A Naked Eye Comet

Jan 03, 2005
Comet Macholz

Throughout January, astronomers in the northern hemisphere will be watching the recently discovered Comet Macholz as it tracks across the sky. It should be visible to the unaided eye until late January and well placed in the sky for UK observers.
During January, the comet will track northward, passing through the constellations of Taurus, Perseus and Cassiopeia as it heads toward the Pole Star, Polaris. In the first few days of the new year, it should be visible about 10 degrees to the west of the bright orange star Aldebaran (the “bull’s eye” in the V-shaped star pattern of Taurus).

On the night of January 7 - 8, it will sail about 2 degrees (4 Moon widths) to the west of the easily recognisable Pleiades star cluster, often known as the Seven Sisters.

The comet was discovered by Californian amateur astronomer Don Machholz on 27 August 2004. During early January it is about 52 million km from the Earth , though the distance increases after mid-month. It will be at its closest to the Sun (about 180 million km) on 24 January. However, rather unusually, the comet spends its entire life outside the orbit of the Earth.

To find Comet Machholz, it is best to select a dark observing site away from major cities and street lights. Anyone familiar with the winter sky should look to the right of the bright constellation of Orion and then search higher in the sky for Aldebaran and the Pleiades. In binoculars, look for an object that is fuzzy compared with the much more distant stars.

Source: Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
Image Credit: Adam Block (NOAO), AURA, NSF

Explore further: Italian astronaut brews, sips first fresh espresso in space

Related Stories

The solar system and beyond is awash in water

Apr 08, 2015

As NASA missions explore our solar system and search for new worlds, they are finding water in surprising places. Water is but one piece of our search for habitable planets and life beyond Earth, yet it links ...

NASA asteroid hunter spacecraft data available to public

Mar 27, 2015

Millions of images of celestial objects, including asteroids, observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft now are available online to the public. The data ...

Kamikaze comet loses its head

Mar 03, 2015

Like coins, most comet have both heads and tails. Occasionally, during a close passage of the Sun, a comet's head will be greatly diminished yet still retain a classic cometary outline. Rarely are we left ...

What makes the solar system interesting to astronomers?

Feb 17, 2015

While most of us are stuck on planet Earth, we're lucky enough to have a fairly transparent atmosphere. This allows us to look up at the sky and observe changes. The ancients noticed planets wandering across ...

A close call of 0.8 light years

Feb 17, 2015

A group of astronomers from the US, Europe, Chile and South Africa have determined that 70,000 years ago a recently discovered dim star is likely to have passed through the solar system's distant cloud of ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy

1 hour ago

An international team of astronomers led by Yale University and the University of California-Santa Cruz have pushed back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5% of ...

What animals have been to space?

5 hours ago

When we think of spaceflight, we think astronauts. You're a human, you perceive the Universe with your human-centric attitudes. You… specist.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.