Halloween Comets!

No fewer than four bright-ish comets greet skywatchers an hour before the start of dawn. From upper left counterclockwise: C/2013 R1 Lovejoy, 2P/Encke, C/2012 X1 and ISON. Credits: Gerald Rhemann, Damian Peach, Gianluca Masi and Gerald RhemannToday, the early morning was greeted by the arrival of not one, not two, not three, but four comets! And interestingly enough, even astronomers were surprised. For months now, they have known that the comets ISON and 2P/Encke would be gracing the morning sky on October 31st, but no one predicted that they’d be joined by C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy), and C/2012 X1 (LINEAR) as well.

These two comets – the former being discovered by  Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy back in September and the latter being a somewhat obscure character, presented a rare opportunity to stargazers everywhere. The appearance of four comets at the same time in the night sky is a rare phenomenon indeed. The fact that it coincides with Halloween? Well, the word spooky comes to mind…

https://i1.wp.com/d1jqu7g1y74ds1.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Halloween-comets-4_edited-11.jpgThe appearance of C/2012 X1 (LINEAR) was especially surprising given how sudden it was. In the past few days, the otherwise obscure comet has brightened by a factor of more than 200. Almost overnight, a comet found on precious few observing lists became bright enough to see in binoculars. Hence, comet trackers all over the world were sure to get up extra early to see it. But brightest of all was Comet Lovejoy, which reached magnitude 8.

As for Encke and C/2012 X1, astronomers were well prepared for their arrival. Encke’s appearance is predictable, since it treks around the sun every 3.3 years like clockwork and is often well placed for viewing. Because of its short period, dedicated comet watchers meet up with it a half dozen or more times during their lives. And due to its brightness, which tends to fall into the magnitude 7.5-8 range, binoculars are often all one needs to see it.

https://i0.wp.com/d1jqu7g1y74ds1.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ISON-Damian-Oct.-27-580x403.jpgComet C/2012 X1 is not usually visible in the night sky. But thanks to an eruption of fresh, dust-laden ices from its surface that blasted into space to form a gigantic glowing sphere that vaulted the comet’s magnitude 250 times to a voluminous 7.5, astronomers were expecting it to make an appearance alongside Encke this Autumn.

For those still interested in spotting these shooting stars, Comet Lovejoy will continue to brighten throughout November to the point where it can be seen by the naked eye. Small telescope users will continue to be able to see the comet with ease, as well as the gas tail that it is developing. Encke will also reach its peak magnitude for viewing by Nov. 21st as it chases the into the glare of morning twilight.

All you need is a telescope, a good set of binoculars, or a keen pair of eyes. And while we’re at it, I’d just like to remind people that this sort of conjunction does NOT portend doom! If anything, its a rare privilege, and should be considered a tiding of joy. The fact that it happens to fall on the spookiest of annual events, well that’s just pure coincidence!

Source: universetoday.com

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