ~6 arcminutes. In the 10" Dob, the tail appears to be about 30 minutes long and points ENE. Some faint jet structure is visible in the inner coma around a prominent pseudonucleus. The comet generally looks better at 114x than at 76x, with the higher power giving a darker sky background and more contrast.
Selected additional observations of C/2002 T7:
2003 August 29/30: Very small and condensed even at 275x; coma diameter only about 30". Round, mostly evenly-illuminated with only a small outer halo. Appears stellar at 76x.
2003 October 21/22: C/2002 T7 was bright and easy, although quite compact. It had a strong, nonstellar central condensation displaced to the NW of a bright coma elongated NW-SE. There was a hint of a central spine extending from the condensation, and a subtle irregularity to the shape of the coma. Sketch.
2003 November 22/23: C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) has become a more interesting object since I last observed it. It is still compact, but looks like a comet even at 76x. That being said, I preferred the view at 160x. The comet has a brilliant blue nonstellar nucleus surrounded by an elliptical 1.75'x1.25' coma. The coma is elongated NW-SE. Short, curving jets define each end of the coma, and a broad tail with a faint central spine extends for ~4' in PA=105 from the middle of the coma. Sketch.
2003 December 18/19: C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) is gradually becoming a more exciting object. It has a bright, slightly nonstellar pseudonucleus within a broadly fan-shaped coma that measures ~3' x 2'. 160x reveals several jets within the coma. An eastward-pointing tail springs from one of the jets; it is bright at first, then rapidly fades. With difficulty, I could trace it to a length of 9'. Sketch.
2004 January 20/21: This comet keeps getting larger and more diffuse. It was very prominent this evening in 8x56 binoculars. I estimated the comet's magnitude as 7.2, with a coma diameter of 7.5' and a DC of 4. A tail was visible in binoculars; in the 10" Dob it stretched for about 15'. The pseudonucleus is less prominent than before. Several low-contrast jets are visible in the inner coma, and the tailward ones continue as linear features in the tail. The tail starts out in PA ~80, then curves gracefully northward about halfway from the coma. Sketch.
2004 April 27/28: I was able to observe C/2002 T7 this morning in very bright twilight at 5:03am PDT. A ridge to the east of my yard has been making my life difficult. I was able to see a slightly nebulous star in binoculars, then I swung my 60mm refractor "between those two shrubs, under the bird feeder, and just above that funny-looking gap in the trees on the ridge." I was rewarded with a slightly asymmetric fuzzball with a stellar nucleus; a few minutes later it disappeared behind one of the aforementioned shrubs. Sketch.
2004 June 4/5: C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) is still a captive of bright twilight and low elevation. It is a couple of degrees below Alphard (Alpha Hydrae), a second magnitude star. Tonight was the first time that I turned my 10" Dob on the comet during this part of its apparition. LINEAR displays a diffuse 15' coma with a fairly small core and faint stellar nucleus. Several jets arise from the core area and point in PAs 300, 250, 200 and 170 degrees. A thin 15' tail in PA ~130 was just barely visible near the end of the observation. The comet is also visible in binoculars; my magnitude estimate was 5.3. Sketch.
Description: C/2003 H1 is faint but obvious and roughly magnitude 11.5. The coma diameter is ~1.5'. The overall surface brightness is fairly high, with a prominent nonstellar central condensation. At higher magnifications (160x), the coma shows a diffuse elongation on its north side. The comet's westward motion was obvious over 45 minutes.
Other notes: The comet was immediately visible at 76x. I observed it at the end of a long session and had lots of problems with eyepieces fogging up.
Description: 2004 April 27--C/2004 F4 is visible to the naked eye. I estimated its nearly stellar coma as magnitude 4.4. About 4-5 degrees of tail are visible to the naked eye; indeed, the tail is more prominent than the coma. In 8x56 binoculars, about 10 degrees of tail are visible. The tail broadens quickly as it exits the coma, and there is a brighter spine or fountain on its south edge for the first degree or so. Farther from the coma, the northern side of the tail seems brighter until surface brightness becomes uniformly faint at about 4 degrees out. The tail's position angle is ~300 degrees. In binoculars, the coma has a slight bluish tinge.
2004 April 28--C/2004 F4 is still visible to the naked eye, but its coma has faded to magnitude 5.2 and is a more intense bluish color. The tail detail is virtually identical to yesterday morning. The comet has moved noticeably with respect to the nearby stars in Pisces and Andromeda.
