Comet McNaught visible just after sunset

Comet McNaught

There’s a photo op tonight just after sunset. Sunset is at 5:03 PM PST. Comet McNaught is the brightest comet in 30 years and is visible to the west, just after sunset. Astronomers at Harvard estimate it has a magnitude of -3

NASA astronomer Tony Phillips says Comet McNaught is the brightest comet visible from Earth in 30 years. It is six times brighter than Hale-Bopp in 1997, and 100 times brighter than Halley’s Comet when it appeared in 1986, Phillips told The Associated Press on Thursday.

“It will remain a spectacular comet for weeks, perhaps months, in the Southern Hemisphere,” Phillips said. “It could emerge as the brightest comet in recorded history.”

People in San Francisco saw it last night at sunset. We should be able to see it to the West just as well. We could not see it last night due to some clouds over the coastal range, but tonight I’m expecting clear skies and there’s a chance we’ll be able to see it. Its only a few degrees above the horizon between West and West Southwest and will only be visible for a few minutes after sunset.

Here is a link on how to find it: http://www.spaceweather.com/images2007/08jan07/skymap_north.gif

The best vantage points would be in Upper Park, along Highway 32 on the way to Forest Ranch, or from lookout point on the Skyway. That way you’ll not have the coastal range mountains hiding it from the angled view from the valley floor.

PHOTOGRAPHER SAFTEY NOTE: whatever you do, don’t look through your camera viewfinder until the sun is safely below the horizon. I’ve seen even seasoned photographers make that mistake out of habit and end up with a retina burn.

In a couple of days, comet McNaught will be too close to the sun to see, but in a week or so, once it comes around the sun, it may become visible again and may even be brighter due to heating by the sun.

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