Objects in your sky: Comets

by Dominic Ford

Below is a list of the brightest few comets that are visible at present.

You are welcome to reproduce the text below for non-profit purposes, providing you credit In-The-Sky.org.

Comet name Mag Constellation Separation
from Sun
Trend Absolute magnitude
last updated
Comet name Mag Constellation Separation
from Sun
Trend Absolute magnitude
last updated
C/2020 S3 (Erasmus)6.2Libra25°
Brightening
(peak at mag 5.3 on 11 Dec 2020)
2 Dec 2020
C/2020 M3 (ATLAS)8.9Taurus167°
Fading
(peak at mag 8.2 on 7 Nov 2020)
2 Dec 2020
88P/Howell10.3Capricornus57°
Fading
1 Apr 2018
C/2019 N1 (ATLAS)10.3Hydra35°
Brightening
(peak at mag 10.2 on 31 Dec 2020)
2 Sep 2020
141P/Machholz10.4Capricornus52°
Brightening
(peak at mag 9.1 on 24 Dec 2020)
1 Apr 2018
156P/Russell-LINEAR12.6Pisces114°
Fading
(peak at mag 12.0 on 6 Nov 2020)
1 Nov 2020
398P/Boattini13.1Eridanus145°
Brightening
(peak at mag 12.7 on 26 Dec 2020)
2 Dec 2020
58P/Jackson-Neujmin13.2Canis Minor135°
Fading
2 Sep 2020
10P/Tempel13.3Ophiuchus
Brightening
(peak at mag 11.0 on 27 Mar 2021)
1 Apr 2018
C/2019 L3 (ATLAS)13.8Cassiopeia118°
Brightening
2 Dec 2020
110P/Hartley13.9Pegasus106°
Fading
29 Feb 2012
C/2020 Q1 (Borisov)14.1Aquila58°
Fading
2 Oct 2020
C/2018 N2 (ASASSN)14.2Draco82°
Fading
2 Oct 2020
C/2018 F4 (PANSTARRS)14.4Sculptor110°
Fading
2 Oct 2020
246P/NEAT14.9Libra10°
Brightening
(peak at mag 13.5 on 18 Jun 2021)
3 Jun 2020
C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS)14.9Hercules60°
Brightening
1 Nov 2020
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)14.9Scorpius
Fading
2 Oct 2020
74P/Smirnova-Chernykh15.1Sagittarius40°
Fading
29 Feb 2012
4P/Faye15.2Sagittarius35°
Brightening
14 Sep 2017
84P/Giclas15.3Cancer121°
Fading
8 Feb 2017
67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko15.5Sagittarius30°
Brightening
1 Apr 2018
116P/Wild15.9Taurus173°
Brightening
4 Dec 2018
C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS)16.1Hercules25°
Fading
3 Jun 2019
C/2020 P1 (NEOWISE)16.3Virgo37°
Fading
(peak at mag 5.4 on 19 Oct 2020)
1 Nov 2020
2P/Encke16.3Sagittarius45°
Fading
14 Mar 2017

The position of each comet is calculated from orbital elements published by the Minor Planet Center (MPC).

The brightnesses of comets are estimated from magnitude parameters published by the BAA Comet Section, where these are available. These are computed from the observations they receive from amateur astronomers.

Comets are intrinsically highly unpredictable objects, since their brightness depends on the scattering of sunlight from dust particles in the comet's coma and tail. This dust is continually streaming away from the comet's nucleus, and its density at any particular time is governed by the rate of sublimation of the ice in the comet's nucleus, as it is heated by the Sun's rays. It also depends on the amount of dust that is mixed in with that ice. This is very difficult to predict in advance, and can be highly variable even between successive apparitions of the same comet.

In consequence, while the future positions of comets are usually known with a high degree of confidence, their future brightnesses are not. For most comets, we do not publish any magnitude estimates at all. For the few comets where we do make estimates, we generally prefer the BAA's magnitude parameters to those published by the Minor Planet Center, since they are typically updated more often.

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