Observation Log 10/26/06: Comet SWAN (C2006 M4) again!

Comet SWAN has brightened dramatically in the last two days, according to reports at Space.com and SkyTonight.com. Dennis Persyk has an impressive page of pictures and a movie of Comet SWAN. Last night I went out, on a whim and without adjusting my eyes to darkness, with only my Canon 10×30 IS binoculars. The sky was challenging–it would have been a fantastic night if it were not for the low, fast-moving clouds, which averaged 70% coverage. Sweeping the comet was almost entirely luck, but I found it within five minutes, and got only two minutes to observe. At first it seemed quite similar to my last observation, but with averted vision it was quite striking. There was a clear, bright nucleus within the coma, and I could barely make out a hint of a vertical tail. I thought I saw two tails for a few moments before the clouds started to obscure the comet. SWAN was even visible though some light cloud cover for 15 seconds or so, then it was blanketed completely by a thick cloud.

I stayed outside for 15 more minutes, and spent a further 15 a bit later, having re-checked my star charts. Though I got several very good looks at the correct part of the sky, I wasn’t able to re-aquire the comet. If I were more confident in my skills I might say it had darkened considerably in that interval, but… I’m not that confident! I did spot a very unusual satellite, which may have been the “COSMOS 482 DESCENT CRAFT” This satellite seemed to blink ~ 7 times in a second, disappear for a few seconds, and repeat. I found its name in Starry Night, but I couldn’t find any other information on the internet. Perhaps it is spinning and tumbling at the same time.

I recommend you get a look at Comet SWAN if you can. Most comets are coming back this way eventually; not SWAN. It’s on an unusual hyperbolic orbit which makes its return extremely unlikely. SWAN will most probably roam interstellar space for eons.

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