Chasing Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann


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Finder Chart for May 27 - June 1

News Archive (April-May 2006)


Appearance


Component C appears as a small spot of haze to the naked eye from a dark site (without moonlight).  To spot it naked eye it is best to locate it in binoculars first.  In binoculars it appears as a hazy dash of light.  Averted vision should reveal more than at first meets the eye; you may be able to see some haze extending out two degrees in the tail direction.  This comet really shines in a telescope, with better views with increasing aperture.  At the eyepiece it will be unmistakable--like a miniature great comet.

Component B is similar to C, although now it is the brighter of the two and has more of a fan shape.  It has been spotted naked-eye, even in moonlight.  This component has a history of changing from night to night.  Small fragments can be observed in 8-inch or larger telescopes in the tail area.  They may appear as a hazy cloud, or even as tiny knots.  The nucleus may also appear split in two under high magnification.  Jets and arcs of material may be visible near the nucleus under high magnification.

Component G was last observed as a very diffuse spot of haze.  Moonlight will make visual observations of this fragment impossible for some time.  It has faded greatly in images and this fragment may well have disrupted entirely. 

Component R was last observed many days ago when it had undergone an outburst.  Moonlight is now interfering and there have been no observations for some time.

Link of the Day


Click for the link of the day -- a terrific animation showing the motion of component B on May 16 by Thad V'Soske

Analysis


The nuts have arrived folks, with their web sites spreading doom and gloom.  Will fragments of this comet strike the earth?  Answer: No.  The main stream of expelled material will pass 25 times as far as the moon, with the closest fragments coming no closer than many millions of km.

Are the fragments, both large and small, exploding outward at high speed?  The answer is again no.  This is primarily an illusion that comes about from the motion of the comet toward us.  As the comet comes closer the various fragments appear to be spreading apart much faster than they really are.  A similar effect is occurring where, as we get a closer look, we see more and more smaller fragments.  I believe that although smaller fragments are constantly splitting away, much of what we have been seeing in the past days and weeks are existing fragments that are being revealed to us for the first time as the comet comes near.

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Further reading: see Comet Chasing, Sky & Telescope, April 2005, pg. 83.

All predictions and charts were made with my SkyTools 2  observing software.  Specific information regarding its many unique comet observing features can be found here.

 

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