* UPDATE 10:30 p.m. CST: The Kp index, which measures magnetic activity and the potential for auroras, reached storm levels of 5 this afternoon but has since dropped to an “active” but non-storm level of 3 for the past six hours. Earlier, auroras flickered over Scotland, northern Ireland, Scandinavia and the Arctic regions. For now, they appear to have moved further north into Canada. I’ve heard of no sightings YET from the northern U.S. Let us know what you see. Thanks!
While we’re waiting for the hoped-for light storm, let’s look ahead to things we can see and predict with certainty. Tonight for instance, you can stand outside and face southwest a half hour after sunset to see a temptingly delicate crescent moon in the west below Venus. It’ll be so thin that in bright twilight, it’s barely there. By tomorrow night the 25th, watch for the moon to thicken a bit and brighten further as it scooches up next to Venus.
Remember Comet Garradd from last summer and fall? With the staying power of a marathon runner, it’s returned to the morning sky still clicking through the stars of Hercules the Strongman. No moon will spoil the darkness for the next 10 nights, so you may want to go out for a look.
Garradd will be easy to pinpoint thanks to some handy guide stars, and at magnitude 6.5-7 it’s bright enough to see in binoculars. A few mornings ago the comet was a small ball of glowing fuzz in 8×40 binoculars, while a look through my 15-inch scope made my eyeballs smile. At low power, the pale green coma with two soft, diffuse tails sticking out either end was a beautiful sight. I figured it was time to share.
The best time to observe Comet Garradd is when Hercules is highest in the east before the start of dawn or around 5-5:30 a.m. You can start by finding the bright star Vega of Summer Triangle fame in the east-northeast. From there, navigate up to the trapezoidal pattern of stars nicknamed the “Keystone” of Hercules. One side of the Keystone features the sumptuous globular cluster M13. The comet lies along the other side and moves slowly northward in the coming weeks. Let us know if you have success in seeing it.