Comet 2006 P1 McNaught

I've just got back into the office after having a wander out to the western edge of our village, hoping to catch a glimpse of comet 2006 P1 McNaught.

While having dinner I'd mentioned that I was going to go for a walk and have a look and my son asked to come along too. Given that he's not quite 5 and given that I'd be using a binocular my wife decided to come along too — the best place to observe is next to a reasonably busy road (especially busy around 17:00 or so due to people heading home from work) and that wouldn't be a good mix.

I'd told them both that I didn't quite know what to expect. From what I'd read so far I was expecting a small fuzzy comet, probably visible to the naked eye with some effort, but probably requiring that I find it in the 10x50s first. We got coats and hats and stuff on and started walking down the road. About ½ way to the edge of the village I saw something out of the corner of my eye, through some trees. I looked, did a double take, and then a triple take, and then almost said the sort of phrase a father shouldn't say in front of his child.

It was a comet! Not a little fuzzy thing, not the sort of thing I've struggled to find in binocular and telescope over the last year or so, this was a proper naked eye comet. Bright head, easy to see tail, skirting the horizon in a really nice looking sunset.

I was shocked and amazed. As was my wife and son. To be honest, it's hard to say who was most excited, although I think my son wins ("I've seen my first comet! I've seen my first comet!").

I won't bother even trying to relate any technical details, I wasn't really paying attention to it in that way. About all I managed was a quick estimate of the length of the tail (about 2 widths of my thumb, held at arms length) and that was about it. The best I could really manage was to just stand there, awestruck, repeating things like "oh wow", "that's huge!", "look at it! just look at it!" and other pointless variations on that theme.

Within around 10 minutes the head had set behind some trees and I watched the tail slowly set for a couple of minutes more.

I'm still really excited, I'm still feeling kind of shocked and moved by it. I'm still feeling very inadequate when it comes to trying to relate what I saw and how it felt to see it.

Don't you just love it when the Universe surprises you like that?


Ben C. said...

Thanks for relating the excitement you and your family experienced seeing Comet McNaught. I have yet to try for this comet and it would be the 4th naked eye comet after Halley's, Hyakutake and Hale-Boop. This would break the alliterative H streak though ...

mark_smith said...

I know what you mean about been excited two hours later and my heart is still thumping. Might have a beer to celebrate. Hope to see it again tommrow.


Dave Pearson said...

Oddly I don't ever recall seeing Halley naked eye. I saw it in 'scopes and bins and even photographed it but I don't think I ever saw it without any sort of aid.

Hyakutake was fantastic and, personally, I rate it higher than Hale-Bopp.

Good call on the H thing, I'd never thought about that before.

I don't know what your forecast is Mark but it's not looking too good down this end of the county for tomorrow night. Not sure about tomorrow morning either but if it is bright and I'm up in time I think it might be a trip to the eastern end of the village for a good view over Billingborough Fen

mark_smith said...

The weather in the morning is rain (but we will see) I am leaving the house at 7.30 so may have a look on the way. The afternoon should be patchy clouds. The same for Friday aswell.

Ben C. said...


I should've mentioned that my naked eye view of Halley's Comet back in 1986 was during a business trip to Israel and South Africa. The view from the plane, even through those plastic windows, was not to be believed.

When I saw Halley's from the shores of New York I was less than wowed and I actually needed to point out the direction of the tail to the people around me while viewing the comet in binoculars.

Ian Musgrave said...

Waht a wondeful story, that is absoLutely great! Congratulations.

I saw Haley quite well with the unaided eye in Asutralia, my then girlfriend was not impressed. "It's a fuzzy dot, you got me up at 4 am for a fuzzy dot!"