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January 11, 2007

Heavenly spectacle

No, I'm not talking about Pamela Anderson but of a spectacle that is really IN the heavens. Most of us can remember Comet Hale-Bop back in 1997. Anyone with a set of binoculars recieved a spectacular view as the comet came as close as 1.31 AU to our planet. An AU (astonomical unit) is equal to 93 million miles, the distance of earth from Sol. There are a few out there who actually saw Halley's Comet in 1996 (I was a Senior in High School) which passed a whopping .60 AU to us. This comet will be visible in 2062- I will be 93 years old; my youngest daughter will be 57. Very rarely do you get to see Halley's comet twice in a lifetime.

For the first time in 30 years the brightest comet is visible in the western sky. Comet McNaught can be see by the naked eye and brillantly with a set of field glasses just above the horizon as the sun sets. Viewers in teh northern hemisphere will have the best view until the comet passes behind the sun then the southern hemisphere will get their chance. FYI, a comet's tail always points towards the sun even when traveling towards the star. Gravity is a bitch.

Here is a great shot of Comet McNaught.

There is a bit of distressing news from the heavens, however. Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

On 12 Jan 2007 there were 832 known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids. But since George Bush had nothing to do with them the MSM did not see a reason to report them- unless one of them had actually hit us. I hear Pelosi is trying to gain support to see if the Bush administration had any information concerning the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs.

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