John was in the Philadelphia area March 14 on business. He had a clear evening, so he headed to Valley Forge National Park because it had a clear western horizon — perfect for checking out Comet PANSTARRS. John says the comet was difficult to see visually until about 30 minutes after the Sun set, but he notes that the view was fantastic through his 10x70 binoculars.
I loved the colors John captured in the first image of the setting comet, but it was the second one that really struck me. The aircraft contrail is a stunning contrast to Comet PANSTARRS (John says he saw lots of air traffic).
And for all you need to know about Comet PANSTARRS, visit our special section on the solar system visitor at www.astronomy.com/panstarrs.
I was viewing Comet PANSTARRS from near the dead end of the northern section of the old highway that used to connect Napoleon and Logtown Mississippi using my 14X100 mm Orion binoculars on the 20th, when a jet flew exactly through the coma of the comet. The exhaust gas, and subsequent contrail completely obscured the come for about a second. What are the chances of that happening in an area without that much air traffic? Then I decided to check out the sky condition at the Curtis Johnson boat launch about a mile north from where I was viewing the comet. It was OK as far as light pollution, but only a couple of feet above the level of the East Pearl River, vs. about 5 feet for the bigger Logtown boat launch site to the south. You could see areas in the road to the boat ramp where the water was trying to saturate the clay, since it was less than 2 feet above the swamp water level in places. That fine gray clay makes a real mess when it gets wet, which is all too often down in the sub-tropics of Southern Louisiana that gets about 60 inches of rainfall a year.
I found PANSTARRS at about 7:50 P.M. and watched it, until I lost it in the pine trees at 8:15. I should have spotted it sooner, but I was searching too close to the horizon because I decided to attempt to take a short cut - a big mistake in a wetland area. I was going along fine down some dirt road, when I suddenly approached a submerged section of road. I could have probably have made it through the slop, but didn't want to have to do the car wash thing after the mud got everywhere. So I turned around and zoomed back to highway 607 toward the NASA gate, to pick up the old paved highway farther north.
Without using the giant binoculars, and having a rare cloudless sky from a cold front just having passed through the area in the morning, I would have never been able to see the comet. It is surprising how bright it still appeared when looking through the binoculars, yet I couldn't see it without them. I could still clearly see the tail of the comet using the binoculars. Although it is getting fainter.
Once again, I heard the Navy SEALS practicing with their mini-guns and flash bangs. Heading home on the Interstate -10 bridge over the East Pearl, I heard the roar of the mini-guns and looked down to see yellowish flames shooting out of a couple of them, about 100 yards from the bridge. I hope they weren't cheating using the I-10 for navigation. I can see why they had to do an Environmental Assessment before they started training in there. I could hear those guns inside a Ford Expedition at 70 mph with all the windows up, and a radio talk show playing. They didn't need night vision equipment, since I could drive in the easement with no lights because the Moon was half full. After your eyes adjust you can see fine, although it's not recommended, especially in an area that seems to be saturated with sheriffs. I hope the exhaust gas from those guns isn't too toxic.
Unless it fades fast, PANSTARRS might be visible for a while yet through binoculars. Let's hope ISON doesn't disappoint. You think world peace will break out by then? Somehow, I doubt the frogs will be the only night noise surrounding the Stennis Space Center anytime soon.