COMET RESOURCE CENTER

CURRENTLY OBSERVABLE COMETS

Last updated: July 3, 2020

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 Lemmon C/2019 U6 (no. 674)

After being inaccessible from my location for the past three months -- during which time it has been easily accessible to observers in the southern hemisphere and had brightened to close to magnitude 6 1/2 -- this comet has now again become accessible to me, and I successfully observed it a few nights ago as a 7th magnitude object low in my southwestern sky during twilight; telescopically I could detect about ten arcminutes of a broad, featureless tail. It is currently located in eastern Sextans 4 1/2 degrees east-northeast of the star Beta Sextantis and is traveling towards the east-northeast at two degrees per day (decreasing to 70 arcminutes per day by late July); it crosses into Leo on July 4 and into Virgo one week later, and from July 19 through 21 it traverses the southern region of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, passing 10 arcminutes south of the galaxy M87 on July 20 and similar distances north of the galaxy M89 and south of the galaxy M90 the following day. The comet passed through perihelion two weeks ago and was just nearest Earth (0.83 AU on June 29) so it may start to fade over the coming weeks as it climbs higher into my evening sky, but I expect it to remain visible in binoculars for at least another month.

Comet ATLAS C/2019 N1 (no. 681)

My tally's most recent addition has brightened a little since I first picked it up six weeks ago, appearing as a small and relatively condensed object of magnitude 13 1/2 during my most recent observations. It is currently traversing the eastern portion of the "bowl" of the Big Dipper, being presently located 1 1/2 degrees north-northeast of the star Gamma Ursae Majoris; it is traveling almost due southward at half a degree per day and passes half a degree east of that star and then directly over the galaxy M109 on July 6 before eventually crossing into southwestern Canes Venatici on July 27. The comet is still five months away from perihelion passage and I expect it to continue brightening slowly over the coming weeks.

Comet PANSTARRS C/2017 T2 (no. 667)

This long-time comet, which I've now been following for eleven straight months, passed through perihelion two months ago and is now also moving away from Earth. Thus far it has been holding its own rather well, and I continue to be able to detect it in 10x50 binoculars near 9th magnitude; telescopically it has been exhibiting a broad, straight tail 20 to 30 arcminutes long. The comet is currently located in western Canes Venatici two degrees south-southeast of the star Beta Canum Venaticorum and is traveling towards the southeast at slightly over 50 arcminutes per day; it crosses into northeastern Coma Berenices on July 14 and from July 17 through 19 traverses the northeastern region of the Coma Galaxy Cluster (Abell 1656), passing less than ten arcminutes southwest of the star 41 Comae Berenices on that last day. It will probably start a slow fading over the coming weeks but I expect it to remain relatively bright and easy to observe for at least another month or more.

Comet 88P/Howell (no. 678)

Now slightly less than three months away from perihelion passage, this comet has brightened slowly during recent weeks and appeared as a rather vague and diffuse object near magnitude 12 1/2 when I most recently observed it two weeks ago. It is currently located in central Virgo three degrees west-southwest of the star Theta Virginis and is traveling towards the east-southeast at 20 arcminutes per day (increasing to half a degree per day by late July); it passes 1 1/2 degrees north of the bright star Spica on July 21. I expect the comet to continue brightening slowly over the coming weeks.

Comet NEOWISE C/2020 F3 (no. 676)

After being exclusively visible from the southern hemisphere from late April through early June, then passing through the field-of-view of the LASCO C3 coronagraph aboard SOHO late last month, this comet has now emerged into the northern hemisphere's morning sky as a bright object, albeit it is currently only visible at a low altitude deep in twilight. I successfully observed it this morning -- at which time its elongation was a mere 13.5 degrees -- and could easily detect it with 10x50 binoculars; its overall brightness is close to 1st magnitude, and even in the bright sky I could detect a tail perhaps 15 arcminutes long.

Comet NEOWISE passes through perihelion today, and presently is on the far side of the sun from Earth. Over the next three weeks it recedes from perihelion but approaches Earth (closest approach being 0.69 AU on July 23); meanwhile, it also moves more between Earth and the sun and thus will be exhibiting a moderately high phase angle (maximum 108 degrees on July 18) and thus a possibility of enhanced brightness due to forward scattering of sunlight. Currently located in southern Auriga six degrees south of the star Theta Aurigae and traveling towards the north-northeast at 100 arcminutes per day, the comet turns more easterly and accelerates, reaching a maximum northerly declination of +48 degrees on July 18, at which point it will be located in far western Ursa Major and traveling at 3 1/2 degrees per day. Meanwhile, it is in conjunction with the sun (24 degrees north of it) on July 14, thereafter becoming primarily an evening-sky object, and after passing through its farthest north point it turns more towards the southeast. On the date of its closest approach to Earth it will be located in southern Ursa Major 2 1/2 degrees northeast of the star Lambda Ursae Majoris and traveling at a peak speed of almost four degrees per day.

While cometary brightness predictions are always somewhat problematical, the recent brightness and appearance of Comet NEOWISE suggests it could be a relatively conspicuous naked-eye object, perhaps 2nd or 3rd magnitude, up to and around the time of its closest approach to Earth, when it will be at an elongation of over 35 degrees and thus moderately well placed in the northwestern evening sky. As is always possible, it could be distinctly fainter -- or, conceivably, brighter -- than this.

     

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE ONLY

Comet 2P/Encke [not observed]

Having passed through perihelion (heliocentric distance 0.337 AU) on June 25, this famous comet has now emerged into the southern hemisphere's evening sky, with observers there reporting it as being near magnitude 7 1/2 (in twilight) just before the end of June. It is still at a small elongation (23 degrees) but this increases rapidly over the coming weeks, reaching 30 degrees on July 10 and 40 degrees on July 18. Its present location is in southwestern Cancer four degrees southeast of the star Zeta Cancri and it is traveling towards the east-southeast at two degrees per day (increasing to 2 1/2 degrees per day by late July); it passes 15 arcminutes southwest of the open star cluster M67 on July 8 before crossing into Hydra four days later and into Sextans two days after that and finally crossing into northwestern Crater on July 23. The comet is still approaching Earth (minimum distance 0.62 AU on July 30), however historically P/Encke tends to fade and diffuse out rapidly as it recedes from perihelion, so it will likely fade beyond visual detectability around that time.

Comet 58P/Jackson-Neujmin [not observed]

After being missed on its previous two returns, this comet became visible in images taken with the SWAN ultraviolet telescope aboard SOHO in late March at an unexpectedly bright 11th or 12th magnitude, suggesting it may have undergone a recent outburst. Since that time observers in the southern hemisphere have detected it low in their morning sky, initially near that brightness although later observations indicated a brightness between 10th and 11th magnitude, with the most recent observations suggesting it has faded by perhaps a magnitude. It is presently at an elongation of 45 degrees, being located in western Taurus 1 1/2 degrees north of the star 30 Tauri; it is traveling just northward of due east at 45 arcminutes per day and passes 40 arcminutes south of the star Lambda Tauri on July 8 and three degrees south of the center of the Hyades star cluster just after mid-July before crossing into northwestern Orion on July 23. The comet passed through perihelion (heliocentric distance 1.377 AU) on May 27 and was closest to Earth (1.97 AU) a few days ago; it is difficult to predict what to expect in terms of its future brightness, but it becomes accessible from my location after about mid-July and, depending upon how it behaves over the next few weeks, it is conceivable that I may yet be able to observe this comet during its current return.

          

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