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Comet C/2006 P1 .
McNaught over Southern Africa
.
Updated 29 January 2007. .

[31 January 2007]. Comet McNaught is fading fast, but is still visible in the evenings in the south-west for Southern African observers with the naked eye. Glare from the Moon has started to interfere with observations of the tail. Be sure to observe the comet from the west of any urban lights. Use a binocular to scan the skies if you cannot see it immediately. If there are low-lying clouds on the horizon, your task in identifying the comet will be hard.

Where?
Look towards the south-western horizon after sunset (19h30 to 21h00 SAST depending on your location in SA). Left-over gas & dust trails can be seen looping to the comet's right. The comet lies to the far left of bright Venus and left-above the Sun.


When?
The comet is slowly moving south each day and is gradually becoming fainter. Go out tonight! Only a few days left before it is too faint. Look between 19h30 and 21h00. From February it will become necessary to use a binocular, after which a telescope will be a necessity.





Mauritz Geyser - 23 Jan 2007


Comet McNaught over Cape Town - 21 January 2007

 This breathtaking photo of comet McNaught was taken by Mary Fanner of Cape Town, "from Dolphin Beach looking across Table Bay as the comet descended to the right of Cape Town's city glow and a floodlit Table Mountain.  The dark mass on the left is Devil's Peak and on the right is Lion's Head and Signal Hill". 
Technical details. Date: 21/01/'07 at 21.01 SAST, an hour after sunset, with a Canon 400D, at ISO 200, 5.6 Av, 30".  The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto 055CL tripod with an 804RC2 adjustable head.  A Canon EOS remote switch was used.





The magnificent Table Mountain below the Great Comet of 2007. Comet C/2006 P1 McNaught puts on a display for Cape Town. Date: 22 January 2007 at 20h53 SAST. Canon 400D, 28-90mm lens, ISO200, F5.6, 25". Photographer: Mary Fanner (ASSA Cape Centre).


Quick look at comet C/2006 P1 McNaught:
Date of discovery: 7 August 2006
Discoverer: Robert H. McNaught, from Siding Spring Observatory (Australia)
Type of comet: Non-periodic (source..)
Time to make one orbit around the Sun: Probably tens of thousands, if it will ever return.
Distance from Earth on 31 January 2007: 1.117 AU (167.55 million km)
Distance from Sun on 31 January 2007: 0.634 AU (95.1 million km, just past Mercury's orbit)
Danger to Earth: None.
Width of nucleus: Estimated at 10 to 20 km
Length of tail in space: Several tens of millions of kilometers

Download Educational / Media information pamphlet
:
Afrikaanse weergawe / English version (compiled by ASSA Bloemfontein Centre)

Highest recommended photo of Comet C/2006 P1 McNaught


" `n Ongelooflike gesig. Meer as `n uur na sononder is dit lekker donker... Die stert wil net nie ophou nie! Maak steeds opslae in die Noordelike halfrond al kan die komeetkern nie meer daar gesien word nie. Die ou reël is steeds: hoe donkerder hoe beter". - Hannes Pieterse, fotograaf.

"An incredible sight. It's more than an hour after sunset, with dark skies... The tail seems to go on and on! It is still making headlines in the northern hemisphere, even though the core cannot be seen there anymore. The old rule still applies: the darker, the better". - Hannes Pieterse, photographer.


This photo was the the "photo of the week" on Sky & Telescope's website.

Note: the streaks that you see in the tail may be formed from weak spots on the nucleus itself: as the nucleus slowly rotates, the weak spots will face the Sun and flare up, giving off "extra" gas and dust for a time, which is then pushed away from the core into space. The lighter particles get pushed off faster and further, while heavier elements stay behind (thus the higher concentration lower to the horizon).


Links with more information
- Background on comet McNaught (SAAO website): http://www.saao.ac.za/public-info/news/news/article/132/16/
- Siding Spring Observatory, where the comet was discovered: http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~rmn/C2006P1.htm
- Comprehensive site on McNaught in Southern African at Pscychohistorian.org: http://www.pscyhohistorian.org/
- What is a comet? (advanced readers) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comets
- What is a comet? (general information) http://www.solarviews.com/eng/comet.htm
- What is a comet? (for children) http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/solar_system_level1/comets.html
- Current and regular updates about comets: http://www.aerith.net/comet/weekly/current.html

Orbital elements, finder charts and star maps
- Detailed, at Heavens-above.com: http://www.heavens-above.com/
- Easy finder charts at Skymaps.com: http://www.skymaps.com/comets/2006p1-s1.html
- Calculate orbital elements: where in the solar system is the comet and how far? http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/
- Ephemeris and orbital elements (advanced): http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/Ephemerides/Comets/2006P1.html

