Chasing Comets

Highlights From This Past Weekend:

Friday evening (July 17, 2020) – We drove south (an hour drive) to Powell Observatory for an ASKC members only viewing of Comet Neowise plus Jupiter at opposition and glorious through the 30 inch. Clouds were an issue to our total viewing experience, but it was great to see everyone and it was a surprisingly pleasant evening. We left shortly before eight o’clock and were back home by two minutes to midnight. An excellent excursion and a nice field trip from our lock-down life at home.

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Look Up KC – See Comet Lovejoy This Friday Evening

Reposted from the Astronomical Society of Kansas City‘s Powell Observatory web page:

Powell Observatory will be open to the public for viewing of Comet Lovejoy from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM, Friday, January 23rd, 2015.  Naked eye, binocular and telescopic views, including the 30″ Ruisinger telescope, of Comet Lovejoy will be the main target of the evening’s viewing, but other astronomical objects will be presented as well.  The observatory classroom and bathrooms are heated, but the Ruisinger observatory dome is unheated and all additional telescope and binocular observing will be done outside.  It is highly recommended that visitors wear appropriate cold weather clothing.

There are no food or beverage concessions available at the observatory, but visitors may bring their own non-alcoholic beverages and snacks if desired.  You can print a map to the observatory clicking here.  Visitors with questions about the weather or the evening’s activities should call the observatory at after 6:30 PM on the 23rd.

The ASKC is a non-profit organization.  We ask for a suggested donation of $6.00 per adult and $4.00 per child under 12.  All donations are used to support and maintain the observatory and the ASKC thanks you for your patronage.

More information on Comet Lovejoy, how to view and how to find it may be found at the following website:

Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) sprints northward during January, moving from Lepus to the doorstep of Andromeda. (
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) sprints northward during January, moving from Lepus to the doorstep of Andromeda. (

Faint Comet Found

Just as I was settling down and thinking about making my morning cup of tea, I thought I’d check the eastern sky one last time (see my earlier post about cloud cover on the wrong half of the sky). Surprise!  The clouds disappeared, probably due to the wind advisory we’re still under.  I could barely see the star Spica just breaking through the bare limbs of my neighbor’s trees.

I went back inside and grabbed my binoculars.  I then headed to one of my east-facing second floor bedrooms.  Thanks to my kids, the window in the south room has no screen so I can open it and have a clear view above my neighbor’s rooftops.

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Comet and Crescent Moon Sail into the Sunset

Comet PanSTARRS (30 mins after Sunset, March 7-20, 2013)You can tell it’s spring time in Kansas by my frustration with clouds and astronomical observing.  I don’t grumble much, so long as the clouds provide relief for our record drought, as they did last weekend with two days of good rain on top of the melting snow left over from Winter Storms Q and Rocky.  I decided to skip, again, the ASKC‘s Messier Marathon, scheduled for Monday evening, mostly because it fell on a week night, but also because the clouds did not appear to be cooperating.  And the drive home, westward, did not fill me with confidence for my odds of spotting comet PanSTARRS and the thin crescent moon, potentially one of the youngest I’d yet observed.

Upon arriving home, clouds still obscured the sun sporadically to the west.  My husband and I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the local Arby’s and I walked Apollo upon returning home, despite the brisk wind out of the northwest.  I had just sat down to watch something with Terry when I checked out the window one last time.  Miraculously, the western horizon appeared cloud free.  I handed Terry the remote, shoved on my boots, grabbed the camera, binoculars and tripod and ran to the van.  As I drove west along Eisenhower Road, I received a call from my Dad, who was back in Lansing, at the spot where we observed the Transit of Venus last June.  I told him I was heading to a small rural church parking lot at the corner of Eisenhower and County Shop Road, because it has slightly less light pollution than the hill overlooking Main Street (K-7/US-73) in Lansing. 

