by Vincent A. DaGrosa
A view from Lat. 41.4950 Long.-75.0808
As amateur astronomers we all wait for that perfect combination of clear skies and time to practice our passion. This opportunity was unexpected days before but I was ready when it presented itself. I am fortunate to have in-laws that own a second home in very rural north east Pennsylvania. I was happy to escort them there since their long driving abilities are not what they once were. This is true of many of us and not just with driving.
I am familiar with the beautiful dark skies in this area of Pike County. It’s really only been the last few years when I retired and my boyhood astronomy interests resurfaced, that I appreciated the dark skies up here that many residents take for granted. I was here a few weeks ago and was treated to spectacular vistas of our galaxy. Views that living in central New Jersey I have no chance of seeing, ever. This time however was special because of the Comet Neowise’s visit.
My in-laws property is very populated with large trees and does not offer wide open vistas. Fortunately they have a neighbor that has nice open property circling her house. Best of all she was willing to let me occupy her driveway in the middle of the night. Very much appreciated Lorry.
So I assembled my equipment and set up everything in eager anticipation of darkness to fall. Unlike many members, I don’t own a telescope. Not even a Walmart $40 Tasco 50mm special. I do my exploring with a pair of 20×80 Orion binoculars. I built a sturdy tripod and parallelogram set up that works very well.
Once twilight came and the bright guide stars started to emerge. I orientated myself to ensure I would have a clear and low enough horizon to gape at our latest celestial visitor. I’ve read how this comet is the first naked eye comet to come around in a long time. Soon around 9:30pm the skies started to reveal the multitude of stars like I’ve never seen. My familiar bright guiding stars of Central Jersey skies, were soon lost in the profusion of background stars. I could make out Arcturus and the Summer Triangle stars but had to struggle to see the keystone of Hercules. Suddenly there it was! Neowise. Stretching about 12° above the northwest horizon with its tail flaring off towards the north. Naked eye!! Wow! At a magnitude of approximately five I knew how fortunate I was to be in this location now since it’s progression is taking it farther away from us causing it to grow dimmer in magnitude. Timing is everything.
In Central Jersey I would have seen only the head and part of the tail. But this was spectacular. Even more so in the binoculars. The tail was so long I could not encompass the entire thing with in my field of view. Once Neowise set around 10:40 PM. My attention turned to the near fireworks display that was overhead. The Milky Way was pasted across the sky and embedded in it were many objects I had the opportunity to view. Some I was familiar with and found even more easily than at home. M13 in Hercules, M5 near Virgo, M3 in Bootes. With guidance the of the Orion Deep Map 600. I found many objects I had never observed before. The Whirlpool galaxy M51, The Dumb Nebula M27 near the double star Albireo in Cygnus. Also open cluster M29 also in Cygnus as well as globular cluster M92 near Hercules. Scanning the abyss was mesmerizing. So many clusters and nebulae passed by my field of view. I gave up trying to identify what was what and just sat back and enjoyed the show of stars, meteors and satellites.
I plan on coming back in a few weeks. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. This however was a real treat to see a comet that won’t return for close to 7000 years. With a telescope and attached camera. I probably would have gotten some very cool shots. Previously I was able to capture images of Neowise by just holding my cell phone camera up to the binocular eye piece. Surprisingly however, I was not able to accomplish this during this expedition. I think it was too dark to align the phone’s camera with the binocular eyepiece squarely by free hand. The photo included here was taken on 7/18 in central New Jersey.
I was very fortunate to be there and now. Timing is everything you know! Who needs a telescope!