Comet 144P/Kushida hiding in the Hyades

Periodic comet 144P/Kushida moves through the Hyades open cluster in Taurus during the first week of February, making it easy to spot with binoculars or a small telescope.

Comet 144P/Kushida
Comet 144P/Kushida was caught on the edge of a frame in early January 2024 Credit: Mark Hardaker

On 4 February, the comet will be visible just north of Gamma Tauri, the tip of the V-shaped face of the celestial bull. During the month it will pass through the cluster, its position changing every night.  On 10 February, it will pass only 7 arcminutes from brilliant Aldebaran, fading slowly as it heads away from us and reaching Orion by the end of March.

Although only magnitude 9 or so, the comet should be visible as a pale grey patch in good binoculars, especially as the Moon will be new on 9 Feb. Larger telescopes will show the comet nicely, while astrophotography will show the distinct greenish glow often associated with comets.  This is caused when diatomic carbon (C2) molecules in the “coma” or nebulous envelope surrounding the nucleus, are excited by the Sun’s ultra-violet light.

Chart 1a
Comet 144P/Kushida moves through the Hyades during February, passing very close to Aldebaran on 10 Feb. Credit: Mark Hardaker

Comet 144P/Kushida was discovered in 1964 by Yoshio Kushida and has an orbital period of 7.366 years. At its most distant, its orbit takes it well past Jupiter, while the comet reaches perihelion no nearer than 1.4 AU from the Sun, outside Earth’s orbit.