C1/2006 or how we saw McNaught's Comet Tonight
Tonight was the first clear night to be had for quite a while and the smoke haze from all the bushfires was not as evident, probably due to the last couple of days of steady (but hardly enough) rain. I have also finished a stint of nightshift, so was mercifully free for the evening.
After an unsuccessful attempt to see this comet from "Skyhigh" at Mt Dandenong last week, we decided to try Ridge road tonight. Bundling the girls into the car we set off at about 2050hrs, because according to my astronomy software (Starry Night Backyard, which coincidently was the first piece of software I bought when I got my first PC 6 years ago), that was the time to start looking out for the comet, over towards the SW horizon.
So we arrive as astronomical twilight was gleaming still...the glow from the sun below the horizon still illuminating all the dust particles hanging over Melbourne in the West giving the horizon a characteristic ruddy hue. We could see the new moon to our right and Venus shining brightly to the left of it...but no comet yet. The minutes went past as we chatted with some of the 16 or so other people gathered there hoping to catch a glimpse of the most spectacular of astronomical portents that are sometimes visible to the naked eye (if you're lucky) ...still more minutes past and the sky became darker by degrees as each minute past. Suddenly one of the onlookers said "There it is! There! Look...above that tree" pointing. "Where?" a few of us cried. Then suddenly I saw it...faint but still undeniably a comet. Bright core and wispy tail, that even in those early stages was impressively long and promising greater things as the the twilight ended. "Woah, cool"...I muttered to myself eruditely. This was when I took the shot with my digital camera that you see here, knowing that any later on would defeat my camera's abilities, at least without a tripod, I did have a tripod and tried using it later to get more images, but no joy...have you ever tried finding a night sky image with a LCD viewfinder? Don't bother! Also the digital noise at the ISO I needed was too much)
The sky got darker and more of the tail became visible. We (we being Clive a nice bloke I met there and had been chatting with) & I determined that by about 2200hrs the visible tail would have been about 10 degrees of arc pointing away from the sun but with a lovely curve towards the ecliptic. My wife and eldest daughter were pretty impressed. It was the first comet the children had ever seen. I think the youngest thought it was pretty too, but she was pretty tired and not as enthusiastic as her sibling or parents.
I could have stayed looking at it until much of it had passed below the horizon, but we had to bundle the kids to bed before they froze or went into melt-down mode. Well, there's always tomorrow night. Fingers crossed for clear skies!