Saturday, 2 March 2013

Indelible Mark

There's a new comet in town.

Comet C/2011 L4, popularly known as Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, the observation array attached to the University of Hawaii - and shame on you, Albany Herald, for calling it the Institute for Astrology), is presently appearing in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere.

An Argentinian observer has estimated its brightness at magnitude 2.8, which is considerably better than the down-graded estimates were predicting - although still worse than some of the media fanfare.

For this one - and it's a non-periodic comet, so this is a once-in-eternity visit - those of us in the Southern Hemisphere get a chance to see it before our Northern Hemisphere friends. Here's a great Java applet which shows that the comet crosses from South of the plane of the Ecliptic to North of it in about 10 days' time. So UK and US comet watchers be prepared!

I stepped out into my front garden a half hour ago (best viewing time is roughly 30 minutes after sunset) quite forgetting the welcome rain and thunderstorms we've been experiencing in Gauteng these past 2 days. Horizon-to-horizon clouds prevented me seeing anything but bats flitting across the dome of the sky. Sigh. 

Well, this looks like it might be an interesting sight, at least. I am transported back to my late teens, working with Jack Bennett and Johannes Wolterbeek-Muller, scanning across the dark skies low on the horizon, sweeping for comets old and new. What has changed in me? Much, but the love of the skies seems to be an indelible mark in my soul, and I fear I shall never totally eradicate it.