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Comet Comments

Don Machholz

Don Machholz
More comets have been found by the SOHO satellite, while LINEAR has discovered a faint, small comet. No bright comets are in our sky again this month.

This is a slow time of the year, comet-wise. The comet that is expected to be the brightest of the year-Comet LINEAR (C/1999 S4)- is new to the solar system. This means it burned off tons of volatile material while far from the sun, giving the impression that it is a bright comet. It may brighten to only magnitude 5 or 6. Remember Comet Kohoutek!

We have a couple more comets that should be visible late in the year. Comet McNaught-Hartley (1999 T1) may approach magnitude 6 late this year, but it will be far south and within 70 degrees of the sun until then. Periodic Comet Encke will be briefly visible to each Hemisphere late in the year.

SOHO images revealed ten more comets in the past month. Five of them were from images taken in 1999. Nine are from the Kreutz family of sungrazers. Various people found these comets, among them are: M. Oates, D. Biesecker, A. Vourlidas, M. Meyer, T. Lovejoy, J. Shanklin, and K. Cernis.

The LINEAR program recently found a comet that may be of short period. Comet LINEAR (C/2000 G1) is presently only 30 million miles from us but at a faint magnitude 17. That's a small, faint comet!

Comet Hunting Notes: How many comets are discovered visually by amateurs each year? In the past 25 years there have been 81 visual discoveries, or 3.24 per year. From 1975 through 1984 there were 33 finds, with 34 comets from 1985 through 1994. The rate slowed a bit during the five years 1995-1999, with 14 finds, or 2.8 per year. It will be interesting to see how this will change in coming years with competition from the automated programs.

This is my last issue of Comet Comments. After twenty-one years of writing this column I am now at the point where it is often difficult for me to write an intelligent, interesting and timely article each month. At the same time there seems to be less need for this type of comet news on a monthly basis. The Internet can substitute for the things I write, and more rapidly too. I want to thank you for being an attentive audience.

Don Machholz
(530) 346-8963

Mail to: Don Machholz
Copyright © 2000 San Jose Astronomical Association
Last updated: July 19, 2007

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