Friday, December 31, 2004

Comet Machholz

Each week I receive via email Sky & Telescope Magazine's free Skywatcher's Bulletin. It provides a good summary of any interesting celestial events for the coming week. The bulletin provides an excellent starting point for beginner stargazers looking for guidance on what to look for under a canopy of stars.

This week's bulletin sent me out into the cold New England air last night in hopes of spying Comet Machholz. By star-hopping from Aldeberan, I soon spotted the comet in binoculars. It appears as just a fuzzy patch of dim light. Nothing spectacular.

Standing in the cold, looking for a run-of-the-mill comet, may seem like an pointless exercise to some. The joy in such an endeavor, of course, is actually finding something so nondescript and recognizing in the mind's eye what it represents. This dim smudge of light is in fact a large ball of dust and ice hurtling through the inner solar system on a highly elliptical orbit. Its visit in our sky will be short before it recedes in the vastness of space. While it was here, I can say I saw it. There's some pleasure to be derived in that...I think...