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Copyright 2009 Starry Mirror



Astronomy From West Virginia


BRIDGEPORT, WV (S-M) - Comet Christensen, 2006 W3, has been passing through Sagitta this last week of August, and we have been watching from our small observatory here in the foothills of West Virginia.


The comet is fairly bright, at about magnitude 9, and is quite condensed. We were able to find it by sweeping the area next to the arrow of Sagitta with a ten-inch reflector. With a four-inch refractor, the comet was not so obvious, and we needed a chart to pinpoint its exact location.


The comet looks like a little fuzzy ball. We thought some elongation of the coma was visible in the ten-inch. Through the four-inch, the comet looked like a faint, silver ghost. A dark sky is essential if using a smaller telescope.


On the days surrounding September 4, 2009, the comet will lie directly off a line formed by Altair and Tarazed, the two bright stars in the constellation Aquila. Just follow a line from Altair to the slightly fainter Tarazed, and then for about one degree further. This will be the easiest chance to see the comet during the current apparition.


Anyone in the northern hemisphere who wants to see the comet should look right away. It is heading south fast, and it will soon disappear behind the Sun. When it reappears next year, it will be low in Capricornus, and it will then spend the next few years charging through the southern skies. Southern observers with large telescopes will be able to follow the comet for years as it slowly fades away.


The comet reached its closest approach to the Sun in July 2009, but it was actually quite distant, at about three times the Earth's distance from the Sun. At this distance, it must be a fairly active comet to be visible at all. The orbit is almost a perfect parabola, and this comet is never coming back. So, give it a look right away! - GW

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