Selected additional observations of C/2004 F4:
2004 April 22/23: I got up in the morning to see if I could see comet C/2004 F4 (Bradfield). My yard doesn't have the best eastern horizon, and there were some clouds near the horizon. Nonetheless, I was able to see Bradfield in bright twilight from 5:05 to 5:25am Pacific Daylight Time. The comet had an intensely concentrated coma with a stellar pseudonucleus. I estimated its magnitude at m1~4.4. A tail stretched for over a degree to the upper right. The tail was very bright near the coma. I was using 8x56 binoculars. I couldn't see it with the naked eye, but didn't try too hard. (Sketch)
2004 May 22/23: C/2004 F4 (Bradfield), long past its prime, was about 9th magnitude when I observed it on the morning of May 23. It had a 1.5' diameter coma, moderately condensed with a nonstellar nucleus. The tail, still visible in the 10" Dob, stretched for ~45' to the NW, becoming broad near the end. The comet was barely visible in 8x56 binoculars.
8) C/2001 Q4 (NEAT)
Date/Time: 2004 May 7; 5:00 UT
Observing Location: Chiloquin, OR
Instrument: 8x56 Binoculars (FOV~6 degrees). Naked eye and
10" Dobsonian reflector also used.
LM: ~5 (near comet) Seeing: IV (Antoniadi Scale)
Comet Sky Location: Puppis
Description: C/2001 Q4 is an obvious naked-eye object. In 8x56 binoculars, the coma is ~15' in diameter and has a prominent bluish-tinged central condensation. My magnitude estimate of the coma is 3.0. The tail is fairly obvious in binoculars, but only 1 degree in length. Two tail components are visible in binoculars. The comet is nicely placed in the same binocular field as open clusters M46 and M47, as shown in the sketch.
10" Dob observations: At 9:30pm PDT, in fairly bright twilight, the comet showed a diffuse bluish-green coma with a pattern of jets surrounding a bright, yellowish stellar nucleus. I used magnifications between 44 and 160x. As the sky got a bit darker, a very faint and diffuse tail emerged. The tail had a broad component in PA~140 and a faint, straight and narrow component (ion tail?) in PA~115. Sketch.
Selected additional observations of C/2001 Q4:
2004 May 5/6: After an unsuccessful attempt to find Comet C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) last night in bright twilight, I was able to observe the comet tonight. I first acquired it at 9:00pm PDT with 8x56 binoculars. The comet was a diffuse, round blob with a slight central condensation. It gradually became more structured as twilight deepened. The brightest portion of the coma was elliptical, cyan-tinged, and elongated 2:1 parallel to the horizon. A stellar nucleus was embedded. Several faint extensions fanned out from the core. The most prominent were to the SE and SSE, while there was a diffuse extension to the NE. As the sky got darker, I could see the beginnings of a tail, extending for 1 degree to the SE. Binoculars were my instrument of choice throughout; I couldn't see the comet naked-eye, and the 60mm refractor at 27x didn't add anything to the view. I estimated the comet at magnitude 3.0 with a coma diameter of 20 arcminutes. At 9:40pm, the comet dropped into some clouds and the show was over. Binocular sketch.
May 8/9: Tonight provided my best view so far of C/2001 Q4. There were a few small patches of fog/low clouds, but they moved through quickly. The comet is an obvious naked-eye object (m1 estimated at 3.1). In binoculars, it shows a 20'-diameter coma that is fairly well-condensed. There are two tail components: a stubby, fan-shaped dust tail that stretches for 0.5 degrees in PA~130 and a narrower ion tail that I traced for at least 2.5 degrees in PA ~115. At times, I thought I could see over 5 degrees of the ion tail. In the 10" Dob, the coma is very bright and parabolic. The predominant hue seems to be yellow-green rather than bluish-green. The central condensation seems less prominent than two nights ago, and gives rise to a small, bright sunward fan. Several other jets are visible in the inner coma. Sketch.
May 10/11: I caught a few brief glimpses of C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) between clouds. The comet is impressive in 8x56 binoculars. I estimated its magnitude at 3.2. The first 3 degrees of tail seemed brighter tonight, and there were three components: 1) a long, kinky ion tail with a central spine that starts out at PA 105 and then turns southward in PA 125; 2) a rather narrow dust tail, about 1.5 degrees long and with a distinct southern border, in PA 135; 3) a faint, broad fan south of the main dust tail, stretching for up to 1 degree and extending to PA 180. There was a possible short antitail in PA 340. This gave the inner coma a bit of a skewed look. Sketch.
Description: C/2003 T3 is fairly small and faint (magnitude ~11). The comet is about 1' x 1.5', with a fan shape opening to PA~300 degrees. There is a stellar central condensation embedded in the coma. The coma is of fairly high surface brightness. The NW extension fades gradually into the sky background. At this high magnification, the comet's motion to the NE was obvious over 30 minutes, during which time the comet passed a 10th-magnitude field star.