Photographs
Southern Africa
- Psychohistorian.org: http://www.psychohistorian.org/index.html
- Mauritz Geyser (South Africa): http://www.etacarina.co.za/comet-mcnaught/
- Oleg Toumilovitch: http://www.foton.co.za/imagesastronomy.html
International
- SpaceWeather.com: http://www.spaceweather.com/comets/gallery_mcnaught_page7.htm
- Sky & Telescope: http://skytonight.com/community/gallery
- Gary W Kronk: http://cometography.com/lcomets/2006p1.html
- SOHO Images and movies: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/home.html


Comet McNaught caught in stunning detail by Kevin Crause of Mosselbay
on 20 January 2007. Click to enlarge.


Southern African Observer Reports:
Observing reports of Comet C/2006 P1 McNaught from all over Southern Africa. Submit your report.


Image Gallery
(These photos may only be used for websites or publication after you requested permission to use them for free).


McNaught Close-up (photo 1)

Fine details in the tail of comet McNaught just behind its nucleus can clearly be seen on this photo by Dany Duprez, taken on the weekend of 26 January 2007 from Cederberg Observatory. (400 mm telelens).

McNaught Close-up (photo 2)

The nucleus of comet McNaught displaying prominently in this photo by Dany Duprez, taken on the weekend of 26 January 2007 from Cederberg Observatory in South Africa. A 16 inch telescope was used to take the picture.
McNaught-Venus-Moon

A rare sight: a Great Comet and a Venus-Moon occultation in the same field of view. Photo by Georg Mayer of ASSA Cape Centre on 20 January 2007.
Tail of McNaught
The tail of McNaught was clearly captured on this image by George Mayer of ASSA Cape Centre, January 2007.

McNaught-Venus Cityscape
Photo of Comet C/2006 P1 McNaught on 18 January 2007 (19:58 SAST; Cybershot camera; 2 second exposure)
... by Oleg Toumilovitch, Gauteng.


Comet McNaught photographed by Hannes Pieterse, 20 km outside Bloemfontein City, South Africa, 19/01/2007; 20h25.
Technical information: Canon D30 with 17 - 85 f4.5/f5.6 Canon lens; 38mm, 15 sec exposure, 800 ISO f5.6. Description: Venus is at the right, almost visible on the horizon. Still some twilight left, but the
extent of the tail can already be seen.
Photo of comet McNaught by Hannes Pieterse, 20 km outside Bloemfontein, South Africa, 19/01/2007; 20h39,
Technical information: Canon D30 with 17 - 85 f4.5/f5.6 Canon lens; 38mm, 15 sec exposure, 800 ISO f5.6,  Description: already dark, but still the twilight glow of the Sun is caught on the camera's sensors.



The Magnificent tail of Comet McNaught can be seen on this photo by Neels Raath of Pellissier in Bloemfontein on 19 January 2007 at 20h32 (from south-west of city) with a Sony Cybershot DSC-W15  (f2.8 - 30 seconds).

Click to enlarge
Close-up! Telescope view of comet McNaught, on a photo by Neels Raath of Pellissier in Bloemfontein on 18 Jan 2007 at 20h13 with a Sony Cybershot DSC-W15, through a 25 mm eyepiece and a 10 inch Orion dobsonian telescope.

Click to enlarge
Photo 1 by Mauritz Geyser of comet McNaught, took with a Canon EOS 350D on 18 January 2007 from Centurion, Pretoria.
Photo 2 by Mauritz Geyser of comet McNaught, took with a Canon EOS 350D on 18 January 2007 from Centurion, Pretoria.

Photo of comet McNaught by Alfred Jenkinson, Bloemfontein, South Africa
in January 2007.


McNaught zoom-in, photographed by Gerrit Penning from Bloemfontein (South Africa) on 18 January 2007.
McNaught overexposed, tail visible, photographed by Gerrit Penning from Bloemfontein (South Africa) on 18 January 07.
McNaught tail visible without zoom, photographed by Gerrit Penning from Bloemfontein (South Africa) on 18 January 07
McNaught close-up overexposed, tail visible, photographed by Gerrit Penning from Bloemfontein on 18 January 07.

Photo by Hannes Pieterse on 16 January of comet McNaught, taken from Bloemfontein in South Africa:

Photo by Maciej Soltynski of comet McNaught on 17 January, taken from Llandudno in Cape Town:


Message from Tim Cooper, Director of ASSA's Comet and Meteor Section, 23 January 2007:

Many thanks to all who have sent observations so far of comet C/2006 P1 McNaught.  I have not been able to answer all messages, simply due to the volume of mails (and size of the images) which has kept me busy.  I will however credit all contributors in the finished article and analysis once the comet has faded.
 
