By Jena Valenzuela
RENO, Nev. – Every Tuesday from Oct. 15, 2013 to Jan. 7, 2014 at the Nell J. Redfield Campus Observatory in Reno, Nev. a small group of people meet at 4:30 a.m. to watch the early morning sky – during the best conditions for viewing comets.
A handful of devoted stargazers and astronomy-enthusiasts come out in the below-freezing temperatures during the early morning hours to watch Comet ISON, a comet traveling through our solar system. At about 1.2 to 3 kilometers in diameter, the comet has the potential to be a bright comet as it makes its way around our sun.
Comet Tuesdays are hosted by the University of Nevada, Reno Physics Departments and Tahoe Star Tours. They have partnered with Celestron Telescopes to hold a raffle on Dec. 17 for all those who have attended the event. They have the chance to win special astronomical binoculars donated by Celestron Telescopes.
Tony Berendsen, founder of Tahoe Star Tours, operates the telescope during Comet Tuesdays and they analyze the pictures they take.
Berendsen estimates that Comet ISON is currently 100 millions miles away from Earth and is traveling at 80,000 miles per hour. As it passes the sun, it will be traveling at around 750,000 miles per hour.
He also estimates that the comet will get brighter as is gets closer to the sun. Although not visible to the naked eye, comet ISON has a visibility magnitude of about 8, with 6 being the magnitude at which bodies in the sky can be seen by the naked eye.
Berendsen explains the comet’s orbit as parabolic and after it travels around the sun, it will likely not return to our solar system again.
“It’s coming from an area called the Ort Cloud . . . which is further than Pluto. . . . It’s going to whip around the sun, it’s going to get so much speed . . . it will get sling-shotted out of the solar system,” Berendsen says.
Two University of Nevada, Reno students also attended the Nov. 5 Comet Tuesday to work on an astronomy project about the comet.
Ross Ramage, an astronomic physics minor at the University of Nevada, Reno and Teddy Rodrigue, a graduate of the same university, are tracking Comet ISON’s progress as it makes it journey around the sun. They take pictures through the Celestron telescope to calculate the comet’s size and location.
Berendsen and his son Ryan reached out to the University of Nevada, Reno to put on the Comet Tuesday viewing events to provide people an opportunity to learn about Comet ISON and to view it through the telescope.
“The whole deal really was to try to bring awareness to the fact that we got this cool comet going around the sun . . . Comets like comet ISON . . . they’re a little rare,” the elder Berendsen said.
As a type of comet that is fairly rare, a few dedicated astronomy-lovers get up extra early and layer up for Comet Tuesdays.
A member of the Nevada Astronomical Society attending Comet Tuesday on Nov. 5, Gigi Giles said, “Comet’s are fun, they’re exciting. You never know what to expect from them.”
“I’m excited to finally get to see the comet . . . It’s probably a one-time deal for comet ISON . . . so I wanted to come out and see it definitely,” said Keith Vangilder, a member of the Nevada Astronomical Society at the Nov. 5 Comet Tuesday.