Comet P1 NEOWISE will appear briefly in late October / early November for observers in the northern hemisphere.
So how about Comet F3 NEOWISE this summer? In 2020 one of the best comets in the northern hemisphere of recent times quickly appeared and the first good comet for us in the north of the 21st century, when F3 NEOWISE graced the sky in the early morning and faded into a beautiful twilight phenomenon for an encore last half of July.
F3 NEOWISE reminded us that it's worth keeping an eye on all comets … just in case. But wait, there's more. The near-earth object wide-field infrared survey explorer (NEOWISE) caught another fascinating object on August 2, 2020 as part of its extended sky survey mission: The comet C / 2020 P1 NEOWISE is set to become a fine binocular object at the end of October at the beginning of November.
This is the 16th NEOWISE comet to date and the first find for the mission since the historical discovery and appearance of C / 2020 F3 NEOWISE.
Comet P1 NEOWISE of October 4th. Photo credit: Rob Kaufman / @ Vivstoitsis
Of course, P1 NEOWISE appears to be a tiny object on the comet's path. P1 NEOWISE was discovered when it was 1.7 Astronomical Units (AU) from the Sun and 1.2 AU from Earth. The good news is that the comet appears to be an active comet that is currently +10 magnitude with a sphere and is exceeding expectations.
The projected light curve for Comet C / 2020 P1 NEOWISE together with the observed quantities (black points). Adapted from Seiichi Yoshida's weekly information on bright comets.
P1 NEOWISE will be shy, with a brief appearance deep east at dawn for the last half of October through November. Part of the problem is that the little comet traverses the inner solar system and then crashes straight away from Earth after perihelion. One of the factors that really helped F3 NEOWISE earlier this summer was that it was moving in the general direction of the earth after perihelion.
The morning path of comet P1 NEOWISE through the sky. The orientation of the stars and planets shown is set to the end date (November 10th). Image credit: Starry Night.
In the vicinity of the perihelion, the comet will actually travel across the sky at about 2.5 degrees (the latitude of five full moons) per day.
Comet C / 2020 P1 NEOWISE is in a hyperbolic orbit with an eccentricity of just a little more than 1.0, based on observations worth 49 days. This means that it is most likely an extremely long orbit, measured in thousands – maybe millions – of years. With an orbit inclined at 45 degrees to the ecliptic, P1 NEOWISE reaches the perihelion just outside the orbit of Mercury. Perhaps the comet is a dynamic new object making its first pass through the inner solar system. If so, this is a plus to the chances of the comet lighting up before expectations.
P1 NEOWISE's orbit through the inner solar system. Photo credit: NASA / JPL
Here are the celestial dates with the fate of Comet C / 2020 P1 NEOWISE on its appearance in 2020:
(Note: "Near" means one degree or less passage unless otherwise noted).
6-crossed in Hydra
Passed 9-1.5 degrees of M68
10-Passed in Corvus
11-Passed near +2.6 Kraz (Beta Corvi)
12- Past nearest Earth, approaching 0.659 AU away.
14-brightest (+ 8th size?)
16 crosses into the Virgo and cross (!) Indeed the face of the Sombrero Galaxy Messier 104
17 passes near the +4.6 magnitude star Chi Virginis
19-Cross the ecliptic plane to the north
20-reaches perihelion at 0.34 astronomical units (AU) from the sun
21-Cross the celestial equator to the north
The heavenly path of comet P1 NEOWISE from mid-October to mid-November. Image credit: Starry Night.
1-cross after Boötes
May 10th falls back below + 10th magnitude
Comet observation is as easy as sweeping the suspicious field with binoculars and looking for a blurry “star” that stubbornly refuses to focus. Binoculars are ideal for this task as they give you a wide field of view that offers a real (as opposed to mirrored or inverted) view, a much more intuitive way to chase through the starry sky.
What could the next few months bring in terms of cometary activity? Well, although the next "bright" one could come anytime, we have a steady stream of binocular comets including C / 2020 M3 ATLAS, 88 / P Howell, and C / 2020 S3 Erasmus in the deep sky pipeline … Look check out this room to find out more!