Sunday, July 3, 2005

If you're planning to take up astronomy as a hobby I would suggest Vancouver not be the place you expect to get a lot of results.

For months I've been waiting to see the Nasa spacecraft known as Deep Impact slam into comet Tempel 1 just outside the constellation of Virgo. My sister's balcony has a fabulous view of the southwestern sky and we were hoping to have a star party; snacks, some drinks, a pair of scopes and binoculars for everyone to share... but damnit the sky is completely overcast!

Granted it's not even that big of a light show. Some people have been exaggerating the extent of the flash to be seen, desribing it on on par with fireworks. Some of the more extreme factions of the Art Bell crowd have been throwing around speculation that this little thing will divert course as a result and cause an extinction level event on earth. Really, we're talking teeny magnitudes here. The comet is barely visible at mag 9 and will only brighten to about mag 6. For a comparison, Jupiter, which is just to the right of Virgo is mag -1.9, Neptune is 7.8. The higher the magnitude, the fainter the object.

But even so, I wanted to see it! I like looking at little fuzzballs in the sky. I love the idea that I could see a man-made event take place nearly an entire Astronomical Unit away. It's like being able to catch a glint of light off a moon landing! It's exciting!

But no geeky fun for me tonight.

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