A brief selection of visual observations of naked eye comet Q2 Machholz from December 1st - January 5th 2004.
I dried the corrector plate of my ETX 90mm scope with a hairdryer as it had misted over completely during an earlier observing session. I then carried the ETX way out some distance to the pitch were I could get a good view low down of the SE and E sky. Using an elastic band I attached my telrad reflex sight to the OTA of the ETX and aligned both the sight and scope on Rigel and then began a slow, systematic vertical sweep beginning in W. Lepus into E. Eridanus – very quickly I swept up the comet. Q2 was quite distinct despite it’s low proximity in the sky and the small aperture of the ETX. The comet was a large bright well condensed object + 10 ‘ in dia. Coma is large with a bright star like central condensation and a pearly white inner coma. The outer coma was a vivid white/green colour. I am not certain but I thought I could detect a faint, long, broad dust tail pointing to the west? I cannot be sure because of the poor conditions. Very cold, frost, calm, quiet, poor trans, poor seeing at lower regions, sky crystal clear everywhere else, Moon five days after full high in east within Cancer. This was the first sighting of this comet from N. Ireland. Mag: 5.8 Dia: 10’ D.C: 6
Conor Mc Donald and I headed out to the far side of the pitch with the 4.5” TAL 1 and 90mm ETX. I aligned the telrad on Rigel and began a vertical sweep through the Lepus / Eridanus border. The conditions were very poor but despite this I swept up the comet very quickly. Q2 was a large bright comet that was brighter toward the centre with a small stellar CC (white). Overall the coma was an obvious green colour and of an elliptical shape. Only once did I glimpse a faint tail pointing to the NW?. I observed the comet for approximately 30 minutes before it set into a murky light polluted area of the sky. Machholz looked better through the TAL most likely due to the wider FOV. Mag: 5.4 Dia: 10’? D.C: 6
20.04 – 00.27 UT
Found Q2 well placed in the SE sky very quickly tonight using 10X50 mm binos. Through the binos it looked like a large, bright well condensed patch of light, elliptical in shape with a brighter elliptical centre and bright star like false nucleus. When the transparency improved I could see a faint dust tail pointing to the north across a nearby bright field star. Now I even thought I detected a thin straight ion tail several times but could not confirm it. Once I knew its location I was very surprised to see it with the naked eye as a large grey patch of light between two bright stars in Eridanus. Mag: 4.5 Dia: 30’ D.C: 7
19.01 – 03.00 UT
Found Q2 while it was low in the SE, Cold, wet, calm, cool gentle breeze, great trans, poor seeing, waxing gibbous moon high in S within Pisces. I alternated between using 10X50 mm binos, 8” LX10 and Conor’s zoom binos. I could see the comet very easily with the naked eye even in bright moonlight and could hold it with direct vision without any straining. It was located in a triangle of stars in Eridanus. The view in the 8” was promising, the coma was a large well condensed elliptical patch with a brighter central inner coma and stellar false nucleus. The outer coma was diffuse being difficult to tell were the coma ends and the sky begins. I could faintly detect two tails, a long ion tail + 50’ pointing N and a dust tail 50’ long pointing W. Both were blue in colour with the ion tail much easier to see.
We began a 2nd session at 01.00, from an elevated site, the moon was low in the SW and the sky conditions were excellent with superb transparency. We both observed Q2 as it dropped into the SW. Using Conor’s zoom binos I could see both tails, the dust was shorter, broader and 30’ long pointing W however the ion tail was beautiful – long, straight, blue and 3.5* long, the coma appeared more compact as it set. I watched the comet drop behind distant tree branches which was an incredible sight. Mag: 4.2 Dia: 30’ D.C: 7
23.17 – 02.35 UT
Q2 looked spectacularly bright in the binos even in such strong moonlight, the most amazing thing was that I could detect a bright blue ion tail stretching for 7* in length pointing slightly east of N , the tail seemed to slowly broaden with diameter. I am not certain however I think I could make out a broad dust tail pointing SW – spectacular sight!
With the 8” I was shocked to see two faint pencil thin green jets of material streaking down into each tail, one pointing to the W and the other into the NE gas tail, suspected a third jet located between the other two in the NNW. These jets were glimpsed several times with ease using averted vision. Mag: 4.1 Dia: 20’ D.C: 6
17.22 – 19.09 UT
I focused on the nuclear region of Machholz tonight and again saw three jets issuing from the false nucleus only tonight they were pointing at different compass points. All three were easy to see with averted vision and quite obvious during moments of steady seeing, all three sporting a straight, long, thin and green profile. The 1st pointed W, the 2nd to the S and the 3rd to the NE. Each jet looked longer than on my previous observation – what a sight!
17.00 – 01.15 UT
Seen Q2 easily with the naked eye as darkness settled in. The comet is a great sight in Taurus forming a triangle with Aldebaran and M45. There was a bright naked eye star located to the north of Q2 and as the night went by I watched the comet move closer to the star until it passed it. Through the 16” the coma was large, green, moderately condensed, diffuse fainter outer coma, green bright disk like CC and bright whiter stellar false nucleus and also glimpsed two rays. The dust tail was VERY faint and pointing to the SE, it seems edge on?, fairly broad and tapered as it leaves the coma. In fact the coma is elongated to the SE as it disappears into the tail. The ion tail is faint, long, straight pointing NW.
18.17 – 20.12 UT
Comet looks lovely this evening close to M45 in bright twilight with the naked eye. Through the 16” I could see two tails, faint dust tail pointing SE + 40’ long, faint and possibly broad with structure, western section is brightest. Lovely blue ion tail + 50’ pointing NE again with possible streamers. Ion tail is the brightest of the two and coma is large sporting a vivid green colour. Coma is clearly not an elliptical shape anymore, CC and outer coma are elongated to the E and looking slightly parabolic in shape. False nucleus is not symmetrically placed within the coma but instead located to the western edge.
Went out for another look tonight. Machholz is 15* below M45 and getting closer to the cluster every night. I was amazed to see the ion tail with the naked eye as a beautiful neon blue straight streamer that is broad as it leaves the coma and becomes more slender with distance in the anti solar direction becoming tapered at it’s extreme end. Tail was 5* long pointing to the NE to the E of M45 – incredible sight! Using Conor’s zoom binos I could glimpse both tails placed 90* from each other and could make out streamers from the coma into the region of the dust tail. The elongation of the coma to the SE was very evident.