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Tuesday, October 19, 2010


In Which I Fail to See Comet 103P/ Hartley

Northern horizon as seen from Largs Bay, Adelaide, at 4:30 an ACDST. Capella is the bright star near the bottom,

When I went to bed last night, the clouds had cleared for the first time in ages, so I organised to get up at 4:30 just in case it stayed clear.

I managed to stumble out of bed at the right time and navigated in the dark to the back door, picking up the camera and binoculars on the way.

And completely failed to see comet 03P Hartley.

I wasn't expecting to see much with the unaided eye, a suburban location, with the comet close to the horizon murk didn't give much hop of that. As well, there was a fluoro light just under where the comet was (just near the star forming the tip of the inverted triangle to the left of Capella).

But I didn't see anything in binoculars either, I could see down t at least magnitude 7.5, so I should have picked it up easily, and the camera shot, which picked up stars down to magnitude 7.3, should have shown a faint smudge too.

So it looks like I'll have to wait a couple of days until the comet is higher.


The comet is extremely large and diffuse, so you need a very dark sky background to pick it up, even with binoculars and its total brightness in the 5 to 6 mag. range. I've seen it well only once, so-so a couple of times and not at all in about as many cases - although it was very high in the sky here in Europe.

The fact that the brightness is spread over such a large area and that the current perigee is a disadvantage instead of an advantage hasn't been communicated well, though I've tried to convey that message in a number of places.
I've been convinced this comet was a playful hoax for weeks - tried to find it in a 5" scope and a 3" - nothing. But couldn't sleep last night, got up at 2:30 and had a look in 7x binoculars and there it was high up exactly where you describe but yes a very misty object. Glad to see it - hope you have better luck soon. Alan, Sheffield, England
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