My own magnitude estimates do show the comet fading, and by the time the moon has moved out of the scene it will probably be considerably fainter.  However, it should still be a fairly bright comet and in need of detailed observation as it fades.  So far most observations I have received are images or empirical views, with few scientific measurements of total magnitude, coma morphology or tail length and angles.  Having given observing workshops at 5 Centres, there should be a large number of you who know how to do it. 
 
Please also remember that the comet is a fine sight in the telescope, not just the naked eye or binoculars.  Observations of hoods and jets in the coma, and especially detailed sketches and images of these will be of value.  Last night a particularly bright jet was visible.
 
There have been a few common questions asked,  two as follows:
 
What causes the striaitions in the tail? - these are synchronic bands, or synchrones, which are streams of particles emitted more or less at the same time, from jets emanating from the nucleus as hotspots move in and out of sunlight as the nucleus rotates.  These bands are then smeared out by the solar wind with smaller particles carried further way from the sun.
 
Will the dust in the tail result in a meteor shower? - No, the nodes in the comets orbit (where it intersects with the plane of the earths orbit) are simply too far away from the earth, and hence the earth will not pass through the debris stream left behind by the comet.
 
The moon interferes in the next few days, but by 4 February it should be observable again in dark skies.
 
The comet will continue to move southwards through Indus and Tucana, and becomes circumpolar in the first week of March.   Please continue to pay close attention to the comet as it fades and follow it as long as possible as it heads within 5 degrees of the south celestial pole in May.
 
Clear Skies
Tim

Observations Received of Comet C/2006 P1 McNaught (Southern Africa)

2007 January 19 (Friday)Tim Cooper, 19h45, conditions poor tonight, very hazy, thin cloud and comet still in considerable twilight, in 10x50 binoculars coma stellar, DC=9, considerably fainter than Venus and a little fainter than last night, fainter than Achernar (+0.6), but this was much higher and in a darker sky.  Hence I estimate m1 about -0.5 to –1.  Tail length only 3 degrees but considerable low level haze is probably affecting measurement.
2007 January 18 (Thursday)
Tim Cooper, 19h12-19h55, afternoon rain clouds cleared away and the comet was found at 19h12.  Coma definitely fainter than before, m1 about –1.5 at 19h30.  As darkness fell, full extent of tail became evident and as the coma approached the horizon I could trace the tail for about 8 degrees or more naked eye.  Tail distinctly brighter at southern edge, which curves towards the north.  A number of good images were secured for measurement.Kos Coronaios, 19h25 SAST, briefly visible between clouds, estimated m1= -1 and tail 3 degrees. Neville Young, 19h48, sky remained bright enough to prevent us seeing the comet until about 19h48.  Clearly visible in the twilight was a 4-finger long tail - 7 degrees.  Nucleus then set behind the cloud bank, perhaps 20h30 leaving the ever-lengthening tail pointing up from behind the clouds like a volcano spewing its hot gases.  Then closer to 21h00, the cloud bank narrowed down even further and darkness came with the end of twilight. A curtain stretched up into the sky - my brother said it looked like an aurora. I could not cover the entire width of tail from outstretched pinky to thumb - 18 degrees. Lengthwise, the end of the tail must have been 25 degrees from where the nucleus was below the horizon (my telescope was still running and pointing at where the nucleus had moved to). Left the observing site at 21h10 still seeing bits of tail above the cloud bank. Magellanic clouds were obviously visible.


2007 January 17 (Wednesday)Tim Cooper, 19h01 SAST, picked the comet up almost at the moment of sunset and about 2 minutes before the comet was engulfed by an oncoming bank of storm clouds.  Coma appears as before, and distinctly fainter than Venus.  I still have m1=about –2, though sky not good.  Tail visible but narrower or perhaps southern edge brighter than northern, clearly inclined towards the south, position angle very roughly 140 degrees.  Time did not permit more detailed observation.Dudley Field, What a fantastic sight! In all the excitement I do not know the time I first spotted it - I'd say about 20h20 SAST.  Once spotted with binoculars it was naked eye - Tony and I estimate m1 about -2. There were about 20 passing public asking questions, some that had been driving and had seen this 'thing' in the sky.  In binoculars it was a fantastic sight - with a long tail, curving up to the right, length about 6 degrees.Mary Fanner, Bantry Bay.  From 20h30 SAST.  When the comet suddenly became visible there were gasps all around from the small crowd that had gathered there.  The sight was truly breathtaking.  Venus had become visible at about 20h10 and the comet only made its appearance at about 20h30.  It was almost at the same altitude as Venus.  The magnitude of the coma was about –2.  The tail was estimated as 7.5 degrees long.  The tail swung in an arc towards north.  This comet may not be as bright or as large as I remember Ikeya-Seki, but it is much prettier.  Tonight I saw one of the most memorable sights of my life, and even managed to photograph it.Tony Jones from 20h00 to 21h10 using an 8 inch SCT f/10 and a Meade 12mm graduated ocular.  DC =9 and measured coma diameter to be 36 arc-seconds (calibrated for Meade) with m1=-2.0 to -2.5 (not as bright as Venus). It had a 7 degree tail, which was broad with a 2 to 3 degree curve to the west.  The comet set behind Lion’s Head at 21h00 but the tail was visible for another 5 minutes.  Looking west over Table Bay towards Cape Town, What a sight!Maciej Soltynski 20h54 SAST, photographed from hillside at Llandudno.  Digital Panasonic DMC-FZ20, ISO200, 220mm lens, 1 sec at f/2.8.  Tail estimated 3 degrees in 10x50 binoculars.  Thin cloud present which attenuated the apparent magnitude and length of tail of the comet.

