A Bonanza of Comets

This view of Comet Snyder-Murakami, C/2002 E2, was captured by Tim Hunter on March 18th with his 12-inch LX 200 telescope and Apogee AP7 CCD camera. The exposure is a tri-color composite.
Courtesy Tim Hunter.
Since the discovery of Comet Ikeya-Zhang on February 1, two more comets have been found visually by amateur astronomers. While neither will rival Ikeya-Zhang's brightness this spring, these new finds show that the era of backyard comet hunting is far from over. Adding to the excitement is the return to the northern sky of Comet LINEAR C/2000 WM1.

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."

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.

 



Comet Snyder-Murakami, C/2002 E2


Date

RA 2000

Dec.

Elong.

Mag.

Const.

0h UT

h   m

°   '

°


Apr 1

19 15.1

+22 00

80

10.1

Vul

Apr 3

19 16.7

+24 28

81

10.2

Vul

Apr 5

19 18.2

+26 57

82

10.2

Lyr

Apr 7

19 19.6

+29 27

83

10.2

Lyr

Apr 9

19 20.9

+31 57

84

10.2

Lyr

Apr 11

19 22.0

+34 26

84

10.3

Lyr

Apr 13

19 23.1

+36 55

85

10.3

Lyr

Apr 15

19 24.0

+39 22

85

10.3

Lyr

Apr 17

19 24.8

+41 47

86

10.4

Lyr

Apr 19

19 25.4

+44 09

86

10.4

Cyg

Apr 21

19 25.9

+46 29

86

10.5

Cyg

Apr 23

19 26.2

+48 46

86

10.5

Cyg

Apr 25

19 26.2

+51 00

87

10.6

Cyg

Apr 27

19 26.1

+53 09

86

10.7

Cyg

Apr 29

19 25.6

+55 15

86

10.7

Cyg

May 1

19 24.9

+57 17

86

10.8

Dra

Comet Utsunomiya (C/2002 F1)

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. Comet Utsunomiya should brighten to about 6th magnitude in the coming weeks. But it lingers near the Sun throughout this period, so observations will be difficult.

Comet Utsunomiya reaches perihelion in the third week of April, when it will be between the orbits of Mercury and Venus. By then it will have crossed from the morning to the evening sky for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. The comet will be easier to observe from the Southern Hemisphere after mid-May, but soon thereafter it will fade rapidly as it departs the inner solar system.



Comet Utsunomiya, C/2002 F1


Date

RA 2000

Dec.

Elong.

Mag.

Const.

0h UT

h   m

°   '

°


Apr 1

22 47.4

+17 56

31

7.7

Peg

Apr 3

23 00.3

+20 05

30

7.4

Peg

Apr 5

23 14.4

+22 15

29

7.1

Peg

Apr 7

23 29.8

+24 23

28

6.9

Peg

Apr 9

23 46.7

+26 26

27

6.6

Peg

Apr 11

0 05.1

+28 21

26

6.4

Peg

Apr 13

0 25.0

+30 03

25

6.2

And

Apr 15

0 46.2

+31 29

24

5.9

And

Apr 17

1 08.6

+32 33

23

5.8

Psc

Apr 19

1 31.7

+33 11

22

5.6

Tri

Apr 21

1 55.1

+33 23

22

5.6

Tri

Apr 23

2 18.0

+33 07

21

5.5

Tri

Apr 25

2 40.2

+32 26

21

5.6

Tri

Apr 27

3 01.0

+31 22

20

5.7

Per

Apr 29

3 20.3

+30 00

20

5.8

Ari

May 1

3 37.9

+28 25

20

6.0

Tau

 

 

Comet LINEAR (C/2000 WM1)

Discovered December 16, 2000, by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research team’s automated 1-meter reflector in New Mexico, Comet LINEAR has been an easy target for amateur astronomers since late 2001. Having spent the past few months as a binocular object for Southern Hemisphere observers, the comet is now returning to the northern sky. A late-March report by Andrew Pearce (Nedlands, Western Australia) describes the comet as quite diffuse with the bright central condensation no longer evident and lacking a tail.



Comet LINEAR, C/2000 WM1


Date

RA 2000

Dec.

Elong.

Mag.

Const.

0h UT

h   m

°   '

°


Apr 1

19 12.0

+02 10

82

8.8

Aql

Apr 3

19 10.3

+03 45

84

8.9

Aql

Apr 5

19 08.5

+05 19

86

9.0

Aql

Apr 7

19 06.5

+06 53

88

9.1

Aql

Apr 9

19 04.3

+08 26

90

9.1

Aql

Apr 11

19 01.9

+09 58

92

9.2

Aql

Apr 13

18 59.4

+11 29

94

9.3

Aql

Apr 15

18 56.7

+12 59

96

9.4

Her

Apr 17

18 53.9

+14 27

98

9.4

Her

Apr 19

18 50.8

+15 53

100

9.5

Her

Apr 21

18 47.6

+17 18

102

9.6

Her

Apr 23

18 44.2

+18 41

104

9.6

Her

Apr 25

18 40.6

+20 01

106

9.7

Her

Apr 27

18 36.9

+21 19

107

9.8

Her

Apr 29

18 33.0

+22 35

109

9.9

Her

May 1

18 28.9

+23 47

110

9.9

Her