Comet Chasing in March


Comet chasing is the visual observation of telescopic comets.

News


This month brings the slimmest pickings for telescopic comets in recent memory.
  • C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). In mid-February this comet was observed to be brightening much more rapidly than anticipated. This comet will reach perihelion on May 30. It is predicted to reach maximum brightness in late May, when it may be a naked-eye object. This comet may have the potential to be a very bright naked eye object. Or not. Such is the nature of comets. But if we are lucky, we may be in for a treat. 

  • C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) will reach perihelion in early May. It is predicted to reach maximum brightness of magnitude 8.2 in mid May. 

  • C/2018 F4 (PANSTARRS) is past perihelion, which occurred in early December 2019.

  • C/2018 N2 (ASASSN) passed perihelion in mid November. 

  • C/2018 W2 (Africano)  passed perihelion in early September.

  • 260P/McNaught passed perihelion in early September. 

  • 2I/Borisov (formerly C/2019 Q4) is the first interstellar comet, discovered on August 30, 2019 by G. Borisov. It took until September 10/11 for the interstellar nature of this comet to become readily apparent. On September 24 the IAU officially recognized it as interstellar and assigned a new designation. It will reach perihelion in early December, when it will come within 1.9 AU of the sun and earth. At that time it will be in Hydra. It isn't yet clear how bright it will become, but with comets there is always the possibility that it will brighten enough to be observable visually in large instruments. More here...

  • C/2018 A6 (Gibbs) passed perihelion in mid July.

  • 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann This comet has outbursts, resulting in a brightening of 0.5 - 1.0 magnitudes, which occur roughly every 59 days, typically taking 5-10 days to subside. Up to three subsequent outbursts may occur 5-10 days afterward, each typically smaller than the last, although on some occasions they can be even brighter than the first. These outbursts make 29P one of the most interesting comets to follow, both visually and scientifically. 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann has a 14.8-year orbital period, and last passed perihelion in early March 2019. It varies in its distance from the Sun from 5.8 AU (at perihelion) to 6.3 AU (at aphelion), which is an unusually small variation for a comet, and remains quite far from the sun at all times. This means that it can be observed more or less contuniously.

  • P/2008 Y12 (SOHO) was not recovered, even though it was predicted to be approximately magnitude 12 in July. 

2I/Borisov - the first discovered interstellar comet

Three 10-minute exposures taken with iTelescope T11 at New Mexico Skies on the morning of September 12, 2019 - Greg Crinklaw

Find out more and track the science as it develops here.

Comet Visibility in the Eyepiece

This page uses code developed for SkyTools 3 to predict the visibility of a comet in the eyepiece.  Predicting how much aperture is required to see a comet is a very complex task.  Have a look for yourself: a comparison of the predictions below (such as "visible in small telescopes") to the magnitude of each comet shows just how poor an indicator the magnitude alone really is.  When you read below that a particular aperture is required to see a comet you can have a reasonable degree of confidence that the comet can in fact be seen in the eyepiece. But always remember, comets are like cats. They both have tails and do what they want, and not always what we expect. This is one of the things that makes comet chasing interesting!

Comet Synopses for March


Explanation of Comet Synopses and charts (read this if you have questions)

C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS): A northern hemisphere evening comet visible in binoculars
This comet begins the month in Cassiopeia at magnitude 8.9. Look for a 1.5' coma. It should brighten slowly.  FINDER CHART
Latitude Visibility February 29 Visibility March 7 Visibility March 14 Visibility March 21 Visibility March 28 Nights Visible
55o N Fairly high at ~00:00 High during evening twilight at ~19:40 High at ~20:20 High at ~20:30 High in moonlight at ~20:50 1-
40o N High in moonlight at ~19:30 High during evening twilight at ~19:20 High at ~19:40 High at ~19:50 Fairly high in moonlight at ~20:00 1-
Equator Low in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Low in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Low in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Very low in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Very low in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 1-
30o S Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  