I arrived about ten minutes before eight o’clock.  I uncapped my binoculars and took a quick look at the thin crescent moon, one of the slimmest ones I’ve yet observed.  Later, I calculated it was also the youngest I’ve observed, just twenty-nine (29) hours old.  Here’s the photo I took of it fifteen minutes later, after I’d setup the tripod and put the telephoto lens on my camera: 

Young Crescent Moon (8:04 p.m. CDT 03/12/2013)

I continued to take photographs for another twenty-five minutes but never did find the comet with my naked eyes.  Using my binoculars, I did locate comet PanSTARRS about a quarter after eight.  When I reviewed my photographs after downloading them to my computer, I realized I’d actually captured it earlier, in a photo taken one minute after the one shown above.  The best shot of the crescent moon and the comet came another fifteen minutes later though:

Click image for rest of album

I plan to keep trying for the rest of the week, or as long as comet PanSTARRS is visible.  I may even drive down to Powell Observatory Friday evening.  I read an announcement via the Astronomical Society of Kansas City‘s Twitter feed declaring a special pre-season opening of the observatory to view the comet. 

I called my dad back, since we’d gotten cut off by bad cell phone reception out in the county.  He confirmed his inability to spot the comet without optical aid and wished me a good night.  I packed up the equipment and returned home.  I fed the dogs while I downloaded the photos to Terry’s computer and quickly reviewed them, selecting a few of the better shots to upload to Flickr to share with family and friends.  By that time, I needed to hit the sack, so I left writing this blog until morning. 

Happy hunting to all of you this week.  Grab a pair of binoculars and look west, young men and women, look west for comet PanSTARRS. 

Bring binoculars to pick the comet out of the twilight low in the west. (Don’t expect it to look this obvious!) The scene is drawn for about 40° north latitude, and the Moon is placed for a viewer near the middle of North America.

A Most Unusual Comet

Astronomical Society of Kansas CityMy dad and I attended the March 2012 general meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City last night.  We arrived an hour early to attend separate meetings.  Dad sat in on the Astro 101 class.  March’s topic happened to be astrology of all things.  Here’s the blurb from the ASKC’s web site explaining it:

For March, the topic is: Astrology — that’s stargazing, right? So, do you do horoscopes? Say, what’s your sign?” Wha???? Huh???

Sooner or later you, as an amateur astronomer, will run into something like the comments above from a friend, co-worker, relative or casual acquaintance who thoroughly confuses astrology and astronomy. Our own “Madame Ursula” (aka Jackie Beucher) will enlighten us all on the Zodiac, sun signs and what it doesn’t mean. Come join us at the March 24th Astro 101 session.

I attended a brain storming session for the teams responsible for administering the public nights at the Powell Observatory.  Lots of good ideas were presented.

Dad and I reunited just before seven o’clock and chatted briefly with a couple we’ve known for years (and who happen to live in Leavenworth County as well).  We seated ourselves with a couple of minutes to spare.

After some brief comments from the President on the ongoing Messier Marathon down at the dark site and an exercise in democracy (another paper ballot vote on a by-laws change), the Education Director took the stage and presented “April 2012 Sky Events” which actually spanned the next several months.

Transit of Venus (2004 - Wikipedia)

The highlight of his presentation proved to be the once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe the Transit of Venus on June 5th.  I took mental notes, realizing I would need to purchase or engineer a solar filter for my ETX-90 in order to observe the transit.  I only get one shot at this, because the next time this happens, in December 2117, I will be long gone.  This morning, while researching solar filters, I found a helpful web site on safe solar viewing which I wanted to share with all of you.  You don’t need a telescope to observe, but please take precautions (to avoid damaging your eyes) if you plan to observe any solar events (eclipses, sunspots, transits, etc.).

The main event of the March general meeting culminated in a presentation by Fred Bruenjes.  His riveting account of discovering, just last month, Comet/2012 C2 (Bruenjes) impressed all of the audience.  Follow this link for a similar recitation via Fred’s own web site,  Fred plans to continue comet hunting because, in his own words, the one he discovered was ‘defective.’  I disagree.  It wasn’t defective, just unique.  The most unusual feature of his comet is its orbit, which goes in the opposite direction of all the other solar system objects (planets, asteroids and comets).

On the ride home, I regretted leaving my camera and tripod lounging in the band room because I missed a stellar (pardon the pun) opportunity to photograph the crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus.  I will get another chance this evening, when the moon is slightly larger and much closer to Jupiter.  Click here to see my photograph of the three objects taken early Friday evening.