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/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS)8.8Lupus53°
Brightening
(peak at mag 8.4 on 22 Jan 2023)
27 Sep 2022
C/2022 P1 (NEOWISE)10.8Grus128°
Brightening
(peak at mag 10.7 on 8 Oct 2022)
27 Sep 2022
81P/Wild11.5Leo35°
Brightening
(peak at mag 10.4 on 15 Jan 2023)
4 Dec 2018
C/2020 V212.0Ursa Major64°
Brightening
(peak at mag 9.9 on 22 Jan 2023)
27 Sep 2022
118P/Shoemaker-Levy12.1Canis Minor85°
Brightening
(peak at mag 10.7 on 7 Jan 2023)
4 Dec 2018
51P/Harrington12.3Aquarius139°
Fading
(peak at mag 12.0 on 9 Sep 2022)
29 Feb 2012
C/2019 L3 (ATLAS)12.3Hydra47°
Fading
1 Jun 2022
22P/Kopff12.4Cetus171°
Fading
1 Apr 2018
C/2022 E3 (ZTF)12.5Corona Borealis55°
Brightening
(peak at mag 6.3 on 1 Feb 2023)
27 Sep 2022
C/2021 P4 (ATLAS)12.5Centaurus30°
Fading
3 Jul 2022
116P/Wild12.9Virgo20°
Fading
4 Dec 2018
C/2019 T4 (ATLAS)13.0Virgo12°
Fading
3 Jul 2022
73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann13.1Scorpius69°
Fading
(peak at mag 11.8 on 1 Sep 2022)
27 Sep 2022
C/2021 E3 (ZTF)13.3Antlia48°
Fading
3 Jul 2022
C/2020 K1 (PANSTARRS)13.4Ophiuchus67°
Brightening
27 Sep 2022
41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak13.5Virgo19°
Fading
(peak at mag 12.9 on 14 Sep 2022)
3 Jul 2017
C/2019 U5 (PANSTARRS)14.0Coma Berenices23°
Brightening
(peak at mag 12.3 on 24 Mar 2023)
1 Aug 2022
204P/LINEAR-NEAT14.0Gemini75°
Brightening
(peak at mag 12.8 on 18 Jan 2023)
29 Feb 2012
44P/Reinmuth14.2Taurus132°
Brightening
(peak at mag 14.1 on 13 Oct 2022)
1 Apr 2018
C/2020 R7 (ATLAS)14.2Scorpius61°
Fading
1 Aug 2022
117P/Helin-Roman-Alu14.5Sagittarius88°
Fading
1 Aug 2022
9P/Tempel14.7Piscis Austrinus131°
Fading
4 Dec 2018
110P/Hartley15.0Virgo12°
Fading
29 Feb 2012
19P/Borrelly15.2Coma Berenices22°
Fading
1 Apr 2018
237P/LINEAR15.2Corvus
Brightening
1 Dec 2016

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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