This year my annoyance with astronomy exaggerations started off with the years first meteor shower, the Quadrantids (QUA). I ran across an article on LiveScience that starts out:
How to watch the Quadrantids – one of the best meteor showers all year – on Jan. 2 and 3
I’m going to need a citation for that, except there isn’t one because its not true. One could say its potentially one of the strongest meteor showers but its certainly not among the best. Not this year with a nearly full moon out on the peak night. I get that the headline was derived from the linked NASA article but maybe the author should consult more resources like the IMO article when writing. At least the author later writes “short-but-spectacular show” because that is true and one of the big issues with QUA is it is typically only highly active for a few hours.
My big issue with this article is it sets up unrealistic expectations for readers. It says the shower is great but fails to qualify why it could be and more importantly fails to highlight the difficulties of viewing it. Unlike the IMO article I linked above. Maybe a better headline would have been: “How to watch the Quadrantids – first meteor shower of the year”. Because this years Quadrantids were weak.
About the same time as the Quadrantids I started see headlines like “Dazzling Green Comet”, “Rare Comet Approaching Earth”, “Closest in 50,000 years”, etc. Oh boy, you know this isn’t going to go well for the general public. Talk about setting up unrealistic expectations! Seems the more hype the less the event lives up to it and unfortunately that was true again for the general public (1) .
Comet 2022/E3 ZTF is an interesting comet from the perspective of its age and orbit. As 2022 progressed it became clear in the amateur astronomy community the comet might, just maybe, reach naked eye visible. If you were outside the city in dark skies. But even that was a bit pointless when the comet was closest to Earth the moon was out for most all of the night.
I did have some clear skies the night ZTF was closest to Earth and I can say that the average person would never see this with their naked eyes. I certainly did not and I knew exactly where to look. It was easily visible in binoculars but very washed out with the moonlight. That is it was just a faint smudge. With a telescope the comets core was well defined but the rest of the detail was lost in a moon lite sky.
Around the 10th of February comet ZTF was approaching Mars and fortunately my skies were clearing as well. Over the next few nights I imaged ZTF by Mars. Examining the images on screen as they were downloading I was struck by wonderful paring of a this green comet with a reddish orange Mars against a dark sky.
This may have been the best time to share the comet with the general public. To have a live digital feed for people to see (usually called EAA – Electronically Assisted Astronomy). By itself the comet would have looked nice on a screen but when it was near Mars the sight was very pretty.
- I was impressed with this authors reflection on trying to view the comet.