observing

Spot Comet Hartley 2 as it passes Earth

Comet Hartley 2 can be seen with binoculars from dark skies. Credit: WillGater.com

Comet Hartley 2 is making its way through our neck of the planetary woods over the coming weeks, so now’s your chance to go out and see it.

I took the above picture of the comet last weekend. The comet itself is the green/grey smudge at the centre of the frame. The stars are trailed because the image has been processed in such a way that the comet remains stationary in the view. It’s a nice illustration of how the comet itself is zipping across the sky, against the background stars.

If you’re thinking of looking for the comet yourself, you’ll need a good pair of binoculars (or a small telescope) and some relatively dark skies. There’s a handy locator chart, showing you where to look, on Heavens-Above.com here. Don’t expect to see anything as impressive as Comet C/2006 P1 (McNaught) or Comet 17P/Holmes, from 2007, though. It appears as a faint grey smudge.

If you’re into astrophotography, the comet will also be passing close to the Double Cluster (NGC 884 & 869) on the 8 and 9 October, providing a superb celestial photo-op. Good luck, clear skies and happy comet hunting!

Update 10/10/10: Pete Lawrence caught this wonderful image of Comet Hartley 2 & the Double Cluster on the 7th October.

Get to know our neighbour this Moonwatch week

moonwatch1The Moon — an incredible sight through even a small telescope. Credit: WillGater.com

In the UK we’ve just started the Spring Moonwatch week, as part of the International Year of Astronomy. It’s the first of a handful of special lunar observing weeks planned throughout the year aimed at getting everyone out having a look at our nearest Solar System neighbour, the Moon.

Even a good pair of small binoculars can show you interesting features on the Moon’s surface like the larger craters, the darker maria (which are vast expanses of smooth basalt) and ray ejecta (the brighter streaks of material stretching across the Moon from when an asteroid hit the surface). If you own a telescope and maybe haven’t used it in months/years/decades why not get it out of the cupboard, dust it off and see what the Moon has to offer? And if you’re already a dedicated amateur astronomer then here’s a perfect opportunity to show some friends some stunning selenogical sights through your scope — there’s nothing quite as rewarding as giving someone their first view of the lunar surface at high magnification. Also be sure to look up your local astronomy society, as they may well have their own Moonwatch events already planned that you can join in with; a good place to start is the IYA UK events page here.

moonwatch2The craters Eratosthenes, Archimedes, Clavius and Plato as well as the rille the ‘Straight Wall’ are all visible during Spring Moonwatch. Credit: WillGater.com

The April Sky At Night Magazine has a special 6-page guide to the Spring Moonwatch week and there’s more info. about the whole project over on the Society for Popular Astronomy’s website here. Lastly, if you do observe the Moon and you tweet about them on Twitter, remember to tag it with #starparty. Happy observing!