C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS): A northern hemisphere morning comet visible in small telescopes
This comet begins the month in Pegasus at magnitude 9.7. Look for a 3.5' coma. It should brighten slowly, moving into Andromeda by month's end.  FINDER CHART
Latitude Visibility February 29 Visibility March 7 Visibility March 14 Visibility March 21 Visibility March 28 Nights Visible
55o N Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~20:00 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~20:20 Low in the northern sky during morning twilight at ~03:30 1-
40o N Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:30 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:30 Low in the northern sky during morning twilight at ~04:20 1-
Equator Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:00 Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible 1-1, 3-4
30o S Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS): A northern hemisphere morning comet visible in small telescopes
This comet begins the month in Ursa Major at magnitude 12.5. Look for a 1.5' coma. It should brighten rapidly, moving into Camelopardus by month's end.  FINDER CHART
Latitude Visibility February 29 Visibility March 7 Visibility March 14 Visibility March 21 Visibility March 28 Nights Visible
55o N High at ~00:30 High in moonlight at ~23:20 High at ~22:30 High at ~21:10 High at ~23:00 1-
40o N High at ~00:30 High in moonlight at ~23:20 High at ~22:30 High at ~21:10 High at ~22:20 1-
Equator Fairly high at ~00:30 Fairly high in the northern sky in moonlight at ~23:30 Fairly high in the northern sky at ~22:30 Fairly high in the northern sky at ~21:10 Fairly high in the northern sky in moonlight at ~19:50 1-
30o S Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  

C/2020 A2 (Iwamoto): A northern hemisphere morning comet visible in an 18-inch (46 cm) telescope
This comet begins the month in Cepheus at magnitude 11.6. Look for a 3' coma. It should fade rapidly, moving into Auriga by month's end.  FINDER CHART
Latitude Visibility February 29 Visibility March 7 Visibility March 14 Visibility March 21 Visibility March 28 Nights Visible
55o N High at ~04:30 High during evening twilight at ~19:40 High at ~20:20 High at ~20:40 High in moonlight at ~20:50 1-
40o N Fairly high at ~04:50 High during evening twilight at ~19:20 High at ~19:50 High at ~20:00 High in moonlight at ~20:00 1-
Equator Not visible Low in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Low in the northern sky at ~19:20 Fairly high in the northern sky at ~19:20 Fairly high in the northern sky in moonlight at ~19:20 4-
30o S Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  

29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann: An evening comet visible in very large telescopes
This comet begins the month in Pisces at magnitude 11.3. Look for a 1.5' coma. It should remain constant.  FINDER CHART
Latitude Visibility February 29 Visibility March 7 Visibility March 14 Visibility March 21 Visibility March 28 Nights Visible
55o N Fairly high in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:30 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:50 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~20:00 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:50 1-
40o N Fairly high in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Fairly high in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:30 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:30 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 1-
Equator Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:00 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:00 Not visible 1-23
30o S Very low in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible 1-1, 3-3

C/2018 N2 (ASASSN): A far-northern evening comet visible in very large telescopes
This comet begins the month in Andromeda at magnitude 13.6. Look for a 1.5' coma. It should fade slowly, moving into Cassiopeia by month's end.  FINDER CHART
Latitude Visibility February 29 Visibility March 7 Visibility March 14 Visibility March 21 Visibility March 28 Nights Visible
55o N Fairly high in moonlight at ~19:40 Fairly high during evening twilight at ~19:30 Fairly high in the northern sky at ~20:10 Fairly high in the northern sky at ~20:20 Fairly high in the northern sky at ~03:30 1-
40o N Fairly high in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Fairly high in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Fairly high in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:40 Low in the northern sky during evening twilight at ~19:40 Low in the northern sky during morning twilight at ~04:20 1-
Equator Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  
30o S Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  

