Sunday, December 09, 2007

Star in the East

I’ve been following the news of Comet Holmes, which erupted into view several weeks ago. It had been a humdrum comet, barely visible, but then suddenly astronomers were bragging about how big it was, and how bright.

I’ve been itching to get a glimpse of it myself. Sadly, it didn’t spark into bright view until it was already on its retreat from the sun. Normally you get a chance to see a comet on its way in, then again on its way back out to the nether reaches of the solar system.

You get rain; you get clouds; you get bright city-lit nights. Now and then you get a chance to have a good look at the sky on a clear night when there aren’t too many lights around.

But from tonight’s observations, I’d have to say the comet is gone from easy view. Here’s a link to help you see where you’re supposed to be able to spot the comet in the night sky.

And here’s a picture from tonight, that shows Cassiopeia and Perseus. They’re inverted from their positions in the star chart at the previous link, because the picture was shown taken later at night. I have marked the basic lines linking the stars.

The comet is supposed to be roughly at the spot where the three legs of the Perseus “wishbone” come together. The picture above (a 4-second exposure) shows no comet, even when I dial up the brightness on everything in the sky.

You can see some other stuff in the general vicinity, including a few dim stars that show up on star charts. And one of the slightly lighter-colored lumps of protoplasm may well be the comet. But if it is, it’s hard to differentiate from the background, and it’s definitely not a dominant bright mark in the sky, as it was a month ago.

So it looks as if I missed my chance to catch the comet. On the positive side, I’m very pleased with how well this camera takes pictures of stars. I may have to try this more often.

My buddy Orion

The Star-Splitter
by Robert Frost

You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me
Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something
I should have done by daylight, and indeed,
After the ground is frozen, I should have done
Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful
Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney
To make fun of my way of doing things,
Or else fun of Orion's having caught me.
Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights
These forces are obliged to pay respect to?"
So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk
Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming,
Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming,
He burned his house down for the fire insurance
And spent the proceeds on a telescope
To satisfy a life-long curiosity
About our place among the infinities.

--first stanza
from Astronomy a Go Go

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