Location: Sam Rayburn, East Texas
Observing time: March 9, 2002
6:50p.m. To 8:30p.m. (Central time)
Ever since February, when I heard of the discovery of Ikeya-Zhang, I have been wanting to see the comet. Shortly before my camping and fishing trip to East Texas, I found that there was a comet alert. The comet Ikeya-Zhang was being observed low in the sky an hour after sunset.
My excitement was barely containable. I know spring break in East Texas often leads to storms and often many clouds. If I were lucky, I would have one clear night.
I pulled out my star charts and print outs from several sources, Spaceweather.com and Sky and Telescopeís maps were the best, and studied them. I then waited impatiently for nightfall. At 6:45 I could wait no longer and I drove over to a secluded campground area.
I grabbed my star charts, cameras, tripods, flashlight (red of course), and a pair of 10x50 binoculars. I then looked to the sky.
A cloudy Western sky threatened to steal my view of comet Ikeya-Zhang. I watched as Venus slid into the clouds low on the horizon and marveled at how great the starry skies were. Since I am so use to light pollution at my home, these skies amazed me as the sunís light still lingered in the sky slowly slipping away.
I found my guides in the sky. First I found Mars in the west. Under Mars were the stars Eta Pisces with a magnitude of 3.62 and Omicron Pisces with a magnitude of 4.62. From these to stars I looked for Zeta Pisces, which has a magnitude 5.24. These three stars formed a triangle area for me to search in. The comet was supposed to be just above Zeta Psc and a little to the right. Sky and Telescope forecasted a magnitude of 4.4, which would make the comet brighter than Zeta Psc. I looked to my target area of the sky and found it. A faint tail stretched behind it, up and angled left, almost to a sixth magnitude star. The tail had a tint bluish color to it. I used an astronomy program to help me put a length on how long the tail was, and I found that I was seeing just less than 2 degrees of the tail at my location.
I really enjoyed the show. I was so excited about my viewing that I went back to camp to share it with my family. As usual they thought I was a bit crazy and way to hyper, so I called my fellow astronomer, Mark Egan, and shared my news with him. Thank God for astronomy friends! Now if I could only have one more chance to view the comet before leaving. . .
Location: Sam Rayburn, East Texas
Observing time: March 12, 2002
6:25p.m. To 8:00p.m. (Central time)
The night before had been a rough one. My friend, Mark, called to inform me of a shuttle-re-entry (this is a MUST SEE event) that was viewable from both of our locations. Thanks to Mark, a few years back I saw one over the Houston, Texas skies and was totally amazed by the view. I thanked him for informing me and hoped for clear skies at the projected observing time 2:45ish to 3:30am. At 2:25 a.m. I woke up to the sound of pouring rain on our pop-up camper. I was obviously upset by this and went back to sleep hoping that he would get to see it. At about 3:45am a great gust of wind came in with a cool front and threatened to blow our camper over.
The next day was cloudy with drizzle. Then the evening came and a miracle happened, the skies cleared! I asked again for everyone to come see the comet with me. This time my father and sister came along for the show. We went to a secluded area of the campgrounds and watched a beautiful sunset. The light began to fade and I wanted to see just how early I could see Ikeya-Zhang with a pair of 10x50 binoculars. The comet was at a magnitude 4.1 and at 7:11pm I spotted it. My yell was surely heard by all the campgrounds, and my father and sister rushed over to see what I had found. I set the 10x50 binoculars up on a tripod and gave them a look. They werenít nearly as excited as I was, but the suns glow was still in the sky and the comet was very faint because of the light. My next task was to see the comet with the unaided-eye. I waited and searched the skies back and forth then suddenly. . .I saw the comet as a faint smudge. I lost my view and wondered if I had indeed seen the comet. One second more and I found Ikeya-Zhang again. Using my binoculars I confirmed that the very faint hint of a star was indeed the comet and another yell rose to the air at precisely 7:21pm.
Over all the viewing was not as clear as my first view. No detail could be seen in the comet, just a faint glow showed. Still, I enjoyed sharing it with my family and I canít wait to see the comet again. . . maybe through an eight inch scope. . .now that would rock!
Location: Houston, Texas
Observing time: March 21, 2002
7:00p.m. To 8:30p.m. (Central time)
I left work at 6:45 and headed right home to find my sister, Carrie, had already gathered all my equipment together for my viewing of the comet. I was rather worried about the view I would get from my light polluted location, but was determined to see it again since the clouds had finally cleared off.
I went down to the local field for a clear shot view to the West. I set up and could not locate the comet by my unaided eye. I pulled out my 10x50 binoculars and found it rather quickly (helps to know the location). I then pulled out my 16x50 binoculars and had a nice little view going. I tried with my small 2.5 scope, but couldn't manage to get a view of it.
Carrie pulled up at about 7:45pm and she caught a glimpse of it through binoculars. We then stayed and used the scope for a viewing of the Orion nebula through the scope, which was very nice as always. I grabbed the binoculars and took a look at Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, the moon, Orion nebula, and Pleiades.