How Comets Work

Observing Comets

Many comets are actually discovered by amateur astronomers. To look for comets, here are things to keep in mind:

  • Go to a place where there are few lights.
  • Learn what a comet looks like (observe as many comets as you can) and what a comet does not look like (observe other deep sky objects because they also appear as small fuzzy objects).
  • Use binoculars or a telescope (low magnification, 20-40x).
  • Look toward the east about 30 minutes before sunrise or to the west about 20 minutes after sunset because comets are often spotted by their tails.
  • Sweep the sky slowly near the horizon.

Comets will appear as small, fuzzy objects. This type of observing takes discipline, long hours and patience. On average, comet hunters spend several hundred hours of observing time to find a new comet. However, comets are named after their discoverers, so many people think it is worth the effort. For a discussion of comet hunting, consult The Sky: a User's Guide by David H. Levy, who has discovered several comets including comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that hit Jupiter.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links