Comets are strange things. The classic definition is that they are icy snowballs traveling through space. As they get closer to the sun, they heat up and vent material into space and create a tail. Some of these tails are tens of millions of miles long.
In actuality, these objects formed billions of years ago and spent most of their existence billions of miles from the sun. The comets we see in the inner solar system were dislodged from their orbits by passing stars and fell toward the sun.
As they fall toward the sun, comets face one of three fates:
- They fall into the sun or pass so close to the sun that they are vaporized. The SOHO space craft has filmed several of these sun diving or sun grazing comets.
- The comets pass the sun at just the right angle that they gain enough speed and are sling shot out of the solar system. These one-pass comets follow a hyperbolic orbit. Typically, these comets are very bright, but very rare.
- The comets enter the solar system and have their orbits changed by one of the gas giant planets. These comets become periodic comets, orbiting the sun with periods of between a few years to several centuries. These comets have a “P” in their names to identify them as periodic.
Between now and June, astronomers are expecting four comets to be bright enough to be seen with binoculars and one that may be bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye. Of course, these projections have been known to be wrong, but here’s hoping.
The first comet to become visible through binoculars is 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova. It is expected that this comet will reach magnitude 6.4 on Feb. 9. See the site below for more information on how to find this comet and the ones listed below.
The second comet to become visible through binoculars is 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak. It is expected that this comet will reach magnitude 7.9 on April 5. This comet is a little iffy for binoculars, but will definitely be a telescope object
C/2015 ER61 (PANSTARRS) will reach its brightest point around May 4 at 5.3 magnitude. If it brightens just a little bit more, it may be visible to the unaided eye.
Finally, comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson) is expected to peak at magnitude 6.6 on June 5.
If you don’t own binoculars, look forward to March 10. That is when 2P/Encke will reach its brightest. On that date, Comet Encke will be easily visible. What will it look like all depends on the level of out gassing, but it should be a good show.
For more information, go to https://in-the-sky.org/data/comets.php
THE NIGHT SKY
The International Space Station is visible as follows:
ISS evening through Feb. 17.
ISS morning Feb. 28 through March 24.
ISS evening beginning March 26
For the times of other events, go to www.calsky.com. You will need to register at this site and load your location to be able to get exact times. The University of Maine at Presque Isle is located at 68d00m7.8s west longitude and 46d40m45.6s north latitude.
To get a free sky chart, go to www.skymaps.com.
Sun and Planet Visibility
Not visible: Mercury.
Not visible: Mercury.
02/07 09:18 Mercury at Aphelion–furthest from the sun.
02/08 19:44 ISS passes 1.3 degrees from the moon.
02/10 17:34 Penumbral/Partial Lunar Eclipse begins.
02/10 17:57 ISS passes 0.68 degrees from Deneb (Alpha Cygnus).
02/10 19:32 Full Moon.
02/10 19:43 Maximum Penumbral Lunar Eclipse.
02/10 21:53 Penumbral Lunar Eclipse ends.
02/15 20th anniversary of the Juancheng Meteor Fall–Hit house in China (1997).
02/15 06:18 Moon 3.4 degrees from Jupiter.
02/18 03:10 Moon Immersion (eclipse begins) of Zuben Elakrab (Gamma Libra).
02/18 04:17 Moon Emersion (eclipse ends) of Zuben Elakrab (Gamma Libra).
02/18 14:33 Last Quarter Moon.
02/18 16:14 Moon at Apogee–furthest from the Earth.
02/19 21:05 Venus at its brightest (-4.85 mag).
02/20 12:00 Venus at Perihelion–closest to the sun.
02/21 03:18 Moon 5.4 degrees from Saturn.
02/26 09:53 Annular Solar Eclipse–Not visible in the U.S.
02/26 09:58 New Moon.
02/26 19:19 Mars 0.56 degrees from Uranus.
03/01 17:48 Moon 4.6 degrees from Mars.
03/03 02:24 Moon at Perigee–Closest to the Earth.
03/04 06:10 Mercury 1.0 degrees from Neptune.
03/04 19:08 Moon Immersion (eclipse begins) of Theta 1 Taurus.
03/04 19:12 Moon Immersion (eclipse begins) of Theta 2 Taurus.
03/04 20:14 Moon Emersion (eclipse ends) of Theta 1 Taurus.
03/04 20:18 Moon Emersion (eclipse ends) of Theta 2 Taurus.
03/05 06:32 First Quarter Moon–This is the biggest first quarter moon of the year.
03/06 04:59 ISS passes 0.39 degrees from Deneb (Alpha Cygnus).
03/06 19:30 Mercury in Superior Conjunction–other side of the sun.
03/12 10:53 Full Moon.
03/14 Pi Day.
03/14 21:24 Moon 3.4 degrees from Jupiter.
03/17 07:00 Equilux–Equal length of day and night for Presque Isle.
03/18 08:27 Mercury 8.5 degrees from Venus.
03/18 23:22 Moon at Apogee–furthest from the Earth.
03/20 06:06 Moon 2.4 degrees from Saturn.
03/20 06:28 March Equinox–Spring begins.
03/20 11:58 Last Quarter Moon.
03/23 09:54 Mercury at Perihelion–closest to the sun.
03/25 06:18 Venus in Inferior Conjunction with the sun–between the Earth and the sun.
03/26 11:06 Mercury 2.1 degrees from Uranus.
03/27 22:57 New Moon.
03/28 20:00 Moon 9.5 degrees from Mercury.
03/30 01:42 Mercury at half phase.
03/30 19:30 Moon 6.9 degrees from Mars.
03/31 23:24 Moon Immersion (eclipse begins) of Hyadum 1 (Gamma Taurus).