From today’s journal entry, the 30th through 34th day’s observation since December 26 when Comet Hale-Bopp was recovered in the pre-dawn sky. It will become circumpolar at this site on March 11 and remain so through April 09, a period of 30 days. FEBRUARY 26-MARCH 06. During this period I saw Comet Hale-Bopp on six occasions, although only today (March 06), was I finally able to spend some time viewing it at the telescope because of either poor seeing conditions or narrow observing windows.

While driving west for an evening meeting in Belcourt on February 26, I located it within a couple minutes of searching the northwestern sky, through a murky windshield and headlights, shortly after 7 o’clock in bright twilight, sunset having occurred at 6:16. At that time it was at 8.7o altitude and 308.7o in azimuth, and I was able to follow it until a quarter of the hour when it was than at only 3.3o and 316.7o, respectively.

My next opportunity was a brief sighting during morning twilight the following Sunday (March 02) while walking to the observatory, and again that evening while at the house through a north window in the family room over the course of a 75-minute period with binoculars.

The same scene was repeated the following evening, March 03. Than again last night (March 05), I found it while again driving west several minutes after 7 o’clock (13.9o altitude and 310.7o in azimuth) and I was able to follow it for the next fifty minutes (8.5o and 318.2o, respectively) until it was enveloped by horizon cloud. In the week’s time since first sighting it as an evening object, the comet has become much easier to locate with the naked eye both because of its increased magnitude (sunset occurred 11 minutes later on March 5 than on February 26), and greater altitude (having climbed more than 5o during the period).

This morning I awoke at half past four and after checking the sky from the north upstairs hall window and seeing the comet and its fine tail well above the trees through three panes of glass, I dressed hurriedly and reached the observatory at a quarter of 5 o’clock. The naked eye view was stunning in a sky so transparent that I had little trouble locating a 6.4 magnitude star near Polaris (using the RASC OBSERVER’S HANDBOOK 1997 chart, p. 41), the summer Milky Way girdled the eastern sky in dazzling light, the comet’s bright coma exceeded only by Vega and Arcturus, while it tail reached well up into Cygnus roughly 15o (both dust and ion tails clearly visible).

The view was a sight one wanted to share with friends. After uncovering the SCT, I spent perhaps 10 minutes scanning the apparition with a 2-inch 40 mm ultra wide ocular at 32x, the morning’s -1oF temperature not phasing my pleasure. Thinking the view was too good NOT to share with others, I finally walked into the office, grabbed the Minolta and two lens, and walked out again to the telescope. After first trying a 50 mm lens, I settled on taking a wide angle frame, and so attached the camera and 28 mm for a piggyback ride.

Because of the telescope’s angle, the view nicely framed Hale-Bopp in the lower left, Deneb near center, and Vega in the upper right. As twilight was just becoming discernible, I shot a 7’00” exposure at 5:36:01 while hand guiding on the pseudo nucleus using a 102x Ortho Guide ocular. God willing, I’ll do the same tomorrow, but will do so an hour earlier.

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