Level of accuracy: Riverside County, CA, USA
My interest in astronomy goes back
to childhood when I saw a picture of Halley’s Comet in a Time Life book of
the Universe. The picture was a 1910 Lick observatory photo and after
adding 76 years to that date I realized that I would be able to see it
when it returned. I would be really “old” but I should be able to see
it. I never had a telescope before and I knew little about the hobby. My
wife and I ended up buying a Halleyscope at Fedco. I started reading Sky
and Telescope in the library and dreaming about traveling to Australia to
see Halley at its best. Barely able to afford a cheap telescope, travel
was out of the question. We had to settle for a drive out to Joshua Tree
national park. The only time I had off was a single Saturday in March of
1986. Off we went Friday night with a little food and sleeping bags. It
was the tail end of a cold front that passed though southern California
and it had been snowing in the mountains. Little did we realize how cold
it can get out in the desert. We spent most of the night shivering.
However, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of Halley. The storm
passed during the night leaving transparent skies. Halley had a 10 degree
tail and was a spectacular sight for a complete novice who had never seen
a comet before.
My most memorable stories seem
to revolve around things with tails like comets and meteors. Some
highlights would include seeing Halley’s Comet after waiting almost 20
years. Another was seeing comet Hyakutake with my good friend David Jenne
in the local mountains of southern California. Both of us had never seen
a great comet before and we were driving around trying to find a clearing
in the trees to view the comet. After a while on the twisting mountain
roads you lose your sense of direction and you don’t know where to look.
Finally we came to a small clearing and saw the comet. It was a jaw
dropping experience to see a bright comet with such a long tail.
Comet Hale Bopp was another memorable
sight but my best memories are seeing it from the driveway in July 1995
when it was just a faint fuzzy star like object. I was elated just to
have found it and be able to see it. The other time was in November 1996
when Hale Bopp was a pre dawn object. David and I spent cold night out in
the desert waiting for it to rise in the east. It was already a bright
comet and had a prominent tail. This was months before the predicted peak
of the comet and before it became an evening object.
Leonid meteor shower in 2001was another highlight. The family flew to
Ayers Rock in Australia to see this. We met some other astronomers on the
plane in Australia and one of them was Vic Winter of ICSTARS
who was leading his tour group to see the Leonids.
He kindly allowed us to observe with his group. As Leo started to rise we
to see many extremely bright meteors streaking across the sky from horizon
to horizon. We saw the surprise Leonid fireballs in 1998 from the desert
was far better.
Bradfield C/2004 F4 was another surprise in April 2004. This comet wasn’t
widely known and wasn’t expected to be very bright either. However it was
a chance to see 2 comets simultaneously. The other being LINEAR C/2002
T7. David and I left at 2:00 a.m. and drove out to Joshua Tree national
park. When we got there we only had a short time to observe before dawn.
WOW! Bradfield was naked eye and had a tail 15 degrees in length.
Completely unexpected. I went the following morning with the family but
the sky was hazy and the comet was disappointing. Luck plays a large part
in observing comets.
Areas of interest
Comets and Deep sky imaging
Astronomy, Sky and Telescope, Popular Science.
Images From Science
articles for the Riverside Astronomical Society
Various desert and mountain
sites in California
155 mm refractor and 900 mount
Interested in the supernova of 1054 A.D.? See: