COMET RESOURCE CENTER

CURRENTLY OBSERVABLE COMETS

Last updated: February 23, 2021

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 ATLAS C/2019 L3 (no. 692)

This distant comet, still 10 1/2 months away from perihelion passage, has appeared as a small and condensed object between magnitudes 13 1/2 and 14 during my recent observations, and I don't expect much change during the next few weeks. It is currently located in southern Cassiopeia three degrees south-southeast of the star Mu Cassiopeiae and is traveling at 15 arcminutes per day towards the east-southeast (although gradually curving more directly eastward); it crosses into northwestern Perseus on March 2 and passes just over 5 arcminutes north of the planetary nebula M76 eight days later.

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

This comet underwent a small outburst in mid-January and initially appeared as a small and condensed object of 14th magnitude, but as is normal it diffused out afterwards, and I could barely detect it as little more than a vague 14th-magnitude "presence" early this month. It is probably no longer visually detectable, although as is always possible for this comet new, and potentially larger, outbursts can take place at any time. It is currently located in northern Aries five degrees east-northeast of the star Alpha Arietis (Hamal) and is traveling slightly northward of due east at a slow eight arcminutes per day.

Comet 156P/Russell-LINEAR (no. 686)

I am more than likely finished with this comet. While it appeared slightly brighter than 13th magnitude (still with a distinctly condensed inner coma) when I last saw it early this month, I have not seen it since then (primarily because of a series of winter storms that have passed through here), and I suspect it will have faded beyond visual range by the time I am able to look for it again in a dark sky about a week from now. It is currently located in central Perseus one degree west of the star Epsilon Persei and is traveling just northward of due east at approximately half a degree per day; it passes just eight arcminutes north of that star on February 25 and less than two arcminutes north of the star 52 Persei on March 3.

Comet NEOWISE C/2021 A4 (no. 696)

This comet was traveling at a rapid four degrees per day when it was closest to Earth earlier this month (0.43 AU on February 12) but has now slowed down to 2 1/2 degrees per day and will slow down further to one degree per day by the second week of March. It is currently located in northern Taurus 2 1/2 degrees north-northeast of the star Tau Tauri and is heading towards the south-southwest (gradually curving more directly southward); it passes just five arcminutes northwest of that star on February 25, 40 arcminutes northwest of the bright star Aldebaran on February 28, then traverses the eastern regions of the Hyades star cluster over the subsequent two days before crossing into northern Eridanus on March 16. The comet appeared as a vague diffuse object just fainter than magnitude 12 1/2 when I obtained my first observation early this month but seemed to have faded slightly (although becoming more condensed) when I saw it again about a week later; since perihelion passage is still almost a month away I would think it might exhibit some brightening during the next few weeks.

Comet NEOWISE C/2021 A2 (no. 695)

Now a month past perihelion, this comet apparently reached a peak brightness near magnitude 11 1/2 around the time it was nearest Earth (0.51 AU) early this month, and seemed to have faded by perhaps a half-magnitude when I last saw it about a week and a half ago. I suspect that it has continued fading, and while I am cautiously optimistic that it will still be detectable once I am able to look for it in a dark sky about a week from now, I probably won't be following it for much longer. As has been true ever since I first picked it up, the comet continues to travel through rich Milky Way star fields, being presently located in southern Auriga three degrees northeast of the star Beta Tauri; it is heading towards the north-northwest, currently at 70 arcminutes per day but decreasing to half a degree per day by mid-March, passing one degree west of the star cluster M38 on February 28, half a degree east of the star Eta Aurigae on March 9, and 15 arcminutes east of the well-known eclipsing binary star Epsilon Aurigae six days later.

Comet P/Scheila P/(596) (no. 669) 

This one-time "active asteroid" went through opposition just after the beginning of this month and, ostensibly, was as bright at it is going to get during the current viewing season; it appeared as a stellar object of magnitude 13 1/2 when I observed it a few nights afterward. It is currently located in southeastern Lynx two degrees west of the star Alpha Lyncis and is traveling slightly northward of due west at 10 arcminutes per day; over the next few weeks it slows downs and turns more southward as it approaches its stationary point (3 1/2 degrees west-southwest of its present location) at the end of March. I expect Scheila to fade gradually over the coming weeks, to around 14th magnitude by the latter part of next month.

Comet Palomar C/2020 T2 (no. 697)

My tally's most recent addition appeared as a small and somewhat condensed 14th-magnitude object when I first picked it up three mornings ago. It is currently located in southeastern Canes Venatici six degrees west of the star Rho Bootis and is traveling towards the northeast at 10 arcminutes per day, although it slows down and curves more directly northward as it approaches its stationary point (2 1/2 degrees north-northeast of its present location) on March 15, after which it commences retrograde (westward) motion. According to reports I've read the comet has brightened fairly rapidly within the recent past, and it is also approaching both the sun and Earth, so it should exhibit a gradual but distinct brightening over the next few weeks.

     

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE ONLY

Comet ATLAS C/2019 N1 (no. 681)

According to reports I've read from observers in the southern hemisphere this comet has remained near 13th magnitude during the recent past. It is currently deep in southern circumpolar skies, at a present declination of -86 1/2 degrees and located in Octans 1 1/2 degrees northwest of the star Chi Octantis; it is traveling towards the southeast at approximately 45 arcminutes per day, passing 20 arcminutes west of that star on February 25 and then coming to 1 1/2 degrees from the South Celestial Pole two days later (passing just over half a degree due north of the Southern Pole Star Sigma Octantis in the process). Afterwards it travels northward -- crossing into Hydrus on March 10 -- but remains deep in southern skies from here on. The comet is now almost three months past perihelion and was closest to Earth (1.91 AU) early this month and thus should be starting to fade, and it will probably not remain visually detectable for much longer.

        

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