Sunday, April 30, 2006

An unexpected treat

I am currently sitting on Kitt Peak National Observatory, on my fourth of five nights with Steward Observatory's 90-inch Bok Telescope.

I would like to get pictures of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, the comet that is currently disintigrating as it nears the sun. Unfortunately, though, our observing schedule is very packed, and there is no time for a "fun" image.

So imagine my surprise when I took an image of one of our fields, and there was a bright comet in the corner! It was Fragment C of Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, the brightest of the pieces. The chances of having this appear in our field are pretty small -- our camera covers about one square degree of sky, and there are over 20,000 square degrees of sky visible at any one time! So this was a one in 20,000 chance.

Too bad I didn't play Powerball today.

Here are two versions of the same picture of the comet. The second is a closer view of the nucleus of the comet; the first is zoomed further out to show the coma (the comet head) and its tail:

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