Selected additional observations of C/2003 T3:
2004 May 22/23: C/2003 T3 (Tabur) was a few degrees from the bright open star cluster M34 in Perseus. Fainter than Bradfield, it was about 10th magnitude. The coma was about 1' across, with a faint fan-shaped tail extending for about 2.5' in PA~275.
Date/Time: 2004 June 16; 10:45 UT/June 17; 10:50 UT
Description: 88P/Howell is just barely attaining a satisfactory elevation at the beginning of morning twilight.
It is fairly easy in the 10" Dob, even at 44x. At 114x, it shows a round, 3'-diameter coma that is very slightly condensed toward the center. The edges fade gradually. The comet is roughly 11th magnitude. Because of the short observing window, I had to return the next morning in order to get a sketch that showed motion. Howell's appearance was essentially identical on that occasion.
Description: C/2004 H6 is rather large (coma diameter >8') and diffuse (DC~3). It is easy in the 10" Dob at 44x, but very difficult in 8x56 binox. A magnification of 76x shows a slightly brighter core of about 3' diameter. The outer halo is quite diffuse and elongated to the south, suggesting the start of a tail. The comet's westward motion is noticeable over the course of an hour. An Orion UltraBlock narrowband nebula filter seems to improve contrast somewhat.
Other notes: The comet was between two pairs of NGC objects. I had visited planetary nebula NGC 246 and galaxy NGC 255 (~1.5 degrees NE of the comet) before, but couldn't recall observing galaxies NGC 210 and NGC 178 (~1.5-2 degrees SSW of the comet). NGC 210 appeared small and highly concentrated at 76x; at 160x, it was a 2'x1' oval with a sizeable core. NGC 178 was much fainter, an evenly-illuminated 30" disk.
12) C/2003 K4 (LINEAR)
Date/Time: 2004 August 17; 5:20 UT/August 18; 5:05 UT
Observing Location: Chiloquin, OR
Instrument: 8x56 binoculars. FOV:~6 degrees.
LM: 6.6 (at zenith). 6.4 (near comet).
Seeing: III (Antoniadi Scale)
Comet Sky Location: Coma Berenices
(near Virgo/Bootes border)
Description: C/2003 K4 is an easy binocular object (estimated magnitude 6.8). It shows a round 10'-diameter coma with a bright central condensation. A rather broad tail 25-30' in length projects from the coma in central PA~95 degrees. The tail has a fairly high surface brightness. The comet is at a fairly low elevation at the end of evening twilight; the sketch shows motion of the comet from one evening to the next.
Selected additional observations of C/2003 K4:
2004 June 10/11: C/2003 K4 (LINEAR) is no longer just a morning object, and is favorably placed between Lyra and the head of Draco. It is a fairly easy object in 8x56 binoculars at about 8th magnitude. In the 10" Dob, the comet shows a 3' coma with a fairly condensed core and diffuse halo. The broad, faint tail is about 5' long, pointing SE. Sketch.
2004 July 10/11: C/2003 K4 (LINEAR) is now a very faint naked-eye object in magnitude 7.0 skies. Coma diameter ~15'. At 76x, several tailward jets were visible in a 15'-long fan. The stellar nucleus was surrounded by a small, bright inner coma, and then a zone of medium brightness. The outer coma was very large and diffuse. A blue-green tint was noticeable in the inner coma.
2004 July 14/15: C/2003 K4 was impressive. Its coma was over 10' in diameter. The nominal tail direction was almost due east, and several jets extended for up to 10' in that heading. However, the coma was also sharply asymmetrical and extended to the S and SW, with faint jets visible in several directions. The bright inner coma was parabolic, and contained a stellar nucleus. The core region had a bluish-green tint. Sketch.
2004 August 3/4: As the Moon was rising, I observed comet C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). I estimated its magnitude at 6.1 in binoculars, with a 20' coma. The 10" Dob showed a 20' tail in PA~80.
2004 September 1/2: With the Moon just past full, I took the scope out for a probable last view of C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). The comet was very low in the sky by the time it got dark enough to observe. It was easy to see; a round, greenish ball with a bright nucleus and short hint of a tail.
2004 November 20/21: C/2003 K4 (LINEAR) was visible in binoculars. In the Dob, I couldn't make out any trace of the reported antitail. The main tail was visible for ~15' in PA 270; there seemed to be a brighter patch about 10' W of the coma. I noticed this the previous morning as well. The coma also seemed to have a faint extension in PA~140. I was battling twilight throughout the observation, and the comet was low in the sky. Sketch.