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Ikeya-Zhang Now Visible 114

TrinSF writes ", run by the San Francisco Chronicle, has a story on Comet Ikeya-Zhang. It's on a 350 year cycle, and should be visible to the naked eye in some places over the next few weeks. Here's a gallery of pictures, too."
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Ikeya-Zhang Now Visible

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  • Interestingly, according to the article, it's exactly five years after Hale-Bopp was in the sky... any other screwball cults out there? (no, pointing a $c13n+0l0gy (I hope I don't get sued) story doesn't count)
    • Re:Timing (Score:3, Funny)

      by spacefem ( 443435 )
      "screwball" is such a tough to define word, really, we should be careful not to accuse any organization of being a cult. I, for one, have told my followers that the comet will only take those of us pure of heart and mind, so most outsiders are safe from our plans for global domination. rest easy, brothers, I'm making applesauce only for us chosen few.
    • I remember those days well. It was all part of the nervous hysteria in the lead up to Y2K. The Comet itself was well publicized by Art Bell [], from the previous november or so to January 16th of that year [], when they exposed the hoaxsters live on the air.

      That group in sandiago (who made lots of money as an offbeat web development company) offed themselves in march or april, claiming that the ealier events did not matter.

      other details here [].

      don't forget to look over your shoulder.


    • Even more impressive is that comet Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake appeared within a year of each other.

      I took some pretty cool shots of comet hyakutake back in my amateur days. Just staring up in the sky and seeing a big cloudy star that seemed like it was BLAZING through space, but frozen in time ... just made my jaw drop and made my heart skip a beat.

      Can't wait until this comet rounds the sun for a better view in April. Hopefully I'll have my 8 inch reflector by then.

  • by jonnythan ( 79727 ) on Sunday March 24, 2002 @12:00AM (#3215030)

    The best way to find the comet right now after twilight, Jones said, is to look below and to the right of the ruddy planet Mars, which lies above bright Venus, "a clenched fist or two above the western horizon," as Jones put it.

    That has to be one of the best ways I've heard to describe how to find something in the sky :)

    • My copy of SMCT (Soldiers Manual of Common Tasks) gives the fist method as a way to measure elevation... they're talking about what part of the sky to search for when looking for airplanes. It is rather easy for a non-astronomer who can't visuallize degrees to do in the field, and it makes a quick verification if you have no equipment handy.

    • Usually it's something like "You're a clenched fist away from a suprise visit to the dentist..."
    • Re:"Clenched fist" (Score:3, Informative)

      by ryants ( 310088 )
      A clenched fist at arm's length covers about 10 degrees of sky. The sun moves about 10 degrees / hour, so seeing how many "fists" from the sun to the horizon gives a good approximation the number of hours of daylight left.

      Note: this is all from hazy memory, so I may be wrong.

      • Um, the sun moves exactly 15 degrees/hour (360 degrees/24 hours) since it is the movement of the sun that defines the length of the day.
        • Uff... that's what happens when you type and read at the same time.

          Thanks for catching that.

        • That assumes there are 12 hours of daylight every day.

          You'll notice that isn't the case :P
        • Well, it *does* travel 15 degrees per hour, one just has to be aware of the arc of the sun across the sky to make any sense of some manner, its amazing that we're not aware of the suns movement through the sky, or the phase of the moon as a civilization. Its not hard to imagine the world in which length of day basically dictated behavior to people, and the changes in earth's seasonal behavior were daily factors in everyones life.
          • Well, it *does* travel 15 degrees per hour . . . its amazing that we're not aware of the suns movement through the sky,

            Umm, didn't Copernicus and Galileo straighten this out a few centuries ago? The sun, while moving in relation to the rest of the universe, isn't really moving in relation to the earth. The earth is moving around the sun and at the same time rotating in relation to the sun to give the appearance to an earth bound observer that the sun is moving accross the sky. In reality the sky is moving across the sun.

            Wow, and you SlashDot guys think you know something about science?[/sarcasm]

            • ok ok, and yeah, i know we're not at the center of the universe....what i *meant* by suns movement was the changes in the arc of the sun as seasons change. So wordy though it may be, let me phrase my statement properly for you.

              "Well, it *does* travel 15 degrees per hour, one just has to be aware of the arc of the sun across the sky to make any sense of some manner, its amazing that we're not aware of the *change in the sun-arc as the polar tilt changes our orientation to the sun relative to our perpindicular position to the sun as we travel in our oval-shaped orbit around the fusion-ball* through the sky, or the phase of the moon as a civilization. Its not hard to imagine the world in which length of day basically dictated behavior to people, and the changes in earth's seasonal behavior were daily factors in everyones life.
  • Well, those of us on the East coast missed out on the Leonids, is there any hopes of us seeing this?
  • Viewer's Guide (Score:4, Informative)

    by Metrollica ( 552191 ) <m etrollica AT hotmail D0T com> on Sunday March 24, 2002 @12:06AM (#3215053) Homepage Journal
    There's a viewers guide [] to the comet that might come in handy at
  • Comet Madness? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Sunday March 24, 2002 @12:06AM (#3215055) Homepage
    "In 1910, when it was announced that Halley's Comet would once again pass the earth, hysteria broke out in Europe, based on the belief that the arrival of this comet always heralded castrophe. The war of 66 A.D. that brought about the fall of Jerusalem, the devastation of Rome by the Huns in 373, the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (it is Halley's Comet that can be seen in the famous Bayeux Tapestry, announcing the death of Harold), and many other tragic events did in fact coincide with the comet's appearance.

