Observation Log: The Great Conjunction

Tonight saw the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn since July 1623, so of course I had to go out and see it for myself. As both planets are bright, easily observable objects, the conjunction was plainly visible from the light-polluted heart of Sunnyvale. My only worry was a cloud bank over the Santa Cruz Mountains, but this proved to be a non-factor. I found the best nearby view of the southwestern sky to be the Fair Oaks overpass above Central Expressway. Through my binoculars, while not good enough to clearly resolve the Jovian and Saturnian moons, the two planets were clearly visible close together in the same field of view, with Jupiter, significantly brighter, to the left and a bit below Saturn.

Observation Log: Comet NEOWISE

After observing Comet NEOWISE last night from home via binoculars, I wanted to see what it looked like from somewhere with a darker sky. I headed out to Highway 1 and parked near Bean Hollow State Beach, in a gap in the fog layer, around sunset (8:27pm). The first visible “star” in the sky was Jupiter, easily resolvable in my binoculars.

By around 9:00pm it finally became dark enough to view the comet through my binoculars, although at this time the view was reminiscent of that from my apartment. I passed the time by looking at the Milky Way through Sagittarius and Scorpius, including likely observations of M6 and M7 (although I am hesitant to declare this for sure since I failed to note them in advance).

Within half an hour it finally became dark enough to view Comet NEOWISE properly. The comet’s coma was a bit above the rough midpoint of a line between ι and κ Ursae Majoris, forming a visually pleasing triangle. The tail visibly stretched nearly to 15 Ursae Majoris. Comet NEOWISE was clearly and beautifully visible via binoculars; it was faintly but distinctly visible unaided, making it my first naked-eye comet since Hale-Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997. I suspect it would have been easier to observe from a site that did not feature frequent headlights.

A swiftly advancing oceanic fog cut off observation at about 9:50pm. I drove north and took one last look about ten minutes later, at the junction of Highways 1 and 85. This site is poorly situated for observing due to both a streetlight and a hill obstructing the western view, but I was able to walk just far enough south along Highway 1 to get one last view of the comet.