2007 January 16 (Tuesday)

Gauteng cloudy with storms.  No other reports

2007 January 15 (Monday)

Mauritz Geyser, 13h45 SAST, observed in 6” reflector at low power in daylight.  Comet photographed from Centurion after sunset.  In one word ‘Beautiful’.Tim Cooper, 19h07 SAST, 16x50 binoculars, a fine sight, bright very condensed coma, DC=9, fainter than Venus and I estimate around m1=-2.0 [not corrected for extinction].  Broad tail almost vertical, slightly curved towards the north, length about 1 degree.  Managed a not very good image at 300mm, f22 and 1/10 second at ISO1000.  Tail visible naked eye despite low thin clouds.Barbara Cunow, 19h01-19h23 SAST, again both with binoculars and the naked eye. Thin cirrus clouds, and part of the time the comet was behind these clouds. With binoculars, I could clearly see the coma and tail with the tail pointing upwards. The tail was about 1/4 degree or so long. With the naked eye, the coma was easily visible. I could faintly see the tail (but this was difficult). The comet seemed a little bit fainter than on 14/1, and a little fainter than Venus.Mary Fanner, Bantry Bay, about 20h10 SAST.  A thick bank of cloud at sunset cleared to allow observation in 10x42 binoculars.  Once located it was very easy to find with the naked eye.  It had a bright head (estimated about m1=-2 considering how light it still was), and a fanlike tail, not at all like the tail it had in the northern hemisphere.  My first impression was that it looked like a foggy tattered shuttlecock.Koos van Zyl, Cape Town at 20h20 SAST, spotted with naked eye between clouds, less obvious than Venus,
hint of tail visible.

2007 January 14 (Sunday)

Mauritz Geyser, around 10h00 SAST.  After looking for quite some time, being careful not to get the sun in the binocular view, I eventually managed to spot the comet in broad daylight (around 10 am) using my 7x42 binoculars. The comet is only about 5.4 degrees from the sun. The biggest problem is trying to focus on an object that you can't see and for obvious reasons you cannot use the sun to focus on. Wayne Mitchell, 18h48 SAST, 7x35 binoculars, looks stunning, distinct wide fan a little less than half degree long and wide, about 1.5 mag fainter than Venus (-3.9) so about m1=-2.4 [atmospheric extinction correction not applied – my added comments].  Wow.Barbara Cunow, between 18h59 and 19h03 SAST, partly behind thin cirrus clouds, and at 19h03 it disappeared behind more compact clouds. I could clearly see the coma and the tail with 8x30 binoculars, with the tail pointing upwards. With the naked eye, I could clearly see the coma. I had the impression that the comet was at least as bright as Venus.  Absolutely spectacular.Neville Young, 19h25 SAST from Port Elizabeth. First found it through binoculars and then was able to see it clearly with naked-eye.  Sunset was at 19h32 officially, so I guess this makes it a daylight, naked-eye sighting. The Sun had set, however, behind a bank of low cloud. Only able to view it for 5 minutes until cloud closed over again.  A very beautiful sight. Silvery, shining strands of tail, possibly quarter degree long at a rough estimate. Lia Labuschagne from Bloubergstrand at 20h10 SAST, between clouds, tail length about 3 degrees in 10x50 binoculars

 


Want to know more about things such as comets?

The very popular 2007 Sky Guide Africa South, published as a service by ASSA for the astronomical community and public of Southern Africa, has been released and is available for order (more..)

Contains info on e.g. The Sun and Moon
Planets and their rise/set times
Deep Sky Objects and sky maps
Expected comets & Meteor showers
Southern African Astronomy
Contacts details of astronomy societies,
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