C/2018 F4 (PANSTARRS): A southern hemisphere evening comet visible in very large telescopes
This comet begins the month in Hydrus at magnitude 13.9. Look for a 50" coma. It should fade slowly, moving into Eridanus by month's end. The best visibility is mid-month as seen from the southern hemisphere.  FINDER CHART
Latitude Visibility February 29 Visibility March 7 Visibility March 14 Visibility March 21 Visibility March 28 Nights Visible
55o N Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  
40o N Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible Not visible  
Equator Low in the southern sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 Low in the southern sky during evening twilight at ~19:00 Very low in the southern sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Very low in the southern sky during evening twilight at ~19:10 Very low in the southern sky during evening twilight at ~19:00 1-
30o S Fairly high during evening twilight at ~20:00 Fairly high during evening twilight at ~19:30 Fairly high in the southern sky at ~19:40 Fairly high in the southern sky during evening twilight at ~19:30 Fairly high in the western sky during evening twilight at ~19:20 1-

Summary Data for This Month's Telescopic Comets


Comets brighter than 15th magnitude.  This table is updated as necessary. The last column indicates the date of the last observation used to compute these values.  The constellation listed is where the comet was on the first of the month.
Comet Constellation

March 1st

March 15th

March 31st

Observations as of (UT)
Mag Diam Mag Diam Mag Diam
C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) Cassiopeia 8.8 1.7' 8.6 1.6' 8.4 1.6' 2020 February 29
C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS) Pegasus 9.7 2.9' 9.3 3.1' 9.3 3.4' 2020 February 29
29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann Pisces 11.3 1.5' 11.4 1.5' 11.4 1.5' 2020 February 20
C/2020 A2 (Iwamoto) Cepheus 11.6 3.0' 12.5 2.4' 13.7 1.8' 2020 February 29
C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) Ursa Major 12.5 1.3' 11.8 1.4' 10.9 1.5' 2020 February 29
C/2018 N2 (ASASSN) Andromeda 13.4 1.4' 13.5 1.4' 13.6 1.3' 2020 March 29
C/2018 F4 (PANSTARRS) Hydrus 13.9 49" 14.0 48" 14.1 47" 2019 December 28
88P/Howell Virgo 14.0 47" 13.5 53" 12.9 1.0' 2015 November 12
160P/LINEAR Pisces 14.3 28" 14.4 27" 14.6 25" 2020 January 17
C/2019 K1 (ATLAS) Eridanus 14.4 12" 14.5 12" 14.7 12" 2020 January 28
78P/Gehrels Cancer 14.8 37" 15.2 34" 15.6 31" 2020 February 29
C/2018 A6 (Gibbs) Grus 15.2? 18"? 15.3? 18"? 15.4? 18"? 2019 December 28
C/2016 M1 (PANSTARRS) Lepus 15.3 41" 15.5 39" 15.7 37" 2020 February 21
246P/NEAT Coma Berenices 15.4 15" 15.3 16" 15.2 16" 2020 March 1
C/2017 B3 (LINEAR) Aquarius 15.4? 22"? 15.5? 22"? 15.6? 21"? 2019 December 28
114P/Wiseman-Skiff Orion 15.6 47" 16.0 42" 16.5 37" 2020 February 27
155P/Shoemaker Leo 15.8 1.4' 16.1 1.3' 16.6 1.1' 2020 February 20
101P/Chernykh Pisces 15.9 35" 16.0 33" 16.2 32" 2020 February 22
124P/Mrkos Ursa Major 15.9 20" 15.8 21" 15.8 20" 2020 February 25
*In solar conjunction and generally not visible

For information about specific comets see Gary W. Kronk's Cometography 

Further reading: see Comet Chasing, Sky & Telescope, April 2005, pg. 83.

Make your own custom charts for your location and telescope/binoculars: software for visual comet observing

New: software for comet imaging
 

Links

Skyhound's Guide to Comets
Skyhound's Guide to Finding Comets
BAA Comet Section
Weekly Information About Bright Comets
Cometography