C/2006 P1 (McNaught) Synchronic Bands – JAN 20, 2007

Above image is created with charcoal on a preprinted starfield from Starry Night Pro, and then inverted to a positive image. Click image for a larger version (92K)

Above image is created with white Conté pencil on black paper with a pre-traced starfield from Starry Night Pro. Click image for a larger version (64K)

Observation Notes

Well, just when I thought this amazing comet would finish the rest of it’s presence in the southern hemisphere as a spectacle I would only be able to enjoy through photos, it pulled another surprise. Remnants of its huge tail began to be observed by observers in the northern hemisphere. A very rare feature, sometimes called synchronic bands, began to appear and to drift away from the sun. For those in the southern hemisphere, this makes for an unbelievably gorgeous sight in the evening sky. For those of us in the mid-northern latitudes, it presents an opportunity revisit this beauty for a bit longer.

After analyzing various recent photos of the comet from the southern hemisphere, I printed out a star chart, and marked the area in Piscis Austrinus where the most northern segments of the tail fragments were last imaged. I printed out a couple more sheets to take with me for sketches, and headed north of town to escape more stubborn clouds. After a 30 mile drive to Wupatki National Monument, I entered the park and drove in search of a parking spot with a good view of the western horizon. About 4 miles down the empty park road, I was surprised–but then again maybe not too surprised–to find Brent Archinal parked along the side of the road with his tripod and camera set up. Whaddaya know! So I set up next to him and waited for twilight to darken while enjoying a beautiful view of Venus and the crescent Moon setting together.

By about 6:50 PM with the sun about 14 degrees below the horizon, and the head of the comet 19 degrees below, a bright spoke began to show itself midway between Fomalhaut and Venus. It was amazingly long–about 20 – 25 degrees from the horizon up to Phi Aquarii. As the sky darkened more, and the Zodiacal Light became very prominent, more bands began to appear in a fan running from Piscis Austrinus through much of Aquarius. I finished shooting several photos at 7:05 PM when my batteries ran out. (I’m all about great planning.) I then spent the next half hour sketching every bit I could detect, which turned out to be a very good investment. My photos didn’t turn out well at all, and the sketches showed much more detail than the best shot (which can be seen below).

You’ll notice not one, but two sketches above. Both make use of a pre-printed star chart from Starry Night Pro so that I could concentrate on the comet tails during the limited time before it set. The first is a charcoal sketch using a chamois to blend in the zodiacal light and skyglow above the horizon. I then used a blending stump to add the synchronic bands. The second sketch is made with Conté pencil on black Strathmore Artagain paper. I traced the stars onto the paper from the same starchart, and then used a blending stump to add both the Zodiacal Light and synchronic bands (since the Chamois didn’t seem to work so well there). I’m definitely partial to the results of the first charcoal sketch. The Conté sketch does look better in person though.

Step 1

Move mouse over image to view labels.

Subject C/2006 P1 (McNaught) – Synchronic Bands
Classification Comet Tail Fragments
Position* Through Piscis Austrinus and Aquarius
Size Longest Segment: ~25°
Date/Time January 20, 2007, 07:00 – 07:40 PM MST
(January 21, 2007, 02:00 – 02:40 UT)
Observing Loc. Wupatki National Monument, AZ
Instrument Naked Eye
Conditions Clear, breezy
Transparency ~ Mag 6.8+ NELM
*Sources Starry Night Pro Plus v. 5.8

6 Replies to “C/2006 P1 (McNaught) Synchronic Bands – JAN 20, 2007”

  1. Nice job! Thanks for passing on the sketches and the description of a remarkable showing of a southern comet from the northern hemisphere.
    In case you haven’t seen it here’s a photo taken by McNaught himself showing the synchronic bands nicely.

  2. This site is awesome, can’t wait to show it to my boys. Very detailed. They love this sort of thing—Alma

  3. Dear Jeremy,
    there are very few of us even thinking along those lines. Ecstatic is the dominant word. History can not thankyou enough.
    Checkout my McNaught pics on pgs19, 21,22 & 23 Spaceweather.com
    I made my last naked-eye observation on the morning of March 1st here (Feb 28th U.T.). A small trinagular patch roughly 2×2 degrees. Yes the mighty have fallen, barely mag. +6.0.
    You’ve seen plenty of light curves printed out before. Well we just surfed the initial downslope of C/2006 P1. What a ride!!!!
    I am actually jealous of you. That is the one really reliable things about mechanical cameras. The really best ones have no worries about batteries. I stuck with film to interconnect more fully with the images of Hale-Bopp, Hyakutake, & Halley, that we had previously recorded through the same medium.
    I saw West plunge into the evening twilight 31 years ago from down here in New Zealand. In very bright twilight we could see half a degree of scimitar-like tail curving away to the left. we last saw it on Feb 20th, 1976. A MONTH later we heard about this amazing display for northern dawn viewers. 4-5 months later we saw the photographs in S&T ( they came by sea mostly. The southern charts were often 3 months ahead of the northern ones). Those images of the “One that got away,” have been indelibly imprinted on my psyche ever since.I never thought that we who missed out in ’76 would be so rewarded, so soon.I missed West at its’best, but with this one I chased it down hard. Well over 1,000 km over a four week period.
    I can tell by the quality of the images on this website that you are a practised observer. We owe you many thanks for your keen eye and skills.
    Cheers for now,

  4. Ben and Victor, thanks very much. I had seen the photos McNaught took himself, and they were outstanding. It was great to see that he was able to do such a beautiful job on photographs of the comet he discovered.
    Alma, I’m glad you like the site. I hope the boys enjoy it too. Let me know if they have any questions!

  5. Ian, it’s great to hear your experiences. Although I really wish I could have seen the huge display you observed from the Southern Hemisphere, I’m still excited I got to witness some very rare phenomenon in being able to see it naked eye in full daylight, and witnessing those gauzy striated bands overlayed on the cone of the Zodiacal Light.
    There are times I wish I had one of my old manual SLRs to shoot film images. I wouldn’t have to deal with amp glow, hot pixels, sensor noise, or dead batteries. The flip side is that with the digital camera, I can check my focus, tracking, and exposure success every few minutes to be sure I’m on the right track. I guess I just need to get an old film SLR off eBay to play around with in conjunction with my digital SLR. …that, and learn how to do knife-edge focusing.
    Great work on your photographs, by the way. My favorite is one you shot on January 30. It shows the striae across the broad fan of the tail beautifully, and also does a nice job showing the bluish ion tail emerging like a stinger. With all of that resting on a rich star field with the Small Magellanic Galaxy, it’s an outstanding shot. Oh! And the image with the comet tail rising from the chimney is a stroke of genius. Great photos!
    In case anyone hasn’t seen the photographs Ian is mentioning, be sure to check the whole gallery at Spaceweather.com. Ian’s images are on pages 19, 21, 22 and 23.
    Thanks for posting!

Comments are closed.