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Comet Pojmanski C/2006 A1 visits the Northern Hemisphere

Posted by Ralph Aguirre   03/05/2006 12:00AM

The long awaited Comet Pojmanski C/2006 A1 finally made its appearance into the Northern Hemisphere starting late February 2006. Comet hunting is probably my most favorable astronomical past time, because it involves careful tracking of these ever moving visitors into our solar system. I enjoy mapping the sky, using star carts, and identifying these distance visitors, long before they become the popular object to view.

My usual approach to comet hunting involves using my 14” SCT after becoming aware that a distance visitor is heading our way. Many times in the past, I’ve had to use advert vision with my C14 to catch a glimpse of a newly discovered comet, long before it is easy to identify in a smaller scope or binoculars. A tiny smudge of light from a distant 15th magnitude comet heading in our direction is as exciting to me, as anything I’ve viewed in the night sky.

I’ve viewed many comets in the last 30 plus years in astronomy, my earliest recollection was Comet Bennett in 1970, shortly after I bought my first 60mm Tasco telescope at the peek of the Apollo Missions. Shortly after that, I remember viewing comet Kohoutek, then Comet West all in the 70’s. It wasn’t till Halley’s Comet that I saw my next comet after that trio, but Halley’s was the first comet I remember tracking long before it was visible to most viewers.

This wasn’t the case with Comet Pojmanski C/2006 A1. I’ve been reading about southern hemisphere astronomers viewing this comet for months. Finally it has surfaced as an early morning visitor to our skies, and in my case, the Northern California skies.

I got up this Saturday morning, March 4th, about 4:30am and noticed the skies were clear enough for me to take my first look at Comet Pojmanski. I took out my Orion 20x70 little giant binoculars on a tripod and did some early morning comet hunting. Venus had just cleared the trees to the east, and I noticed Altair was fairly high in the eastern sky also, so I started panning below Altair, which is where I knew our visitor was to be found. I quickly spotted Pojmanski's large coma right away, about 15 degrees below Altair, below the constellation Aquila.

It was larger than I thought it would be and higher in the sky than I thought also. I viewed M13 just a few minutes earlier, and the coma was larger than M13 in my binoculars.

For about the next half hr, I folded my hands around my tripod, and while sitting motionless in my chair on my patio, I peered into my binoculars for the next half hr, letting my eyes adapted more to the darkness. A thin wispy tail started to appear at about the one o'clock position from the coma, and extended beyond the full 3 degrees field of view of my binoculars. I didn't notice any Cyan color in the coma like many have mentioned seeing, but the large glowing coma and thin wispy almost transparent tail was impressive to view, being much longer than I thought I would be able to see.

Once my eyes had absorbed enough light, the tail was easily apparent. I could move the coma out of the field of view of the binoculars, and could view the length of the entire tail. From what I could see, it extended 5 or 6 degrees from the coma. It took some time with my eyes in the binoculars before the comet really looked impressive, so having my binoculars mounted on my tripod and letting my eyes adapt to the darkness while sitting comfortably in my chair made the difference.

The weather forecasts are showing more cloudy mornings in the next 10 days, so my Saturday morning view may be the best I’m able to get. Nevertheless, it was nice to see this newest visitor into our solar system, and hopefully one of many more we are all able to view in the coming months and years.