COMET RESOURCE CENTER
CURRENTLY OBSERVABLE COMETS
|Last updated: October 5, 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 ATLAS C/2018 L2 (no. 652)
This comet is now starting to get quite low in my western sky after dusk, and I probably won't be following it for too much longer. It is currently located in southwestern Serpens Caput five degrees west of the star Mu Serpentis (and six degrees southeast of the bright globular star cluster M5) and is traveling towards the east-northeast at half a degree per day, passing two degrees northwest of the above star on October 15. The elongation drops below 40 degrees on October 8 and below 35 degrees on October 23; meanwhile, the comet reaches a (temporary) maximum distance from Earth (2.52 AU) on October 20. It has appeared as a slightly condensed object of 13th magnitude during my most recent observations -- marginally brighter than when I first picked it up -- and at most I expect just a slight additional brightening during the coming weeks.
Comet 78P/Gehrels 2 (no. 654)
My tally's most recent addition is currently at its stationary point, being located in western Aquarius four degrees southwest of the star Beta Aquarii; over the next couple of weeks it will begin traveling slowly eastward, and it crosses into northeastern Capricornus on October 25. The comet appeared as a dim and diffuse object of 14th magnitude during my initial observations, and I don't expect much change in brightness over the next few weeks.
Comet 48P/Johnson (no. 646)
Now almost two months past perihelion passage and a month and a half past opposition and its closest approach to Earth, this comet has started to fade somewhat, although it was still 13th magnitude (with a relatively small and condensed coma) when I most recently observed it a few nights ago. It is currently located in northeastern Piscis Austrinus three degrees southwest of the star Epsilon Piscis Austrini (and 5 1/2 degrees west-northwest of Fomalhaut) and, having just passed through its stationary point, is traveling slowly towards towards the northeast and will pass 40 arcminutes northwest of Epsilon on October 25.
Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 (no. 498)
This distant comet underwent a significant outburst shortly after mid-September (and, unfortunately for visual observers, just as the Harvest Moon era was beginning). During my observations over the past week it has appeared around 12th magnitude, with a small and condensed coma that is gradually expanding. It is currently located in far northwestern Aquarius, two degrees southwest of the star 1 Piscium (and five degrees east of the "water jar" asterism) and is slowly traveling southward of due west, reaching its stationary point (four degrees east of the "water jar") on November 8. I expect the coma to continue expanding and diffusing out, although it should remain visible for at least another two to three weeks. Meanwhile, as is always possible with this comet additional outbursts can take place at any time.
Comet P/Griseldis P/(493) (no. 651)
This object went through opposition a few days ago, and is thus near its maximum brightness -- which, according to my most recent observation a few nights ago, is 14th magnitude (and, as expected, completely stellar in appearance). It is currently located in central Pisces half a degree northeast of the star 41 Piscium (and six degrees east-northeast of the star Omega Piscium), and is traveling due westward at just under 15 arcminutes per day. Griseldis should fade gradually from this point on, and I should be able to detect it visually for perhaps another month or so.
Comet P/Scheila P/(596) (no. 624)
Just like the above one-time "active asteroid," this object has also just gone through opposition, and has appeared close to magnitude 13 1/2 (and completely stellar) during my most recent observations. It is located in southwestern Cetus 3 1/2 degrees west-southwest of the star Beta Ceti ("Diphda") and is traveling due westward at 12 arcminutes per day. Scheila should fade over the coming weeks, to about 14th magnitude by early November.
Comet 64P/Swift-Gehrels (no. 650)
Although this comet did fade somewhat following its outburst in mid-August, it is now brightening more-or-less according to schedule as it approaches its perihelion passage a month from now. Like the above two objects it, too, has just gone through opposition, and is currently located in central Andromeda two degrees southwest of the star Pi Andromedae. It is traveling at a little over 15 arcminutes per day, presently towards the north-northeast but turning more and more directly eastward (and passing four degrees south of the Andromeda Galaxy M31 on October 25) before reaching its maximum northerly declination (just south of +37 degrees) when near perihelion. The comet appeared close to magnitude 11 1/2 when I observed it a couple of nights ago, and I expect it to brighten by perhaps a full magnitude over the course of the next month.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen (no. 653)
When I observed this comet this morning -- my first sighting of the current dark run -- it was as bright as 11th magnitude, a full two magnitudes brighter than it was during my previous observation in mid-September. It is currently located in northwestern Fornax 2.5 degrees northwest of the star Nu Fornacis, and is traveling towards the south-southwest at just under 20 arcminutes per day; it goes south of declination -30 degrees on October 14 (passing 45 arcminutes west of the star Pi Fornacis in the process), is at opposition -- its first of three during the current return -- on October 22, and shortly thereafter begins a distinct turning towards the east as it reaches its farthest south declination -- just south of -33 degrees -- on November 3. I expect the comet to brighten by at least one to two additional magnitudes during October.
Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma (no. 649)
Now just a little over a month away from perihelion passage, this comet is currently located in northeastern Orion 1 1/2 degrees south-southwest of the star Xi Orionis (and six degrees northeast of the bright star Betelgeuse); it is traveling towards the east-northeast at a little under 40 arcminutes per day, crossing into southwestern Gemini on October 13 and passing just over one degree south of the star Gamma Geminorum (Alhena) five days later. The comet appeared as a small and relatively condensed object of 12th magnitude when I observed it this morning, and I would expect it to brighten by one to two magnitudes by the end of October.
(944) Hidalgo [not a comet]
This possible extinct (or dormant) comet passes perihelion on October 26, at a heliocentric distance of 1.95 AU. I successfully picked it up visually in mid-September at slightly fainter than magnitude 14 1/2 (with a completely stellar appearance), and it was marginally brighter when I saw it again this morning. It is in northern circumpolar skies, at a present declination of +61 degrees in northwestern Lynx 1 1/2 degrees northwest of the star 12 Lyncis, and is traveling towards the northeast at slightly under 40 arcminutes per day, crossing into Camelopardalis on October 8 and into northwestern Ursa Major on October 27 before passing north of declination +70 degrees one day later. Hidalgo should continue brightening slowly during this time, by perhaps a few tenths of a magnitude by the end of October.
Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner (no. 642)
This celebrated comet became as bright as magnitude 7 1/2, and exhibited a distinct half-degree-long dust tail even in 10x50 binoculars, when it passed through perihelion and was nearest Earth last month. It is now fading as it recedes from the earth and the sun, and was only 9th magnitude when I observed it this morning (still with a distinct telescopic tail 10 arcminutes long); it will likely fade at least another one to two magnitudes during the rest of October. As it has throughout this entire return, the comet continues to travel along the galactic equator, being presently located in southern Monoceros three degrees southwest of the star 20 Monocerotis; it is traveling towards the south-southeast, currently at 75 arcminutes per day but decreasing to 35 arcminutes per day by the end of October, crossing across the northern regions of the diffuse nebula IC 2177 and then crossing into Canis Major on October 10, where it remains for the rest of the month.
Comet PANSTARRS C/2016 N6 (no. 638)
Following its conjunction with the sun in late July, I successfully picked up this comet in the morning sky shortly after mid-September; it appeared as a small and relatively condensed object of magnitude 13 1/2. It is currently located in southeastern Cancer 1 1/2 degrees south-southeast of the star Alpha Cancri and is traveling almost due southward at slightly under 20 arcminutes per day; it crosses into western Hydra on October 18 and spends the next week passing just to the east of the "head" of that constellation. Although the comet passed through perihelion 2 1/2 months ago it is approaching Earth again, and thus may exhibit a marginal brightening over the next few weeks.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE ONLY
Comet PANSTARRS C/2016 M1 (no. 629)
This intrinsically bright but relatively distant comet passed through perihelion almost two months ago. It is now in southern circumpolar skies, being located at a declination of -63 degrees in southeastern Centaurus, two degrees southwest of the nearby bright star Alpha Centauri (and just a few arcminutes away from Proxima Centauri); it is traveling towards the south-southeast at slightly over ten arcminutes per day and crosses into eastern Circinus on October 18 and then passes half a degrees west of the star Alpha Circini three days later. It is in conjunction with the sun (54 degrees south of it) in early November and ostensibly becomes a morning-sky object after that. According to reports I've read from observers in the southern hemisphere the comet is currently close to 10th magnitude, and since it is receding from both the sun and the earth I expect a gradual fading over the coming weeks.
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