Students Capture Comet over Ponty

Comets are not usually hyped by the media unless they are as obvious as the stupidity of George W Bush.  The disappointing shows of comets West (1976) and Kohoutek (1973) didn’t help.  But Hale-Bopp and Hyukatake at the end of the millennium gave us a show to be proud of.

January 2007 has brought some celestial confidence to our news reporters; the magnificent comet McNaught 2006 P1 has not disappointed – the net is littered with pictures of this wonderful apparition, the brightest comet in almost a decade, visible to the naked eye after sunset, and challenging the supremacy of Venus in the western sky. We just had to catch it – all we had to do was get rid of the rubbish weather we’ve been experiencing for months.

January 10 provided the opportunity – about 40 students piled into varied forms of transport (I’m sure I saw a rickshaw) and headed to Eglwysilan (passing the pub with brief regret) in mid afternoon to prepare for sunset and spectacular views of this heavenly beast. We were not to be disappointed. Comet McNaught put on a wonderful show, being visible firstly to binoculars as twilight descended, and then brightening to dominate the western sky, sporting a tail that was about 7 degrees long. Telescopes revealed much detail in the head of the comet, an elongated coma and a bright, snowball-like nucleus. Ooh’s and Aah’s all round as we compared the brightness of McNaught with Venus just to its east.  The comet remained visible for about 45 mins after sunset, by which time most students had succumbed to hypothermia or were drawn to the Rose and Crown like survivors in a parched land. 

written by Martin Griffiths 


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