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The Sky's "NEW" Star - Comet C/2004 Q2 Machholz

Backyard AstronomyComets come, and comets go. Comet C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) is the current "star" of the evening sky.

AOAS member Mike Holloway's image of Comet C/2004 Q2 Machholz from Van Buren, AR.
Comet C/2004 Q2 Machholz is a rarity in comets these days. It wasn't discovered by an automated search program. Instead, it was discovered by amateur astronomer Don Machholz of California. Machholz was performing a "sweep" for comets in an area closer to our Sun than what an automated army of asteroid detection programs usually searches. Mr. Machholz noticed a faint "fuzzy" last August 2004, and then properly notified the appropriate entities for reporting comets and was given credit for his sole discovery of this comet that now bears his name. This is one of several areas where amateur astronomers are still able to make discoveries and observations that are welcomed by the professional astronomical community.

Holloway's Comet Machholz and the "Pleiades" cluster taken Jan 7, 2005
Members of the Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society's Executive Committee were meeting at the Society's Coleman Observatory on Saturday, January 8th. After the meeting had adjourned around 7:30, members stepped outside to use their "double-barreled BIG GUN", the 20 X 100 binoculars that the club purchased last summer. The comet was located about 1-2 degrees west (above) the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus. The Pleiades are also referred to as the "Seven Sisters". Comet Machholz was a relatively easily seen "smudge" of light near the cluster with the naked eye, but through the big binoculars the comet filled the field of view to overflowing. The core of the comet's head was nearly stellar in appearence and the tails were spread away from the head down (east) and north (left) of the nucleus.

Anyone with binoculars or a small telescope may find this new comet by first locating the Pleiades on any clear night shortly after darkness has fallen. Face east and look nearly straight overhead for the Pleiades. Trace a line to your left towards the "pole star", Polaris, and scan with your eyes or any optical aid in and along that line between Polaris and the Pleiades. The comet will be an easily seen, large, greyish-green haze in any telescope or binoculars, and from dark skies (away from city lights) it may be located with your eyes as a small and faint spot along that trajectory. The comet will continue moving towards Polaris at about 1-2 degrees per day over the next several weeks and will remain a beautiful object for probably 2-3 more months.

Comet discoverer Don Machholz
AOAS comet astrophotographer Mike Holloway of Van Buren has imaged many comets in the last 3-4 years and his images of Comet C/2004 Q2 Machholz are seen in this article. Mike uses a 4" Takahashi FSQ-106 refractor telescope with an SBIG STX-2000 CCD imaging camera. Images of Machholz and other comets may be seen by going to Mike's Comet C/2004 Q2 Machholz page at:http://hometown.aol.com/tricks46/myhomepage/photo.html?mtbrand=AOL_US

Don Machholz is not a newcomer to comet discovery, and C/2004 Q2 is just his latest. He is an Honorary member of the San Jose Astronomical Association as well as many other clubs and makes his home in Colfax, CA some 40 miles N. of Sacramento in the foothills of Northern California. He observes from his home observatory at an elevation of about 2200 ft. To learn more about Don Machholz and his personal story of this discovery (his 10th!), click the link below. http://us.geocities.com/donmachholz/index.html
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