Before we get to the comets, a couple other tidbits:
First, Jupiter is at opposition next Friday, April 7th. This means we, Earth, are between it and the sun, and the implication is as the sun sets, Jupiter is rising. This ALSO usually implies that Jupiter is at its brightest, and fullest – and though it is at a far-away spot on its orbit right now (and slightly smaller in apparent size than it could be), it will also be rising earlier and earlier, and we’re going to get some good evening viewing over the next couple months.
Second, Mercury! I talked about Mercury last week, and it did not disappoint. We had one nice clear evening (Wed, March 29) where it was very apparent. The photos below show a lot of movement (it was very windy!), but capture the innermost planet. Mercury will be visible maybe another week before it runs back between us and the Sun and gets lost in the solar glare again.
So, to the comets… we have TWO of them out there now.
Comet 41P/T-G-K continues to fly through Draco, between the Big and Little Dippers, (Charts and info here). HOWEVER, it remains dim (about Magnitude 8.5), and it remains very diffuse. I valiantly tried that same night (March 29th) to find it. My technique was to use no magnification – but do a wide-field series of prolonged exposures and digitally stack them to enhance and emphasize anything bright. This was my first real try at using this technique – computer-assistance on this sort of thing has come a long way and I was impressed how easy it was, even if it did take several hours of processing. Will have to try this some more on other objects.
Anyway, the photo below effectively represents a 31-minute exposure, shows both dippers, and presumably, Comet 41P, but…
Here’s a zoomed-in version between the Big Dipper and Draco. Looking at the stars that ARE visible, and knowing their magnitudes, the Comet has GOT to be here, but this is pretty disappointing. I saw another (Copyrighted, but HERE) photo, taken on the 24th of the same region showing a 105-minute exposure, and the Comet was prominent, but showing a tight core and coma no bigger than one of the primary Dipper stars – and goes on to admit that its relative brightness is greatly exaggerated in the photo. No huge diffuse coma… So I’m going to give this another try with a sturdier tripod and some magnification, assuming the weather cooperates. With no magnification, even the digital assist on the stacking is blurring the stars a bit – the comet may be diffuse enough that I’m effectively blurring it into the background… so I’ll try and zoom into this region a bit and try again!
The OTHER comet may be more satisfying. Comet C/2017 E4 Lovejoy was just discovered on March 10, so if you find it you can be one of the few humans so far to have spotted it. Terry Lovejoy, an Aussie with a prolific comet discovery record, has been locating these with change detection software he wrote, comparing many, many images. In the two weeks or so since it was discovered, Comet Lovejoy has brightened considerably, and is showing up pre-dawn, in Pegasus. It’s still a binocular target, but might ultimately prove to be better than 41P. Closest approach to Earth was Friday the 31st, and perihelion (closest approach to Sun) is anticipated to be April 28.
I would really like to hear of anybody else’s efforts on these two. For that matter, if you look at my photos and say “there it is”, that’d be appreciated too!
Good luck, and Get Out There!