ALP Stargazing Session Report


January 7-8, 2005

Text by Francisco Lao, Jr.

Images by James Kevin Ty


Friday, Jan. 7, was scheduled to be a quick stargazing 050108.jpg (50274 bytes)session for interested ALPers at Buso-Buso primarily to catch Comet C/2004 Q2 Machholz. Among the ALPers who were at Buso-buso were James Kevin Ty, Allen Yu, Jett Aguilar, Dante Noche, Leah Visaya, Jun Lao, Hans Cerdenia, and later, Joel Munoz and friend Ma’an. Most of the ALPers were at the site around 8 p.m., ate a quick dinner, then proceeded to the observing field. Unfortunately, clouds were everywhere when they had reached the field. The clouds parted to reveal Polaris (needed for polar alignment for imaging) and the comet around 10 p.m.  By the time Jett, Allen, and James hadfinished polar alignment, clouds again claimed the sky, and only Jun was able to take some wide field images of the comet.  However, everyone had by then been able to spot the comet with the naked eye in the dark skies of Buso-buso, and use of 10 x 50 binoculars allowed me to spot two tail features, a 2 degree long ion tail at the 1 o’clock (ENE) position that almost touched the Pleiades, and a diffuse eastward fan that strengthened into a tail component about 4 degrees long at the 10 o’clock (S) position.  Leah was also able to spot this southward tail, while others were able to see the ion tail.  The ion tail was later confirmed by digital images by James, 050107comet_machholz_04q2_wide-a.jpg (89242 bytes)while there was a hint of a dust tail. Somehow the digital images were having difficulty capturing the dust tail that was more apparent visually.

Most everyone had to wait until around midnight when big patches of clear sky allowed longer imaging times. Digital images taken by James and Jett confirmed the presence of a thin ion tail that almost touched the Pleiades.  Jett’s image at prime focus of his C-8, and seen through his laptop’s LCD revealed a large glowing coma and a slim ion tail, while James’ image with his 200 mm. telephoto showed the span of the long tail the tail then had a dark division, or split as it headed outward, so the tail essentially split into two about a degree away from the comet’s head.  While there was a diffuseness around the coma, none of the raw digital images showed the dust tail.  Perhaps processing of the images will reveal the dust tail.

050108comet_machholz_04q2_am-b.jpg (48253 bytes)Dante, Hans and Leah were also able to view Saturn overhead when Dante pointed his Dobsonian to the ringed planet.  In addition, owing to the dark skies, Jun was able to detect and point out the winter Milky Way meandering south to north from lower left of Canis Major and heading north all the way through to Auriga. Jun was also able to spot 5 meteors during the times the skies were open the first one was seen through binoculars while he was observing alpha Persei, and the last one was a pair of fast meteors running side-by-side.

People packed up and headed out of Buso-buso at nearly 2 a.m., took the obligatory group shot (without Joel and Ma’an, who left earlier), tired, but very happy to have seen the comet with their own unaided eyes, and for the imagers, being able to capture the comet with an ion tail, and perhaps, with processing, the dust tail as well.


JANUARY 8, 2005

January 8 was supposed to be a session at Caliraya, but owing to the unpredictability of the sky, it was decided to do it instead at Buso-buso again.  The plan was to be there early, then leave as the prospects for cloudy skies grew the later it became.

James, Jun, Jon, and Allen were the only souls braving the 050108comet_machholz_04q2-c.jpg (59613 bytes)sky that night, Saturday, but they were rewarded with a naked eye view of the comet near the Pleaides.   Skies opened and closed with clouds, but there were enough instances that people could image the comet.  At first, I could not detect a gas tail around the comet, only a diffuse dust tail that strengthened at the 10 o'clock position, but in a moment of great seeing, noticed a faint gas tail at the 1 o'clock position.  James' image of the comet later confirmed that the wider gas tail the previous night was gone, but was replaced by a very thin tail that paled in comparison to the one the previous night.  Something happened between the nights of Jan. 7 and Jan. 8. We suspected a tail disconnection event.

We packed up around midnight, as the humidity increased and the clouds became thicker.  It was a quick foray, but a good one, because we saw how different the comet looked in the span of a day!



For Comments

2003, 2004, 2005  Astronomical League of the Philippines Inc.