April 7, 2020

29.03.10-Machholz Bags his 11th!

It’s encouraging to know that comets can still be found the old fashioned way. While robotic surveys scan the skies down to the nth magnitude, Don Machholz of Colfax, California recently made his 11th comet discovery by patiently sweeping the dawn skies visually with his 18” reflector. Comet Machholz C/2010 F4 was confirmed by the Minor Planet Center on March 27th, four days after Machholz initially sighted the cosmic interloper. At 11th magnitude, the comet is now low to the east and a good target for moderate sized apertures. The waning gibbous Moon will begin to interfere with observations later this week, so the window to spot this one is short. Currently in Pegasus, C/2010 F4 most likely evaded automated detection because of the time it spent along the star-rich galactic plane. After it disappears in the dawn sky, watch for the comet in the LASCO 3 camera of the SOHO satellite as it reaches perihelion on April 5th…congrats, Don, you give all us would-be comet chasers hope!

How Far Can YOU See?

How far can you see with that thing?” I hear that one a lot at star parties. It’s a sort of ambiguous question to an astronomer; distance varies with the scale of the structures in our universe observed, and a myriad of factors both near and far conspire to make this number an enigma not as straight forward as it might sound. On the Earth, we’re limited by the atmosphere and the curvature of the planet to a line of sight of maybe 50 or so miles on a clear day from a high mountain top… but in space…

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