Friday, April 28, 2006
Odds and Ends. Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Approaches.
Just a quick note to explain the lack of posts lately. My PC is old. My connection is also old. This combination has hindered my access to the internets all week. I plan on upgrading soon, but next week I have a trip to western PA on my schedule that will further impede my progress in this area. Just so you know.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox were embarrassed last night by the Indians. They were clobbered 15-3 at Jacobs Field. Sox starter Josh Beckett was hammered for nine runs in 3 2/3 innings, including a grand slam to Cleveland first baseman Ben Broussard. The Sox lost two of three to the Tribe, and will take their road show to Tampa Bay for a weekend series against the Devil Rays.
Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Approaches
In other news, Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is approaching the inner Solar System, and, in addition to its close approach, has fragmented into several smaller pieces. Sky and Telescope excerpt:
There's much new to report on Periodic Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (also known as Comet 73P), whose apparition is featured, with finder charts, starting on page 60 of the May 2006 Sky & Telescope.
Two fragments of the disintegrating comet are now visible in small scopes, a third and possibly a fourth are in reach of larger amateur scopes and about 40 much fainter pieces have also been detected. All are on their way to a close pass by Earth during mid-May.
The comet broke apart in 1995, and the process continues. The brightest chunk after C is B, only a little fainter than C as of April 24th and following 1.0 day behind C on close to the same path. Next brightest is G, about 3 magnitudes fainter and following 0.2 day behind B. The rest are much fainter and trailing in a line mostly behind G, by up to 1.2 days.
At their brightest in mid-May, C may reach about 5th magnitude (fainter than originally hoped), B anywhere from 5th or 6th on down (if it survives!) and G maybe about 8th. The rest may be magnitude 13 and fainter.
But nobody knows what backyard observers can actually expect. Although comets sometimes brighten on breaking up, other times they practically vanish. We may get a serious fizzle-out or some new surprise brightenings, most likely a wide double comet, or perhaps additional little comets!
All the lesser fragments are traveling in a line near the track plotted on the finder charts in the May issue.
For those keeping score at home, a 6th magnitude object is at the limit of naked-eye visibility in rural areas under good seeing conditions. 5th magnitude objects are slightly brighter. If you live in an area with a lot of city lights, you can pretty much forget about seeing this comet, and its fragments, unless you have a decent pair of binoculars, or a small telescope. The article also contains updates from observers who have reported what they have seen in the past few weeks as the comet got closer. I will attempt to observe this phenomenon as time permits during my visit to western PA.