    Whether or not these occurrences actually had anything to do with the comet anxiety spread throughout Europe as soon as its impending arrival was announced, and thousands of people fled to the mountains for safety. A group of French scientists published a paper claiming that the earth would be poisoned by fumes from the comet's tail.

    Reports of 'comet insanity' and suicide attempts filled the newspapers, and 'anticomet pills' guaranteeing protection from the comet's noxious fumes, where bought up eagerly.

    The comet, however, came and went without much incident"

    - David Louis
    from his book: 2201 Fascinating Facts

    Doesn't this remind you of the madness today?
    • 'anticomet pills' guaranteeing protection from the comet's noxious fumes, were bought up eagerly.

      Well, I'm off to eBay to post a few pill bottles full of Skittles with the "S" logos rubbed off!

      This'll be as easy as selling Nikes to Heaven's Gaters. :-)

    • Hehe. Well when the comet came a few years ago. You know, right when that cult all killed themselves, hale bopp.

      That was one BIG COMET just hanging in the sky.

      You drive across the state, and it is just hanging there, this BIG ***ed comet.

      If you need a omen, that comet would apply.

      For me it was the most beutiful thing I've ever seen and it changed my life very much. I didn't think I'd ever see a nice comet, not to menthing this BIG ***ed comet just sitting there in the sky no matter I was doin.

    • ...hysteria broke out in Europe, based on the belief that the arrival of this comet always heralded castrophe...

      Well, if that isn't a case of self-fulfilling prophecy!
  • by nickynicky9doors ( 550370 ) on Sunday March 24, 2002 @12:17AM (#3215084)
    Check out []

    Hale-Bopp was awesome and it had the added advantage of culling the low end of the gene pool.

    • (* Hale-Bopp was awesome and it had the added advantage of culling the low end of the gene pool. *)

      I saw the funniest bumper sticker just after the Hale-Bopp event: "So many idiots, so few comets".

      BTW, I don't think those guys were "dim", per say, just fanatical. IOW, their religious fever overrode rational thought.

      I am not one to conclude that heavily religious people are necessarily intellectually lacking. The two have a low correlation as far as I know. (Note, I am not least not in the traditional sense.)
      • their religious fever overrode rational thought.

        The ancient battle between our rational body of knowledge and our passions is complex. I think, but could be recalling the facts incorrectly, that the original context for theory has to do with a Dionysian orgastic communion with a god. I hold we, as bio-chemical entities, are necessarily junkies. Culture has much to do with the witch's brew we self-generate to propogate our kind and stay safe. Acquiring the habit of critically questioning most, if not all, facets of one's life doesn't make for a fun person. I agree religion has little to do with the degree of intelligence of the practioner. Many of the great minds of our history is almost a list of famous religious personages who, inter alia, furthered learning when the Church of Rome was the only stable institution.

  • Oh, yes what a blazing glory that was.

    I guess a dim smudge [] is better than the wonderous display put on by comet Kohoutek []

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A comet that strikes the earth will look just like that except will increase in size up until impact.

    One day, you'll be outside doing some chores, and then will notice that you have more than one shadow. that shadow will sweep past the original like the arm of a stopwatch. And can eat all the cookies and icecream you want.

  • I swear I'm not making this up. This is an article from yesterday's news page [] on

    PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- NASA approved a mission Thursday designed to send a projectile hurtling into a comet in an effort to bare the dirty space snowball's nucleus for study.

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials gave the Deep Impact mission team the nod to begin full-scale development of the spacecraft for a January 2004 launch.

    The $240-million mission will take 18 months to arrive in the neighbourhood of Comet Tempel 1. Once at the comet, the main spacecraft will deploy a smaller, 350-kilogram impactor to smash into the body July 4, 2005.

    The main spacecraft will remain at a safe distance to measure and image the outflow of gases from the blast hole, the size of a football field and seven storeys deep. The impact should cause the comet to brighten enough to be visible from Earth.

    The artificial cratering of the comet won't destroy it but will kick up enough material to allow scientists to learn more about its composition. Preserved by the deep freeze of space, comets are thought to contain pristine examples of the primitive material that formed the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

    Comet Tempel 1 [] was discovered in 1867. It orbits the sun once every 5.5 years.

  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Sunday March 24, 2002 @12:54AM (#3215168) Homepage
    we are the knights who say "icky icky Ikeya-Zhang zoooboing!"

