Comet McNaught seems to be a gift that keeps on giving. Last night here in Los Angeles, just after the sun set, I stepped out to look from a nearby elevated spot – and there it was. With binoculars, it’s an impressive sight, and possibly the last naked-eye visible comet sighting for a long time. Unfortunately, I have no equipment that I can use to take a decent photo for you, so I can’t share what I saw. (Some pictures from around the world are here.)
But you can go out and look. I give some viewing tips below. [See update at end, however.]
What you’re probably puzzled about now is why the experts kept getting the “last chance to see” message wrong. People seemed very sure back on Wednesday that it would be gone from view -and I did a post to that effect myself- and and the same thing was said on Thursday and then on Friday.
I’m guessing that this is because although they can track the position rather well, they have no way of accurately knowing what the apparent brightness will be (it is a complicated object, daily evolving , which is reflecting sunlight so that you can see it), so you can see it earlier in the day than expected, and there’s more time to see it before it drops from view behind the horizon. This must be the origin of the almost daily surprises we’re getting.
There was not a cloud in the sky all day yesterday (Saturdaya) and so I went out to look, expecting it to be hugging the horizon at about the time it would be dark enough for me to see it. I lost a lot of time scanning close to the horizon after sunset only to find it – just when I was giving up – a considerable way above the horizon. I was able to stand there for a good 10-15 minutes and view the comet. I was hoping some people would come by so that I could show them this wonderful sight, and strangely, nobody came by at all. Just as it disappeared, three people approached. Too late. So I told them what to do the next day, just in case.
If you live in LA, have a look this evening, as we have another spectacularly clear sky all day. There’s a chance it might be clearly visible again. It is so easy to get to a point where you can see the horizon clearly in this city. I recommend going to the top of a building (like a parking structure) that allows you a view to the West, or somewhat South of West. Or, go up to the hills. Maybe take an evening stroll in Griffith Park, or Runyon Canyon. Alternatively -maybe the best option- just go to the beach. The sun sets at about 5:05pm, and within a few minutes after that, as the sky darkens a bit, you ought to be able to see it. Take some binoculars if you have someb. Look above the point where the sun set, and slightly to the left. You’ll see a white object with a short tail streaming away upwards. Looks a bit like a badminton shuttle. There are slightly more technical instructions at this site, but you really don’t need them.
I’ve now learnedc that you might be able to see it during broad daylight! So go out and look, perhaps after lunchtime. Go here to see a description of how best to do it, but I’m guessing that it might be enough to just hold your fist out in front of you to block out the sun, give your eyes time to adjust, and then look on the Eastern side of the sun and off to the side. Scan a wide field, relaxing your eyes first. Or block the sun using a convenient building, rim of open window or door, or other object to obstruct the sun for you. Remember, it is relatively close to the sun, so be careful. Do not look directly at the sun, and certainly not with any optical instruments like binoculars.
It is probably safest (for using binoculars) and surest to wait for the sunset view though.
[Update Monday 15th Jan: I'm pretty sure it is beyond view now. It was daytime visible for some yesterday (reported to me by Perry Rose who was up on Mount Wilson), and there was too much haze on the horizon for me to see anything that evening. Tonight had conditions as good as Saturday, but I saw nothing, so I assume it is too close to the sun to give a clear window of opportunity to see it between sun setting and it setting. -cvj]
a… and it was extremely cold here too – a real LA Winter!! On my way home driving back from some friends’ in Pasadena in the wee hours this morning, it was at freezing temperatures at some points on the highway, and this morning I heard on the radio that there’s ice on some highways. The Downtown LA record low temperature of 37 degrees F was reached in the early morning as well. I know, you’re laughing, but this is big deal here. Some of you are surrounded by snow right now, and so think this is quite silly. Ok, there won’t be any snow in the city (I imagine!) but for our Winter snow, we do get a lovely view of snow from the city by looking over to the distant mountains. It is quite beautiful.
bI find it too faint for my eyes, but it might be brighter today, who knows?
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):