Comet McNaught in Mid June!

Below is an article about viewing Comet McNaught in mid June! McNaught may brighten to naked eye visibility in the warly pre-dawn skies (3 am or so). Worth keeping a binocular eye on!

The summer solstice is on the 21st and is the reason that June has such long twilights. The sun is at its farthest north (23.5 degrees) of the equator on this day. At 66.5 degrees north latitude (23.5 degrees from the North Pole) the sun is due north and on the horizon at midnight. This is the latitude of the Arctic Circle. The Marquette area is located at 46.5 degrees, which is 20 degrees south of the Arctic Circle. If you face due north at local midnight, the sun will be just barely 20 degrees below the horizon. The sun has to reach 18 degrees below the horizon in order for twilight to fully end and the sky to be considered totally dark. At the summer solstice, the sun’s location in the sky is on the Gemini/Taurus border. Over 2000 years ago, the sun was in the constellation of Cancer on this date. If you look on a globe or world map, the line that marks the sun’s northern limit is still called the Tropic of Cancer. If you live anywhere along that line, the sun will be directly overhead at noon today.

The short nights of June are even shorter in the Upper Peninsula due to our far northern latitude. Nevertheless, because of our location we can enjoy a special sight that most of the country does not experience. The sixth brightest star in the sky is Capella in the constellation Auriga. It is the most northern first magnitude star in the heavens. Capella is circumpolar at the latitude of the Upper Peninsula, and therefore never sets. For those living farther south, it sets in the NW this time of year soon after sunset. From anywhere in the U. P., however, it can be seen all night long moving west to east, skimming along the northern horizon. This beacon will be due north between midnight and 1 a.m. from mid-June to early July. The Lake Superior shoreline will provide the best view of this star as it hovers low over the lake.

NOTE: As stated above, the Marquette area is at 46.5 N. The exact location of this latitude line in Marquette County (starting from the east), is just north of the Lake Superior shoreline along M-28. It bisects Shot Point and continues west where it hits land in the north end of Harvey (just south of the Marquette City limits). It continues west through Negaunee, into northern Ishpeming and out to Koski’s Corner.

Due to our higher latitude, the problem of observing this comet boils down to the beginning of astronomical twilight compared to how high the comet has risen in the NE. The sun has to be at least 18 deg below the horizon in order for the sky to be totally dark. Due to the fact we should be on Central Time and are in Daylight Savings, local midnight is at 1:50 a.m. In June, we only have about 90 minutes on either side of midnight when it is dark. As June progresses, twilight occurs earlier but the comet is also rising earlier as it moves north. The moon is in the way during the last of May and early June, but after that the sky will be moon free. It looks like the best time to view the comet is when it’s at 7th or 8th mag around mid-month and passing through Perseus. Around 3 a.m. it will be 14 deg above the horizon and still have at least 20 min before first light creeps in. The solstice does have one thing that is to our advantage. This is when Comet McNaught is nearing it’s brightest (around 6th mag) and will be passing just above Capella and therefore be circumpolar. However, it will only be 5 or 6 deg above the horizon as it skims along the northern horizon all night long.

Note: stated magnitudes are predictions and therefore the actual brightness may be brighter or dimmer. The comet is currently brighter than predicted at this stage in late May.