Comet McNaught Over Atlanta

Comet McNaught (officially designated C/2006 P1) has been described as an unusually bright comet, but I found it challenging to locate. I've tried and failed three times to find it this week.

Tonight I went to Stone Mountain, where there is a great, unhindered horizon.

To find the comet, it might help to consider the following:

1. McNaught is not a naked-eye comet until after you located it.
2. Use binoculars or a very low power to locate the comet.
3. The viewing window is very brief. With sunset a little after 5:30, I did not find the comet until 6:12 PM. It disappeared at 6:30 PM.
4. A clear horizon not only means no trees -- it also means no haze or clouds.

The photo above was my best shot, and was taken at 6:18 PM.

In the photo below, you can see the progress of the comet, from 6:18 PM ET (or 18:18), until 18:29. The tick marks show the location of the comet at 6:18, 6:21, 6:23 and 6:29.

I met a fellow hiker on the trail, and he had no trouble at all finding it. All I did was point out a particular building, which was serving as a "pointer" to the comet. He was able to see the nucleus and the tail.

The comet was 16 degrees to the right of Venus, and a mere 2 or 3 degrees above the horizon.

Comet McNaught was discovered by Australian astronomer Robert McNaught on August 7, 2006. The comet has been described as the brightest in 30 years. It will sweep to within 15.8 million miles, less than half the distance of Mercury from the sun.

If you go to Stone Mountain and can't find the comet -- at least you can enjoy the sunset.

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