at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

Comet Hunting and Cosmic Discoveries

I have a telescope.  I don’t use it as much as I should or want to, but I’m trying to fix that.  So, when I found out that Comet Hartley 2 would be passing through our night sky over the course of a few weeks, I got excited – perhaps a little too excited.  I spent some time with my telescope over several nights in late September and early October, when comet viewing was supposed to be best.  It was going to be going past the constellation Cassiopeia, which looks kind of like a giant W (though it’s rather sideways right now).  Now, keep in mind, Comet Hartley 2 is no Halley’s Comet.  It’s small.  Quite small.  Even with a telescope, I knew it would be hard to find, and there wasn’t going to be much to see; but it was the adventure of comet hunting that lured me outdoors each night. 

One night, not having much (any) luck locating the comet and beginning to feel disheartened, I started just panning the sky slowly while looking through my telescope.  All of a sudden, I came across something new that I had never seen before.  It almost looked like a small white cloudy spot or smudge against the night sky.  Knowing that the comet would likely have a blur to it because of its dusty tail, I started to think I had found Hartley 2 after all!  That is, until I pulled back from my telescope and noticed that I had it pointing nowhere near where the comet should be.  This led me on a quest to find out what in the cosmos I was looking at. 

I used my favorite star mapping program (Starry Night) to figure out which star was directly below where I was looking (Mirach), but could not find any clues as to what my smudge in the sky could be.  So, I did the only thing I could think to do: a quick Google search for something along the lines of “blurry spot above Mirach.”  To my surprise, I quickly found the answer: I was looking at the Andromeda galaxy!  It’s a spiral galaxy, just like our own Milky Way.  How cool – a whole galaxy, barely visible through the lens of my telescope!  In the end, I decided that “discovering” a galaxy was more exciting than finding a comet, anyways.

But wait – the hope of finding Comet Hartley 2 is not over yet!  It’s still in the sky, and brighter, though competing with the light from the moon.  If you want to try comet hunting yourself, check for more details here.

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!