Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cometary outburst

Last week, a surprise event occurred that is worth a look by anyone with a small telescope. The periodic comet 168/P Hergenrother has undergone a massive outburst that brightened it to between ninth and tenth magnitude. It was expected to be a 15th magnitude object, which has an orbital period of 6.9 years. Comet Hergenrother was discovered by Carl Hergenrother who used a 16-inch telescope to discover it photographically in 1998. It is now marking its second return since it was first discovered and identified, and at present it's moving north in the Great Square of Pegasus.

The enormous flare up of activity on this comet prompted me to roll out the 15-inch to look for it from the driveway. Once I entered the co-ordinates and slewed to the location of the comet using the Sky Commanders, it immediately appeared at 111X and the view was much better at 227X. It resembled the flame from a welding torch with a bright inner region to the tail, and a fainter outer envelope. There was a bright, star like inner coma apparent. and the whole comet was compact and stood out well against the bright sky background.

Last weekend, I looked at it from a the airstrip and made this drawing. The tail was more definite and longer, and overall the comet was a nice, impressive object through the 15-inch. I was not expecting to catch another outburst on a comet since the incredibly powerful outburst Comet Holmes underwent back in 2007, but this was a pleasant surprise for me. It is a nice preview of the PANSTARS and now ISON comets that are coming in 2013, with the ISON comet having a good chance of becoming the the great comet of the early 21rst century. Below are links to articles about the Hergenrother comet. Since this outburst the comet is now fading so if you wish to catch it in a small telescope, you should look for it now. The moon will also soon drown it out. Good luck, and good hunting!

http://www.astronomynow.com/news/n1210/10comet/

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/home/Comet-Hergenrother-Puts-on-a-Show-172753901.html

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