Currently visible comets

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, March 23, 2007

Backyard astronomers long for the next really bright comet. There's hardly anything to equal a brilliant comet's magnificence in the sky. For those who caught a glimpse of Comet McNaught in the January twilight sky, the view was great. But you have to go back to comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake in 1996 and 1997 to recall a jaw-dropping, stunningly bright comet hanging in a dark sky.
 
While no really bright comets are now visible, several moderately-bright comets are. They can be gorgeous objects to see in a telescope or binoculars. Here's a lineup of the current suspects you might want to go out and take a peek at:

C/2006 P1 McNaught. Comet McNaught remains visible for Southern Hemisphere observers, now an early morning object glowing at 7th magnitude. Its 2000.0 coordinates for March 21 are: R.A. 23h07.8m, Dec. -67°34'; for the 26th, they are: R.A. 23h20.5m, Dec. -68°57'. The comet lies in the far-southern constellation Tucana.

2P/Encke. The periodic comet Encke will reach 6th magnitude at perihelion in April. Right now, it glows a little brighter than 10th magnitude and lies low in the western evening sky during twilight. Its 2000.0 coordinates for March 21 are: R.A. 1h22.4m, Dec. 14°57'; for the 26th, they are: R.A. 1h38.1m, Dec. 16°06'. Encke began the month in Pisces and will lie in Aries by month's end.

185P/Petriew. The first return of this periodic comet, which was discovered in 2001, brings it into the western early evening sky at about 12th magnitude. It should be visible in a 6-inch scope. Its 2000.0 coordinates for March 21 are: R.A. 2h13.6m, Dec. 8°19'; for the 26th, they are: R.A. 2h37.3m, Dec. 9°27'. Petriew began the month in Pisces and will lie in Aries by month's end.

96P/Machholz 1. Discovered in 1986 by amateur astronomer Don Machholz, this comet is brightening past 11th magnitude and is situated for early morning viewing. Its 2000.0 coordinates for March 21 are: R.A. 0h3.3m, Dec. -20°29'; for the 26th, they are: R.A. 0h32.1m, Dec. -13°55'. It lies in the constellation Cetus.

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