Bright comets on the way

I’ve had a quick look ahead to see if we’re due any bright comets anytime soon.  Good news!

C/2017 S3 PanSTARRS might become visible to the naked eye during the first week of August.  It will pass very close to the bright stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini.  Look for it low in the northeast up to an hour before sunrise.  Perihelion occurs on August 15th (the comet will be well inside the orbit of Mercury).  After it rounds the Sun it will be many weeks before it becomes visible again in the northern hemisphere again and by that time it will be only visible with very large telescopes.  The window of opportunity is fairly brief to see this comet at its brightest: even in mid-July you’ll need a big telescope to see it and by August 8th/9th it will be too close to the Sun to be visible.  First week of August – should be easy if you’re up early enough.

More details:  http://www.aerith.net/comet/catalog/2017S3/2017S3.html

21P/Giacobini-Zinner (the 2018 return of periodic comet Giacobini-Zinner).  Not so bright but hopefully easy with binoculars.  Very well placed for us in Northumberland: the comet is circumpolar throughout the summer as it moves from Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Perseus and into Auriga (where passes very close the bright star Capella on Sep 2nd).  Magnitude 7 (binocular visibility) from late August until late September.

More details: http://www.aerith.net/comet/catalog/0021P/2018.html

…but the comet you really should be excited about is 46P/Witanen which is has the potential to be the brightest comet for at least a decade.  This comet is usually not that spectacular but this year it is coming unusually close to Earth (7.3 million miles / 30x the Earth-Moon distance on December 16th).  The comet should be an easy binocular object.  It might be an easy naked eye object.  We’ll have a great view of it from early December until late January.  The comet moves north from Eridanus (turn right at Orion), into Taurus and passing the Pleiades in mid-December and then overhead in Auriga and into Ursa Major.

More details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/46P/Wirtanen

I’ll post maps and more details soon…

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