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Monday, December 27, 2004

Comet Machholz vs. the Full Moon

Last night I managed to spot Comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) for the first time. There are many nice things about spending one's Christmas holidays in the British Isles, but clear skies rarely figure among them. On the last hour of Boxing Day (December 26th), however, bright stars were visible through the glare of the full Moon between scattered clouds, so I decided to give it a try.

Waiting until Orion and Eridanus were unobscured by clouds, I swept the sky with 8×25 binoculars starting from Orion's belt toward the West and quickly located the comet, which appeared as a fuzzy coma with no visible tail nor particularly obvious nucleus against the bright moonlit sky. Zooming the binoculars to higher powers (up to 24) darkened the sky background and made the coma somewhat more evident, but didn't render the nucleus any more visible. Under these conditions, spotting the comet with the unaided eye would be a futile undertaking. Still, a comet which is easily swept up with modest binoculars in a rather murky sky thirty-odd degrees from the full Moon is impressive, and augurs well for its spectacular passage only 2° from the Pleiades under Moonless skies on the night of January 7-8; if the skies co-operate, I'll try to photograph this event.

Here are orbital elements for the comet ready to be pasted into Your Sky and Solar System Live to make your own custom charts.

COMET C/2004 Q2 (Machholz)
  T = 2005 Jan. 24.9127 TT       Peri. =  19.5064
  e = 0.999473                   Node  =  93.6239  2000.0
  q = 1.205035 AU                Incl. =  38.5894
  Orbital elements derived from MPC 53304

Posted at December 27, 2004 14:23