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Comet McNaught settles over the skies of Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday.
AP photo by Bob Hallinen
Comet McNaught settles over the skies of Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday.

Comet may not be visible in area

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

As Comet McNaught travels to the other side of the sun Friday, it's unlikely that you're going to get a view of it in North Alabama.

A spokesman with the National Weather Service in Huntsville said it's going to be mostly cloudy in the Decatur area Friday, making it difficult to see the comet.

But, even if Mother Nature cooperates, it's unlikely that anyone in the area will be able to see the comet, according to the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University.

The problem with viewing the comet at sunset in the Northern Hemisphere is that it's too close to the horizon.

Loren Ball of Decatur is an amateur astronomer, and he agrees with the center. To even have the possibility of seeing the comet in Decatur, you would need clear skies and an unobstructed view to the southwest, he said.

"Trees in a backyard would obstruct a person's view," Ball said.

Ball said the best possibility of seeing the comet was at sunset Thursday, but even then, it would have required a trained eye.

"You could use the planet Venus in the southwest as a guide, but most people wouldn't know what to look for," he said. "They would be expecting to see some big ball of fire and that wouldn't be there."

Comet McNaught is expected to move around the sun Friday and will no longer be visible in the western hemisphere.

Anyone who doesn't see the comet this time will have to wait 156 years for its return, Ball said.

"This comet has an odd orbit compared to planets," he said. "Its orbit is elongated, shaped more like a pencil."

Australian astronomer Robert H. McNaught discovered Comet McNaught on Aug. 7, 2006, while looking at a photograph taken from the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran in northwestern New South Wales, Australia.

At that time, the comet was a faint and distant object. Initially, scientists thought the comet was a dirty snowball, Ball said.

"Now that we have gotten space craft closer to the comet, we realize it's more dirt that ice," he said.

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