The Comet Ikeya Seki Page

There's been a lot of attention paid to comets lately, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, with first Hyakutake, then Hale Bopp gracing the skies. There's no doubt they have both been beautiful comets, and, through the Internet, millions of people have been able to share information about them. Just do a search on "Hale Bopp" and see...

I've been a comet junkie since I was about 8. The first comet I actually saw was Comet Seki in 1962, I think. It wasn't very spectacular, but it was a comet.

When a really Great comet came along, I was ready for it. That comet was Ikeya Seki, in October 1965. One of a family known as "sun-grazers", its orbit takes it within a million miles of the surface of the sun. Some members of the family actually crash onto the Sun! Those that survive the encounter are dazzlingly bright. Ikeya Seki could be seen by the naked eye adjacent to the Sun, in full daylight - that's bright.

After it passed perihelion, it moved into the morning sky, and was best seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In my case, from Canberra, latititude 35°S.

thumnail of cometWhen it reappeared in the morning twilight sky, away from the Sun, it was a truly breathtaking sight. I rose at about 3.15am the first morning. What greeted my eyes in the faint morning twilight looked like a searchlight beam. All I could do was stand there for a few minutes gaping. Then I went in and woke the others. It had the same effect on them. One of those experiences you have a once or twice in a lifetime, if you're lucky. [click on the thumbnail image for a larger image]

On the morning of the 31st October, the comet nucleus was still around zeroth magnitude, but the tail was so dazzling you didn't pay much attention to the nucleus.

I spent some hours that day drawing the comet, as seen from the balcony of our house in Canberra. Those who know the area may recognise Mount Ainslie on the horizon. The two stars near the comet are Gamma and Epsilon Corvi. I checked it again the following morning. And the next, and the next until it slowly faded.

Every comet I've seen since then -- and I've seen quite a few -- has been a disappointment. Halley was a real dud. Hale Bopp was interesting, as were Bennet in 1970 and West in 1976. But if I could see any one of them again, it'd be Ikeya Seki.



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COPYRIGHT: The image of Comet Ikeya Seki is Copyright © David Nicholls 1965, 1997. It may only be reproduced elsewhere, in printed or electronic form, with permission of the copyright holder. If you need a copy for publication purposes, I have one available at 4 times higher resolution.