New Amateur Comets

This view of Comet Snyder-Murakami, C/2002 E2, was captured by Tim Hunter on March 18th with his 12-inch LX200 telescope and Apogee AP7 CCD camera. The exposure is a tricolor composite.
Courtesy Tim Hunter.
In the seven weeks since the discovery of Comet Ikeya-Zhang, two more comets have been discovered visually by amateur astronomers. While neither is expected to rival Ikeya-Zhang's brightness this spring, these new finds show that the era of backyard comet hunting is far from over.

The first of the new comets was bagged on March 11th. Douglas Snyder swept up the faint object in Aquila while scanning the predawn skies with a 20-inch f/5 Dobsonian telescope at his backyard observatory in Palominas, Arizona. Seven hours later, as dawn approached Japan, Shigeki Murakami in Matsunoyama, Niigata Prefecture, picked up the interloper with his 18-inch f/4.5 reflector. Designated Comet Snyder-Murakami, C/2002 E2, the object is currently visible in medium-size telescopes as a 10th-magnitude glow moving north-northeast in the morning sky, from Aquila to Sagitta and then to Vulpecula.

"This is such a rare and rewarding event," says Snyder, "and I'm still so overwhelmed at my luck in finding it."

Douglas Snyder
Comet codiscoverer Douglas Snyder at the recent International Dark-Sky Association annual meeting in Tucson. An avid deep-sky observer, Snyder runs the Planetary Nebulae Observer's Home Page. C/2002 E2 is his first comet discovery.
Sky & Telescope photograph by J. Kelly Beatty.

Orbital calculations by Brian G. Marsden (Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams) show that C/2002 E2 reached the point in its orbit closest to the Sun (perihelion) last February 21st, at a distance of 220 million kilometers. Although it is moving farther away from the Sun, the comet should remain around 10th magnitude until early April, after which it will slowly begin to fade. Amateur CCD imagers should be able to keep track of it throughout spring and beyond.

The last time a comet was discovered visually in the United States was on April 22, 1998, when Patrick L. Stonehouse of Wolverine, Michigan, discovered C/1998 H1 with a 17½-inch reflector.

Just one week after the Snyder-Murakami find, in the early morning twilight of March 18th, Japanese observer Syogo Utsunomiya discovered another comet with a pair of 25x150 binoculars. Experts have yet to calculate the orbit of the new object (dubbed C/2002 F1), but for the past couple of days, the fuzzy ball has shone at 11th magnitude in Pegasus.

Below is a table listing the magnitude and location of Comet Snyder-Murakami. A similar listing for C/2002 F1 will become available when its orbit is determined.



Comet Snyder-Murakami, C/2002 E2


Date

RA 2000

Dec.

Elong.

Mag.

Const.

0h UT

h   m

°   '

°

 

 

Mar 20

19 04.2

+07 56

73

10.1

Aql

Mar 23

19 07.2

+11 18

75

10.1

Aql

Mar 26

19 10.0

+14 47

77

10.1

Aql

Mar 29

19 12.6

+18 21

79

10.1

Sge

Apr 1

19 15.1

+22 00

80

10.1

Vul

Apr 4

19 17.5

+25 43

82

10.2

Vul

Apr 7

19 19.6

+29 27

83

10.2

Lyr

Apr 10

19 21.5

+33 12

84

10.2

Lyr

Apr 13

19 23.1

+36 55

85

10.3

Lyr

Apr 16

19 24.4

+40 34

86

10.4

Lyr

Apr 19

19 25.4

+44 09

86

10.4

Cyg

Apr 22

19 26.0

+47 38

86

10.5

Cyg

Apr 25

19 26.2

+51 00

87

10.6

Cyg

Apr 28

19 25.9

+54 13

86

10.7

Cyg

May 1

19 24.9

+57 17

86

10.8

Dra