For the last 6 weeks work has hammered on me, and I had no time to do new entries here. That hasn’t changed much, but I will try to take the time anyways; there is a lot going on right now that deserves to be talked about.

This time around, Comets, and more specifically the 2 you can see this week, C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) at magnitude 1.5 (naked eye) and C/2003 H1 (LINEAR). Since the Linear object is at magnitude 12.5 as this is written, you will need a scope to see that one.

C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) has just peaked, hitting magnitude 1.0 a few days ago, and can be observed from most places where you can make out a few dozen stars through the smog and light pollution. It is loosing 0.1 in magnitude each day, so try to see it this week if you can. A site with no smog, no clouds, and minimum light pollution would be best, of course. A pair of binoculars would enhance the experience, so you can see the tail in all its glory.

Wherever you are on the planet, right now the best viewing time is from dusk to 9:30PM. Where in the sky to look is the next question, and the reason for this blog entry. Here are a few resources to help you find these, and many other sky objects (including a lot more comets).

CALSKY (The Calculated Sky) is the best online tool I have ever seen for finding out what is viewable in your local night sky, with details of where and when to look. Its interface is both simple and powerful, allowing you to set your place on the planet against its database, and what kind of celestial objects you are interested in. You can even save your settings as a cookie to your browser, so they will be the default each time you log in. One of the settings you can choose is “user levels”, from amateur to professional; it calculates what kind of equipment each level might have to determine which entries and objects would be useful for you to be aware of. You can also reset the location that comes up on any page by clicking the Location Name in the window to the right of the “Calculated Sky” text header. Did I mention this one is a monster, and should be in every astronomy addicts Links collection? LOL

Basic Link: http://www.calsky.com/

Current Comet Link: http://www.calsky.com/cs.cgi/Comets/1?obs=817472757146

That comet link assumes you live in Austrailia, change it to match you location for best results.

Another world-class site for tracking sky objects is the Singapore Science Center. It has a LOT more going on than that, so I recommend you spend some time on the site, even if you are on the other side of the planet. The Basic link is:

http://www.science.edu.sg/ssc/index.jsp

Current Comet Link:

http://www.science.edu.sg/ssc/detailed.jsp?artid=5772&type=4&root=140&parent=140&cat=192

If you are more astronomy-aware, you might want specific ephemeris data. A great site for that is Harvard’s CFA (Center For Astrophysics) database, and again, it is searchable. Also again, it has a ton of information beyond the confines of tonight’s topic, and the limits of my description. So even amateur astronomers want to add this link to their permanent collection!

Basic: http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/

Current Comet: http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/cfa/ps/icq/CometMags.html

No mater who you are, following the places to look works better if you have a picture of what the sky should look like. A good site to grab that image is

http://frontpage.visi.com/~sirius/denver.htm

That link gives you the sky from Denver. The other choices they offer are New Orleans, Atlanta, Charleston, SanFran, Minneapolis, and Syracuse. The sky is a lot bigger than the Earth, so if you live in North America, you should find one of those choices works for you. And all of them include current interest points, which this week includes the NEAT comet!

That should be enough to get you started. Enjoy the Living Sky, and let me know if you find anything that should be added to this list!