The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 22, 2002


New comet shines in evening sky

Click for pictures
A comet discovered on February 1 by Kaoru Ikeya in Japan and Daqing Zhang in China is visible in the western sky low to the horizon as soon as it gets dark. Binoculars are the ideal optical aid for finding this elusive "dirty snowball." On March 16, I could not see it with my unaided eye from a not-so-dark site in New Hampshire but it was a delightful sight in a binocular, with its faint tail pointing upward from the horizon and extending at least half the field of the eyepiece. The so-called "night glasses" or 7 x 50 binocular will get more of the faint light into your eye than will the daytime 6 x 35 binocular and thus are a better choice for comet hunting. A small telescope would be even better once you know where to look.

If you would like to find this comet, a low horizon between west and northwest is essential with as few lights as possible; the Cranberry Bog, the State Park and Towle Field come to mind. The best time to look is as soon as it gets dark, at 7:30 it will be only 11 to 12 degrees above the horizon and setting fast. It will keep this elevation for at least a week but then slowly slip into the glare of the sun only to emerge in late April in the morning sky. Now is the best time to find it in the evening sky as it is at its peak brightness.

To help locate Ikeya-Zhang you might start by finding the three planets which are easily visible this time of the evening. Start with Jupiter to the southwest about 64 degrees above the horizon and the brightest object in the sky except for the star Sirius. Three or four of Jupiter's moons should be visible in your binoculars. Next drop down to about 42 degrees and a little further west to Saturn, dimmer and yellower than Jupiter. Finally, look for Mars about 22 degrees above the horizon almost due west, reddish and dimmer than Saturn.

From Mars scan down to about 12 degrees above the horizon and sweep northward, holding that 12-degree elevation. With enough patience and slow scanning Ikeya-Zhang should pop into view with a bright central core and a faint upward pointing tail.

For more information on this comet check the Sky and Telescope website:

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito