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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Comet 103P Hartley

In October 2010, keep your eyes open for comet 103P Hartley. This comet is a fairly short period comet with an orbital period of a little under 6.5 years. This year's apparition, though, could be a very interesting one.

The 2010 apparition of comet 103P Hartley is interesting because the comet's perihelion and closest approach to Earth are so close to each other. Shown in the image to the right is the comet's close approach to Earth on October 20th, 2010. This close approach is only 8 days prior to the comet's perihelion, where it is closest to the sun. This combination could result in a 2010 apparition of 103P Hartley reaching up to magnitude 5. If we're very lucky, it may go even higher!

Where to Look

To see the comet, you will most probably need a telescope if it's not near the peak magnitude. During the comet's closest approach to Earth on the 20th, it will be in the constellation Perseus. If the comet reaches its projected maximum magnitude, however, it should be a naked eye object under very dark skies. It will probably appear as a fuzzy patch in the sky. A lot of the pictures from the previous apparition don't show a very developed tail. Thus, binoculars or a telescope will definitely help in seeing the comet.

A very interesting conjunction will occur on October 8th, 2010, when the comet will be very close to the double cluster in Perseus. This could make for a stunning display in very wide telescopic eyepieces or binoculars.

Shown below is a finder chart for the comet. Click the picture to go to see the finder chart and other information!