COMET RESOURCE CENTER

CURRENTLY OBSERVABLE COMETS

Last updated: January 16, 2019

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

This comet last underwent a significant outburst during the third week of November and has been diffusing out ever since; I could still faintly detect it as a dim, diffuse cloud of 13th magnitude when I last looked at it a little over a week ago, but this will probably fade away within the near future. As is always the case with this comet, however, a new outburst could take place at any time. It is starting to get somewhat low in my southwestern evening sky, being presently located in southwestern Pisces just over a degree south of the star 5 Piscium and traveling towards the east-northeast at 10 arcminutes per day; it should remain accessible for perhaps another two or three weeks before disappearing into twilight. Meanwhile, although "perihelion" doesn't mean much when discussing this comet, it nevertheless passes through that point in early March, but will be in conjunction with the sun less than two weeks later and thus will not be visible.

Comet ASASSN C/2018 N2 (no. 657)

This relatively recent addition to my tally is continuing its climb out of the deep southern sky, although it is also starting to get low in my southwestern evening sky and will not be accessible from my latitude for too much longer. It is located at a present declination of -30 degrees, in northern Sculptor one degree southeast of the star Alpha Sculptoris and, having just gone through its stationary point, is currently traveling almost due northward at just over 15 arcminutes per day, passing 50 arcminutes east of that star on January 18 and crossing into southern Cetus on February 4. The comet has appeared as a small and relatively condensed object slightly fainter than magnitude 13 1/2 during my recent observations, and although it is still approaching perihelion it is (for the time being) receding from Earth, and thus I don't expect much change in brightness over the next few weeks.

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

Despite being over two months past perihelion passage and also receding from Earth, this comet has maintained an overall brightness near 10th magnitude for the past few weeks, and may have undergone a small outburst just after the beginning of January. It is currently located in northwestern Taurus 4 1/2 degrees northwest of the Pleiades star cluster (M45) and is traveling towards the east-southeast at half a degree per day; it passes three degrees north of the Pleiades on January 21 and one degree south of the star Phi Tauri on February 5. Since it is continuing to recede from both the Earth and the sun I expect the comet to begin fading within the fairly near future.

Comet PANSTARRS C/2016 N6 (no. 638)

I have just marked the one-year anniversary of my first picking up this comet, however since it is now six months past perihelion passage and is also receding from Earth, and accordingly fading -- appearing as a small and relatively condensed object not much brighter than 14th magnitude when I most recently observed it about a week ago -- I may very well be done with it. It is currently located in central Canis Major less than half a degree south of the center of the open star cluster M41 and is traveling slightly southward of due west at half a degree per day; over the coming weeks it slows down (to 20 arcminutes per day by the second week of February) and turns more directly westward, and crosses into eastern Lepus on February 3.

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

Now two months past perihelion and also a month past its closest approach to Earth, this comet has nevertheless maintained its brightness rather well, being slightly brighter than 11th magnitude during my recent observations; it is also perhaps the most visually attractive comet that I'm following right now, appearing as a moderately condensed coma with a distinct westward-pointing dust tail a few arcminutes long. It is currently located in central Lynx three degrees northeast of the star 31 Lyncis and is traveling just westward of due north, presently at 13 arcminutes per day but slowing down as it reaches its farthest north point (declination +47.5 degrees, 2 1/2 degrees north-northwest of where it is now) on February 8 and essentially pauses at a standstill as it passes through its stationary point five days later and begins traveling towards the southeast; in the meantime, it goes through opposition on January 28. Despite the way the comet has held its brightness recently I nevertheless expect it to begin fading within the not-too-distant future.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen (no. 653)

This comet was an easy naked-eye object of 4th magnitude, with a coma up to 1 1/2 degrees or more in diameter, when it was nearest Earth a month ago, but has been fading steadily ever since then; while I could still dimly detect it with my naked eye just after the beginning of 2019, when I last observed it a few nights ago it had faded to 7th magnitude (although still exhibiting a coma over half a degree in diameter when viewed with binoculars). It is currently located in western Ursa Major four degrees southeast of the star Omicron Ursae Majoris (and just to the southeast of the "Helix Galaxy" NGC 2685) and is traveling to the east-southeast, presently at half a degree per day; over the coming weeks it slows down (to 20 arcminutes per day by the end of January) and turns more southerly as it passes 20 arcminutes west of the star Theta Ursae Majoris on February 11 and goes through opposition (for the third time during this apparition) three days later. I expect the comet to continue fading, and it will likely be no brighter than 9th or 10th magnitude by the beginning of February.

Comet 123P/West-Hartley (no. 659)

My tally's most recent addition may have undergone a small outburst shortly before I first picked it up a few morning ago; when I observed it, it appeared as a small and distinctly condensed object of magnitude 13 1/2. It is located in southern Ursa Major, currently five degrees east-southeast of the star Xi Ursae Majoris, and traveling towards the northeast at a relatively slow 8 arcminutes per day; over the next couple of weeks it slows down (to 5 1/2 arcminutes per day) and turns more northerly as it passes through its stationary point on January 30 (1 1/2 degrees northeast of where it is now) and begins retrograde (westward) motion. Because of the recent possible outburst future brightness predictions are a bit problematical, but since the comet is approaching both the sun and the Earth I think it will likely maintain its brightness, and perhaps even brighten a half-magnitude or so, over the next few weeks.

Comet 60P/Tsuchinshan 2 (no. 656)

After remaining a small and condensed object of 14th magnitude for the first few weeks after I initially picked it up in mid-November, this comet has brightened some during the recent past, appearing near magnitude 13 1/2 when I saw it a few nights ago; it is still rather small and condensed, and meanwhile I could not detect the distinct dust tail that it continues to exhibit on the various CCD images I have seen. It is currently located in western Virgo two degrees east-southeast of the star 87 Leonis and is traveling towards the southeast, presently at just over 15 arcminutes per day but slowing down to 3 1/2 arcminutes per day when it reaches its stationary point (3 1/2 degrees southeast of where it is now) on February 8, after which it begins retrograde (westward) motion. The comet passed through perihelion five weeks ago but is still approaching Earth, and thus I don't expect much change in brightness over the coming few weeks.

(944) Hidalgo [not a comet]

Now over 2 1/2 months past perihelion passage (and also receding from Earth), this possible extinct (or dormant) comet has remained entirely stellar, both visually and in deep CCD images I have taken, throughout the entire current apparition, and I consider it very unlikely at this point that it will begin exhibiting any kind of cometary activity. It is in far northern circumpolar skies at a current declination of +80.5 degrees, in eastern Camelopardalis 3 degrees south-southeast of the star 32 Camelopardalis; having passed through its stationary point earlier this month it is currently traveling towards the northwest at slightly under 10 arcminutes per day as it reaches its maximum northerly declination (+81.4 degrees) on January 31 (2 1/2 degrees west-northwest of where it is now) and then begins traveling southward, passing south of declination +80 degrees on February 15. When I most recently observed Hidalgo about a week ago it had faded some, to about magnitude 14 1/2, and I doubt if I will be following it for much longer.

Comet Iwamoto C/2018 Y1 (no. 658)

This recent addition to my tally has brightened noticeably since I first picked it up in late December, appearing at 10th magnitude when I observed it a couple of mornings ago. It is located in southeastern Virgo, five degrees north-northwest of the star Pi Hydrae (and only five degrees northwest of the position it occupied at discovery four weeks ago), and is traveling towards the northwest, presently at half a degree per day. As the comet approaches Earth (minimum distance 0.30 AU on February 12) it rapidly accelerates, to over two degrees per day by the end of January (as it passes 5 1/2 degrees south of Spica on the 28th), to 4 1/2 degrees per day when it passes through perihelion on February 6 (when it will be located some four degrees west-southwest of the star Eta Virginis), and after crossing into Leo on February 8 will pass 4 1/2 degrees north of Regulus and will be traveling at close to 7 1/2 degrees per day around the date of closest approach and when at opposition a day later. Based upon its present brightness and the rate at which is has brightened thus far, the comet may be near magnitude 8 1/2 at the beginning of February and close to 7th magnitude when it is nearest Earth.

 

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE ONLY

Comet PANSTARRS C/2016 M1 (no. 629)

According to the reports I've been reading from observers in the southern hemisphere, this intrinsically bright but relatively distant comet has remained near 11th magnitude for the past several weeks, de spite being over five months past perihelion passage and an even longer period of time past its closest approach to Earth. After passing to within four degrees of the south celestial pole at the beginning of January the comet is now located at a declination of -82 degrees, in southwestern Hydrus 3 1/2 degrees south-southwest of the star Mu Hydri; it is traveling towards the north-northeast at half a degree per day, passing north of declination -80 degrees on January 21, one degree west of the above star two days later, and ten arcminutes west of the star Theta Hydri on February 8. With the comet's continuing to recede from the sun and Earth it should begin fading within the not-too-distant future, but I am cautiously optimistic that I will be able to observe it when I am in Australia later this month.

          

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