  • OMG!!! Are you telling me that my favourite Swedish Import store was bought out by the Chinese?!? </joke>
  • by extrasolar ( 28341 ) on Sunday March 24, 2002 @02:09AM (#3215333) Homepage Journal
    Is there any free software that will allow me to track interplanetary objects perhaps with a display? In other words, I would like to know where asteroids, comets, and even planets are at any given time in real space (I'm not much of an amateur astronomer though--so sky coordinates wouldn't be so useful for me). Is there any existing software that would do that?

    If not, can someone point me to or explain to me the mathematics behind the orbits of interplanetary objects? If so, I think I would be able to write the software myself. I suppose I would need to know the conventions used for the orbits of existing objects so I could input new objects into the system.

    Thanks. If you don't like public forums, you can email me at
  • The pics I've seen so far, show this to be a oblong projectile and not your normal everyday round comet.
  • by goingware ( 85213 ) on Sunday March 24, 2002 @03:46AM (#3215452) Homepage
    I'm building my own telescope [], an 8 inch (wide) reflector. You can build a telescope too, very inexpensively and with modest materials.

    It's very interesting and enjoyable. Try it! Maybe you'll discover a comet too someday.

    True, to purchase an 8 inch reflector isn't that bad anymore, but with the skill you gain from building a small telescope you would become able to build a much larger telescope affordably; to buy one, say a 20 inch, would be beyond the financial reach of most working people, but you could reasonably build one. Many people do.

    The amateur telescope making mailing list will be glad to help you out. Mel Bartels has a lot of telescope making links [].

    • Gallelo built a nice one and determined from his observations that the Sun was the center of our Solar System, and the rest is history. Of course he paid dearly for his good work. Here's a quote I ran into just a few ago: "One of the main contributions of the Newton-Kepler-Copernicus-Gallelo group was to replace Ptolmey's epicycles with ellipses in a sun centered coordinate system. The ellipses worked so well that they were used to predict the existence of the three (previously unobserved) outer planets." Anyway, his work lead to many more discoveries by those that came after him.
  • Nucleus closeup (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shooter6947 ( 148693 ) <> on Sunday March 24, 2002 @03:51AM (#3215466) Homepage
    I took this image [] of the comet nucleus from the Steward Observatory [] 1.6m Kuiper Telescope [] on top of Mt. Bigelow in Arizona on March 4. I took it for a friend of mine who's trying to nail down the comet's rotational period -- difficult to do when you can only observe it for about 1/2 hour each night before it sets. This is a raw image with a log stretch -- the dynamic range in brightness between the nucleus (saturated in the center), the coma (fuzzy part around bright area), and the three faint tails heading off to the left is huge (like a factor of several thousand). The area covered by the image is 5 arcminutes on a side, 1/6 the size of the full moon. The little bright lines are cosmic ray hits on the CCD, and the fat blotches (like the one above the coma) are stars.

    Comets are one of the coolest things to observe in the sky because they CHANGE like every night!

    • Very nice image. I'm sure there is some explanation, but I can't see any tail in the image. One knows it's a comet if it has a tail. Would appreciate some technical enlightenment about this.
      • Actually, if I recall correctly, comets don't necessarily have tails. Tails grow larger on a comet as it get closer to the sun and the suns radiation cause gas and ice to get off away from the sun. The comet's tail isn't usually opposite of the path of the comet.

        Even if this comet is close enough to the sun, its possible that the tail is pointing away or towards the earth and therefore not detectable from our point of view.

        No, I'm an expert. Yes, its a nice image :)
      • The problem is the stretch that I had to apply to bring out the tail without making the coma just a blob. Here []'s a stretch that brings out the tail better.
  • by slinted ( 374 )
    APOD ran a great picture [] of Ikeya-Zhang last monday, showing how much it has flaired up since coming into the stronger solar wind. Their links give more info about the comet for those interested in such things.

  • Since there's not exactly been an abundance of actual observations, I'll throw my own: I saw the comet for first time at the beginning of the month (5.3.) with binoculars. Back then XEphem [](a really nice program) estimated its brightness as 5.42 magnitudes; my own estimate was somewhat less, somewhere between 5.5 and 6.0 magnitudes but it's of course difficult to do this for nebulous patches of light compared to stars. ;)

    Since that I've seen it three times (it's been horribly cloudy in Finland during this month!), and only at last week I managed to see the tail faintly. Today weather has been nice, so maybe now I can make another observation.

    I'm a bit pessimistic as far as seeing it without binoculars goes for myself; living at the edge of city means some light pollution and its nebulous appearance definitely does not make things easier. (For comparison, persons with good eyesight should be able to see stars of magnitude 6 with naked eye under good conditions and the brightness of comet should be now around magnitude 4.)

  • I'd drive out somewhere to the country to see it, but I know I'd just keep my nose in a Chinese dictionary the entire time trying to figure out how to pronounce it..

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