STARGAZERS will be dazzled tonight by the brightest comet in the sky over Manchester for several years. Ikeya Zhang and our nearest giant galaxy the Andromeda Nebula will both be visible for the next three days.
Andromeda is the most distant object in the universe visible to the naked eye from Earth. The comet will not return to Earth again for another 341 years.
Jodrell Bank astronomer Ian Morison said binoculars may be needed as both objects will be low in the sky.
"The comet is a member of our solar system and so close that its light has only taken a few minutes to reach us," he said. "Light from the Andromeda galaxy, on the other hand, has taken more than two million years to reach us."
The comet was discovered just two months ago by Japanese astronomer Karou Ikeya and Chinese astronomer Daqing Zhang.
It will pass within 38 million miles of the earth on April 30 and is believed to be the same one seen in 1661. The best time to see both objects is between 8.30pm and 9pm.
As the sun fades, amateur astronomers should find the planet Mars, then look to the north west, at 15 degrees above the horizon.
Two fuzzy objects will be visible in the sky - the upper one being the comet. The lower smudge of light is from the nucleus at the centre of the Andromeda galaxy
Prebennorholm From Denmark, joined Mar 2000, 6135 posts, RR: 55 Reply 2, posted (11 years 8 months 3 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 1238 times:
That comet Ikeya-Zhang was discovered already on 2nd February. It has been quite visible with small binoculars for 2-3 weeks now, and it will stay so well into May.
Ikeya and Zhang are the surnames of the two gentlemen (Japanese and Chinese) who discovered it simultaneously independent of each other.
You need a very clear and dark sky to observe it with the naked eye. And you have to be out exactly when it gets totally dark since the comet sets in the west not too lang time after the sun.
It is nothing special for Europe. It can be seen on all northern latitudes after sunset - including America and Asia.
During the next few weeks it will creep somewhat higher in the sky and become much easier to observe, at least with binoculars, since its light intensity will drop to less than half at the end of the month.
Already well over a dozen new comets have been spotted this year. Ikeya-Zhang is the largest one and the only one which (barely) can be spotted with naked eye. It is really nothing compared to the great comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp a few years ago.
In fact Ikeya-Zhang is not a "new" comet. It is a "long period comet" which orbits the sun in roughly 340 years. It was also seen and registered 340 years ago, but at that time its course could not be calculated precisely enough to predict its return in 2002.
Give it a try with your binoculars. All you need is an absolutely clear sky at a very dark place with an unobstructed view on the western horizon right after sunset. And then you should not live on the southern hemisphere. Or on the North Pole which already has midnight sun.
My binoculars have been ready for two weeks now. But even if the sky is clear, then the atmosphere has been too damp, so I haven't bothered going to my dark place yet. With street lights around you can just forget about it.
Regards, Preben Norholm
Always keep your number of landings equal to your number of take-offs, Preben Norholm