Wandering visitor offers celestial show
The night skies of Tahoe-Truckee, clear and starry, inspire visitors and residents alike. A wandering visitor, Comet Hale-Bopp, will highlight our celestial showcase over the next several weeks.
To ideally view the comet, a few tips on when, where and how to look are in order. The comet is expected to increase in brightness and tail length around April 1 when it could rival the brightest stars in the sky. The best viewing times during this period will be between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Where to view the comet entails finding a site with little or no ambient lighting. Because the comet will be near the horizon, choose a viewing site with as clear a view as possible to the north east.
How to view the comet is answered by the anatomy of the human eye. No special equipment is needed. The best views will be with the unaided eye or wide field binoculars. There are a couple of tricks to using your eyes to their maximum potential. The first is dark adaptation – the eye becomes more sensitive to faint light when it has been kept in the dark for 15-20 minutes. On this note, flashlights should be covered with red cellophane or the bulbs should be painted red.
The second trick is a consequence of the fact that the periphery of our vision is more sensitive to faint light than the center of our vision if we direct the center of our vision. If we direct the center of our gaze slightly off to one side of the comet’s tail while concentrating on the tail itself, the splendor of the tail will more easily reveal itself. For information on photographing the comet contact the Astronomy Department at Sierra Nevada College. Fleischman Planetarium has many programs scheduled for comet viewing in the weeks to come. Dress warmly – down parkas, insulated ski pants, hats and gloves are in order.
John Rosetto is an astronomy instructor at Sierra Nevada College
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