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
88P/Howell8.7Scorpius67°
Fading
(peak at mag 8.6 on 17 Sep 2020)
1 Apr 2018
C/2020 Q1 (Borisov)11.0Cassiopeia109°
Fading
(peak at mag 10.8 on 22 Sep 2020)
2 Sep 2020
C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS)11.3Virgo41°
Fading
2 Sep 2020
C/2019 N1 (ATLAS)11.4Coma Berenices19°
Brightening
(peak at mag 10.2 on 31 Dec 2020)
2 Sep 2020
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)12.0Libra45°
Fading
2 Sep 2020
58P/Jackson-Neujmin12.0Monoceros75°
Fading
2 Sep 2020
2P/Encke13.3Scorpius83°
Fading
14 Mar 2017
C/2018 N2 (ASASSN)13.8Ursa Minor73°
Fading
3 Jun 2020
110P/Hartley13.9Pegasus163°
Brightening
(peak at mag 13.8 on 20 Oct 2020)
29 Feb 2012
C/2019 U6 (Lemmon)14.0Hercules64°
Fading
2 Sep 2020
84P/Giclas14.5Gemini67°
Fading
8 Feb 2017
74P/Smirnova-Chernykh14.6Sagittarius99°
Fading
29 Feb 2012
246P/NEAT15.1Virgo33°
Brightening
3 Jun 2020
10P/Tempel15.1Virgo29°
Brightening
(peak at mag 11.0 on 29 Mar 2021)
1 Apr 2018
C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS)15.1Hercules80°
Brightening
2 Sep 2020
4P/Faye15.4Serpens Cauda88°
Brightening
14 Sep 2017
67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko15.5Sagittarius87°
Fading
1 Apr 2018
C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS)15.8Serpens Caput59°
Fading
3 Jun 2019
69P/Taylor16.1Bootes28°
Fading
Unknown
218P/LINEAR16.2Virgo24°
Brightening
(peak at mag 16.1 on 2 Oct 2020)
17 May 2015
141P/Machholz16.5Ophiuchus79°
Brightening
(peak at mag 9.1 on 24 Dec 2020)
1 Apr 2018
C/2014 S2 (PANSTARRS)16.6Centaurus44°
Fading
3 Aug 2016
116P/Wild16.7Taurus107°
Brightening
(peak at mag 15.9 on 26 Dec 2020)
4 Dec 2018
102P/Shoemaker16.7Sagittarius112°
Fading
(peak at mag 16.6 on 2 Sep 2020)
28 Nov 2013
52P/Harrington-Abell16.9Pisces171°
Brightening
Unknown

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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