Wednesday, March 13, 2013

About Not Seeing Comet PanSTARRS

On Wednesday evening we had reasonably clear western skies. There were some low clouds, but it was mostly clear and even the thin clouds were thinning more as the night progressed. It seemed a perfect opportunity to see Comet PanSTARRS but I didn’t take advantage of it although I tried.

It should have been easy. On 3/12, many people photographed PanSTARRS almost directly south (that is, I mean just to the left) of the very young Moon. Here is the PanSTARRS Wikipedia page and here is the Sky & Telescope page.

Here south of Chicago the skies were cloudy 3/12 so I didn’t get a chance to look.

The young Moon was easily visible on Wednesday, 3/13/13, and Comet PanSTARRS should have been about ten degrees below the Moon and just a degree or two north (I mean, to the right). And Comet PanSTARRS is being reported as magnitude 1 or 2, which is as bright, generally, as the stars of the Big Dipper.

I didn’t see it.

I was looking, trying to see it, from as soon as the Sun went down to something like an hour later. I checked visually and with binoculars. I saw nothing. Look:

That’s a one-second exposure, with my camera braced against a fence. It’s a reasonably clear, if bright, horizon and Comet PanSTARRS is about dead center. But south of Chicago here the sky was just too bright. It’s there, but it’s invisible from here.

Hmmm. This new 21st century hasn’t been very good to me, comet-wise. This makes at least the third I’ve missed:

About Not Seeing Comet Garradd

I Haven’t Seen Comet Lulin Yet

I saw Comet Hyakutake in 1996, and Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. I was in a location with slightly darker horizons and all-around better skies back then.

The general problem with comets for urban astronomers is that although their “official” magnitude may be reasonably bright, comets are what astronomers called “diffuse” objects. More casually, such objects as comets and nebula and globular clusters and galaxies are simply called faint fuzzies. Their brightness is spread out with no hard edges, no well-defined edges at all. So the contrast against a bright sky is almost non-existent. And even a completely dark night around a city has a generally “bright” sky compared to a country sky with no light pollution. I posted about that in Thinking About Real And Fake Villains.

With both almost no contrast and no well-defined edges, human vision simply has a very, very hard time seeing anything.

This is a frustrating time to be an urban astronomer. Telescope optics and mounts have never been better in terms of quality and price. But at the same time, city lights have never been brighter.

The universe is doing its part. It’s giving us wonderful stuff to look at. I’m slacking off on doing my part by not getting the job done and seeing the stuff.

The universe isn’t going to be happy with me. (But, to be honest, I’ve kind of suspected that for a few years now.)

But I haven’t given up. Comet PanSTARRS isn’t expected to get much brighter but it will get a little higher, farther away from the Sun, farther away from horizon lights. I’ll keep checking out west.

And I haven’t given up dreams of re-locating to a boat, too. You get very good skies blue water cruising.

I’m trying to keep up with the 21st century. I’m falling behind.

But I haven’t given up.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Limits Of A Gadget: A Love Story

Lost In The Astrophysics

Dinosaur By Moonlight: A Puppet Show

No comments: