COMET RESOURCE CENTER

CURRENTLY OBSERVABLE COMETS

Last updated: December 1, 2018

This page will list all the comets that I am currently observing, in west-to-east order from low in the western evening sky to low in the eastern morning sky. It will provide brief information about a comet's location, motion, and current brightness at the time of the update, as well as, when appropriate, notes about potential future activity. The page will also list any asteroidal objects I am following that might potentially be comets, and for the benefit of comet observers in the southern hemisphere it will also list those comets (and other objects) that are bright enough for observation but that are not accessible from the northern hemisphere. Comets (and other objects) that are expected to be 9th magnitude or brighter (and that are also easily accessible for observation) at the time of the given update will be highlighted in red print. Orbital elements and ephemerides for the comets and other objects listed here can be obtained via the Minor Planet Center's Ephemeris Service or via JPL Horizons. I expect to update this page on approximately a bi-weekly basis.

                   

Comet 78P/Gehrels 2 (no. 654)

This comet has remained a very faint object of 14th magnitude ever since I first picked it up in late September, and even though still four months away from perihelion passage it is pulling away from Earth and appears to be fading; it wasn't much above the limit of detectability when I most recently observed it a few nights ago, and I suspect I am probably about finished with it. It is presently located in central Aquarius 1 1/2 degrees south-southeast of the star 30 Aquarii and is traveling towards the east-northeast at just over 20 arcminutes per day; it passes half a degree north of the star Theta Aquarii on December 10.

Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 (no. 498)

Following the large outburst that this comet underwent shortly after mid-September (during which it reached 12th magnitude), it underwent a new, slightly smaller outburst during the third week of November. At present it appears as a small (but expanding) dense inner coma of about 13th magnitude, with the dispering outer coma from the previous outburst still very faintly visible, for an overall brightness near magnitude 12 1/2. I expect it to remain visually detectable for at least another two to three weeks as this latest outburst expands and disperses. The comet is located in northern Aquarius three degrees east-southeast of the star Eta Aquarii (the easternmost star of the "water jar" asterism) and is traveling slowly towards the east-northeast at four arcminutes per day.

Comet P/Scheila P/(596) (no. 624)

Now a little over two months past opposition, this one-time "active asteroid" has faded accordingly, and is now around magnitude 14 1/2 (and, as expected, entirely stellar in appearance). It is presently located in western Cetus half a degree northwest of the star 6 Ceti and, having recently passed through its stationary point, is now traveling towards the northeast at slightly under ten arcminutes per day. I expect Scheila to continue fading over the coming weeks and I am probably about finished with it for the current viewing season.

Comet ASASSN C/2018 N2 (no. 657)

My tally's most recent addition is quite deep in my southern sky at a present declination of -41.5 degrees, being currently located in northeastern Phoenix 2 1/2 degrees northwest of the star Gamma Phoenicis and traveling towards the north-northwest at just over 15 arcminutes per day; it crosses into southeastern Sculptor on December 11. It appeared as a small, "dense" object of 14th magnitude during my initial observations a few nights ago, and with its presently being at a heliocentric distance of 4.5 AU and still over 11 months away from perihelion passage, I don't expect much change in brightness or appearance during the coming several weeks.

Comet 64P/Swift-Gehrels (no. 650)

Although now almost a full month past perihelion passage, this comet has, as it has exhibited during previous returns, shown some post-perihelion assymetry in its brightness behavior, and I have been faintly able to detect it in binoculars between magnitudes 9 and 9 1/2, with a large outer coma which on one occasion I measured as being 13 arcminutes in diameter. It is presently located in northwestern Triangulum 4 1/2 degrees northeast of the Triangulum galaxy M33 and is traveling towards the east-southeast at half a degree per day; it crosses the northern center of the "triangle" between December 10 and 15. Now receding from both the sun and Earth I suspect the comet has been at its peak brightness and will likely begin fading, although it should still be between 10th and 11th magnitude during the latter part of December.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen (no. 653)

Now only 0.12 AU away from Earth, the stage is being set for this comet's closest approach to our planet which is just two weeks away. After the moon cleared from the evening sky a week ago I was faintly able to detect it with my naked eye at about 6th magnitude, and as of tonight it has brightened by a half-magnitude and is easily visible to the naked eye as a large diffuse "cloud" over a degree in diameter. I expect it to brighten by at least another magnitude or more by the time it is nearest Earth on December 16, and the coma may expand to as much as two degrees across, or larger, by then. Meanwhile, the comet passes through perihelion on December 12, just four days before it is closest to Earth.

At present Comet 46P/Wirtanen is located in eastern Cetus 2 degrees east of the star Tau-1 Eridani and traveling towards the north-northeast, currently at 1 1/2 degrees per day but rapidly accelerating to four degrees per day at the time of its closest approach; it crosses into northwestern Eridanus on December 4 (passing 20 arcminutes southeast of the star Pi Ceti in the process and 15 arcminutes northwest of the star Eta Eridani two days later), into far eastern Cetus on December 9, and then into southwestern Taurus two days after that (passing 1 1/2 degrees southeast of the star Omicron Tauri on December 12). At the time of its closest approach the comet will be in northwestern Taurus four degrees southeast of the Pleaides star cluster (M45); two days later it crosses into southeastern Perseus.

Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma (no. 649)

Now three weeks past perihelion passage, this comet is still approaching Earth, being closest to our planet (0.77 AU) on December 17. It is presently located in northwestern Cancer two degrees northeast of the star Chi Geminorum and is traveling towards the northeast at half a degree per day (crossing into southeastern Lynx on December 12); over the coming weeks it turns more northerly and slows down as it approaches its stationary point early next month. The comet appeared as a small and relatively condensed object of 11th magnitude (with a short, stubby westward-pointing tail a few arcminutes long) when I observed it a few nights ago, and I suspect it will fade slowly over the next few weeks.

Comet PANSTARRS C/2016 N6 (no. 638)

I have not had a chance to observe this comet since the recent full moon, but hope to do so soon. It is presently located in far western Hydra four degrees southeast of the open star cluster M48 and is traveling towards the southwest at just over half a degree per day, crossing into northeastern Puppis on December 9 and passing one degree southeast of the open star cluster M46 on December 21. When I most recently saw the comet (in mid-November) it appeared as a small condensed object of 13th magnitude, perhaps marginally brighter than when I first picked it up in the morning sky in mid-September following its conjunction with the sun, and since it is closest to Earth (2.37 AU) on December 23 it will probably remain close to this brightness for a few more weeks.

Comet 60P/Tsuchinshan 2 (no. 656)

This comet appeared as a small condensed object of 14th magnitude when I obtained my initial observations in mid-November before the full moon. Since it passes through perihelion on December 11 and is still approximately three months away from opposition and its closest approach to Earth I presume it has brightened slightly since then (which I should be able to verify within a few days) and will continue to do so for another few weeks. It is currently located in south-central Leo two degrees west of the star 48 Leonis and is traveling towards the east-southeast at a little over half a degree per day, crossing into northeastern Sextans on December 4 (passing 50 arcminutes southwest of the above star a day later) and back into Leo on December 14.

(944) Hidalgo [not a comet]

This possible extinct (or dormant) comet passed through perihelion (at a heliocentric distance of 1.95 AU) in late October and was nearest Earth (1.45 AU) just a week ago. It is located in far northern circumpolar skies at a present declination of +76.6 degrees, in eastern Camelopardalis two degrees southwest of the star CO Camelopardalis and is traveling towards the east-northeast at just under 20 arcminutes per day (passing half a degree south of that star on December 8); over the next few weeks it slows down and turns more northerly as it reaches its stationary point in early January 2019 and crosses north of declination +80 degrees by the middle of that month. Hidalgo has remained entirely stellar throughout the current apparition, and appeared about 14th magnitude when I most recently observed it a few nights ago; I don't expect much change in brightness or appearance over the next few weeks.

 

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE ONLY

Comet PANSTARRS C/2016 M1 (no. 629)

According to the latest reports I have read from observers in the southern hemisphere, this intrinsically bright but relatively distant comet is presently around 11th magnitude. It is in far southern circumpolar skies at a current declination of -77 degrees, in central Apus 2 1/2 degrees northwest of the star pair Delta Apodis, and traveling towards the south-southeast at a little over 20 arcminutes per day (passing one degree west of those stars on December 6); it crosses south of declination -80 degrees on December 10 and crosses into Octans ten days later, and reaches a peak southerly declination of -86.2 degrees just after the beginning of January 2019. Since the comet is receding from both the sun and Earth I expect a slow but distinct fading over the coming weeks.

          

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