Popular Astronomy

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Stumble It More...

Mon, 08 Jan 2007 - Comet 2006 P1 (McNaught)

Comet McNaught (2006 P1) has so far shown a consistent light curve, although it has been too faint to see and too close to the Sun for observation since mid November. At perihelion on January 12.8 it is just 0.17 AU from the Sun, but is also at an elongation of less than ten degrees. It has the potential to be a bright object, but the brightness of comets is notoriously difficult to predict. At the moment it is north of the Sun, and although still at a small elongation, it is potentially observable in a bright sky.

A few observers have been able to find the comet in the twilight sky, and their observations indicate that the comet is now perhaps 2nd magnitude. Assuming that it continues to brighten it should become easier to spot, although it remains low in the twilight sky. You will need a clear horizon to the west (evening) or east (morning) combined with transparent skies. Observation is possible in both evening and morning twilight, with tail observation generally better in the evening twilight when the tail will be nearly vertical. The exact magnitude is difficult to predict, and probably even more difficult to estimate, as atmospheric extinction will be considerable. When reporting magnitude estimates please give the exact time of observation, your location (with latitude and longitude if possible) and the comparison stars you have used. Please submit observations, whether visual, CCD/DSLR images or sketches as soon as possible after you make them. Whilst Bulletin Boards may be good for exchanging views and observations, they are not a substitute for reporting directly to the Section Directors and I do not routinely trawl them for observations.

UK observers will have until around January 14th to see the comet in the twilight, and by then it is only visible in the evening. The angle between the earth, comet and Sun becomes quite large around January 14th and this should lead to an additional increase in brightness. It may therefore be worth trying daylight observation within a day or two of January 14, although the comet is then only 5 degrees from the Sun, so extreme care will be needed. Mercury is close by, and it seems possible that the comet will be the brighter object. Venus is rather more distant, but may be a comparable brightness. The comet will be visible in the SOHO and STEREO coronagraphs from January 12 to 15, so for a real-time view see:

After the 15th the comet is unlikely to be seen from the UK, and will be picked up by Southern Hemisphere observers, where it may be a spectacular sight.

Location charts and the latest information is available here. I'll keep my fingers crossed that the weather situation improves!


Added by: