If you haven't seen one, a comet is one of the most spectacular astronomical objects in the sky, partially because it is so close to Earth. At the closest, it is only 1.3 a.u. (194,477,400 kilometers) away from Earth. Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd was discovered by Gordon J. Garradd on August 13, 2009. It never comes closer to the sun than Mars's orbit. Usually, a comet moves fast, but it has stopped moving so fast recently, making it really easy to observe. It can be observed by a telescope or with binoculars that are at least 10x50. Here is a picture of the comet:
Now, to actually find the comet.
Step 1 Gather Your Tools
Here are some tools you need to observe the comet, though some of them are optional.
- Binoculars or a telescope—your binoculars should be at least 10x50 or the comet will appear too fuzzy.
- A tripod—to hold your binoculars.
- A binocular observing attachment for your tripod—this will stabilize the binoculars while observing.
- A chair or stool—for if you're observing with binoculars, it is tough to sit down while looking through a telescope.
This is what the ideal binocular setup should look like:
Step 2 Find an Observation Spot
You will need a decent place to observe because the Garradd comet is pretty faint at only sixth magnitude. You want a place that is very far away from any big cities and about a mile from any commercial buildings. Also, you want to avoid being close to busy streets because the headlights of the cars will mess with your pupil size, causing you to not be able to see dim objects.
Step 3 Search for the Comet
You need to find a few constellations and star-hop to get to Garradd. It is much easier to observe this in the evening, because the comet is higher up from the horizon. Also, if you have a planisphere this is very easy to do. Remember that if the moon is too bright, the comet will be very difficult to view. First, you need to locate the Summer Triangle, which is almost a right triangle made up of the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair. You can easily see this with the naked eye, because all of the stars in this constellation are third magnitude. You will need to locate Vega, which is on the lower left. Here is a diagram:
Down and to the right of Vega is Hercules, which is where Garradd will be around. Here is a diagram of Vega and Hercules:
The diagram shows where Garradd began. It has moved and will continue moving until it is not visible. Here is a very detailed diagram of how the comet will move:
Now you just have to go to the current date on the chart and observe! Try to take pictures and post them to the community corkboard!