Jul 13 2020

Sighting NEOWISE


Yesterday I managed a lovely sighting of everybody’s favorite new comet, NEOWISE, which has been gracing our morning sky for the last few days.

Well.  Gracing the sky of those with no cloud cover!  It’s been cloudy and rainy and even thunderstorming for a full week here in southern New England.  But yesterday, as I was coming home from the office, I saw that we had, miraculously, a perfect, clear sky. And since I tend to leave my office around 2:30, 3:00 AM, all I had to do was stay up for about another hour to reach the best pre-dawn sighting time.

Unlike most comets that amble through our skies, it can actually be seen with the naked eye.  And if you’re an old hand at star-watching, like me, it’s not hard to find.

However, if you’re not an old hand at star-watching and backyard astronomy — it can be next to impossible to spot! So, here are some tips.


Space, as Douglas Adams famously said, is Big. The comet is little.   It’s a teeny-tiny thing in the great big sky.

All those great photos you’ve seen on the internet, with the big comet and flashy tail filling the image? Yeah, they were made with big fat lenses on the camera.  Telephoto, and such. Or made with digital cameras with super-high resolution, creating an image that you can later expand the hell out of and crop down to something big and dramatic.

But up there in the sky — it’s little. Still absolutely worth seeing! It’s like a beautiful, eerie little ghost…



Binoculars are sadly underrated as aids to star-gazing.  But really, your average modern binoculars are about as good as the very first telescope that Galileo peered through. That pair you have in the back of your closet will do just fine. (Be sure you know how to focus them.)

Once you’ve spotted the comet with binoculars, you’ll find you can also see it without them — just, you know, smaller.

But you might not be able to see the tail very well with the naked eye, because its light is fighting horizon haze, light pollution, and the approaching sunrise.  Those things can (and probably will) drown out the dim tail entirely…   But with binoculars, you will see the tail.

All this, of course, assuming that you:


It’s currently in the morning sky, northeast, an hour or so before dawn. But as instructions go, that’s a little vague.

Try looking for Venus, currently crazily brilliant in  our morning sky, in the east.  It’ll be the brightest thing you can see.  Start there, and then scan along to the left, with a little bit of up and down as you go.  You should encounter the comet along the way.

Or, use a chart!  This article in Sky & Telescope online has some excellent charts.  Scroll down past the big dramatic photos to reach them.



The comet is a morning object in the northeast until the 15th,  and becomes an early evening object in the northwest from the 14th onward.  Yes, there’s an overlap when you can see it in the morning, and in the evening.  This is not as weird as you might think.  Because it’s scooting along in the north part of our sky.

Once it’s an evening object, you can use the Big Dipper to find it… but it will get dimmer.  Because, sadly, it is going away….

Meanwhile, it’s now past 4AM, which is prime viewing time — but now it’s gone all cloudy here!  Alas.

Well, time to pack it in, and go home… maybe there will be a crack in the clouds in the northeast?


Jul 8 2020

Well, hello there.


It’s been (oh, wow) about three months since I last posted here.  But fear not: I have not abandoned my blog.  I’ve just been… occupied.

I had some personal stuff that needed attention (nothing dire; don’t worry); and simultaneously some unavoidable other tasks (think:DMV in the age of pandemic);  and then minor things that became hard because of being simultaneous with everything else —

— All on top of THE STATE OF THE WORLD, especially the United States.  Which state itself consists of three huge things going on simultaneously.

So, with everything all together, I’ve been kind of exhausted and not much inclined to blog…

But it’s been too long!  So, here I am.

I still have things to say… and I will, in the coming weeks, also say some stuff about the Great Big Things going on in the world — largely because silence is open to misinterpretation.

But… not today!  Today all I can handle is just stepping out of the general chaos and exhaustion, looking around, and basically being okay with my plans.

Oh, and I really did not want to miss the opportunity to make you aware of Jo Walton’s new book:


Or What You Will by [Jo Walton]

I’m so excited about this.  I was at her reading at Scintillation last year, where she read the first chapter, and I just fell in love with it.

Now, the first chapter is all that I have read so far — it just arrived on my Kindle today — But rereading that chapter just confirmed my previous delight.

For a taste, here’s the very first paragraph:

She won’t let me tell all the stories. She says it’ll make them all sound the same. She’s had too much of my tricks and artfulness, she says. I have been inspiration, but now she is done with me. So I am trapped inside this cave of bone, this hollow of skull, this narrow and limited point of view that is all I am allowed, like a single shaft from a dark lantern. She has all the power. But sometimes she needs me. Sometimes I get out.

Jo Walton, Or What You Will, Tor Books, 2020

In other news: the New Decameron is continuing, in a slightly different form.  After 100 days of stories and excerpts to delight us during our pandemic isolation, they are moving forward by reposting the original 100 offerings.  So, if you missed them the first time around, you can still get to see them all.

In other other news: A friend bought himself a Tesla.  And sold me his previous car.  2009 Toyota Venza.