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THE OUTDOORS ALMANAC | MIGRATIONS

Streakers, three of 'em

May 04, 2004

It wasn't supposed to be this good. Sky gawkers were on track to see something that hasn't been recorded since 1911: two naked-eye comets in the sky at the same time. Then veteran comet hunter William Bradfield of Yankalilla, South Australia, picked out a third hazy object in the skies in late March -- a find verified in mid-April. According to Sky News magazine, Bradfield's discovery marks the 18th comet (yes, all named Bradfield) that he's found visually, that is, using a telescope or, in some cases, just binoculars. Bradfield's adversaries: robo-telescopes, or automated surveys, had previously discovered the two other comets, known as NEAT (Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking) and LINEAR (Lincoln Laboratory Near Earth Asteroid Research). Tony Cook, a sky watcher at Griffith Observatory, saw LINEAR as "a hazy bluish star" from his Pasadena home on April 23 and a day later caught the tail of Comet Bradfield. Photographer Wally Pacholka snapped this image of Comet Bradfield on April 25 at 4:40 a.m. in Joshua Tree National Park. Comet watchers will be out this month searching the skies to find Bradfield (said to be waning in brightness), NEAT (best around Wednesday) and LINEAR (hugs the horizon before dawn until Wednesday or Thursday). Look up in the evening sky May 14 and you'll see Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter in a line as NEAT passes between Saturn and Jupiter. "Not only is it on the line between those two planets, it's also in the midpoint between the two," Cook said. "Star parties" with telescopes and other viewing equipment happen at 8 p.m. Saturday in Yucca Valley (www.andromedasociety.com) and from 2 to 10 p.m. May 22 at Griffith Observatory parking lot (www.griffithobs.org/Special.html).

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