Observation Log 5/10/04

After days of clouds, bad seeing and bad timing, I finally see Comet NEAT (C/2001 Q4)!

Around 9PM, on a whim, I checked out the sky, and surprise surprise: stars! I grabbed my Canon 10×30 Image Stabilizing binoculars and scanned around Procyon and found the comet almost immediately. I could see a faint nucleus when the seeing was momentarily good, surrounded by a round coma about 4′ wide. I couldn’t see any tail. While the integrated magnitude may be 3 or 4 (as I’ve read) I’d say the nucleus was no brighter than 8, and likely closer to 9.

Now here’s another surprise: First I switched to my Oberwerk 11×70 binoculars. I didn’t see anything more, even with all the extra light-gathering. So, I brought out the Celestron NexStar 8i telescope, expecting some amazing views. The contrast was really lousy, probably because altitude was only 27°, and there was a lot of water vapor and haze that low in the sky. After a half hour at the eyepiece, trying indirect viewing and finding more background stars, I moved on. The Beehive Cluster was much higher up, and looked crisp and inspiring. I got my first look at my first non-Andromeda galaxies: the Black Eye Galaxy and the Whirlpool Galaxy, both of which were faint fuzzies. I could easily spot both fuzzies in the Whirlpool. I split a few more first-time doubles as well: Algieba, 54 Leonis, and a remarkable Iota Cancri. I could clearly see the color difference.

Around this time, the sky was clouding up again. It was a good, though short night. I hope the weather improves soon.

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