Jasper Dark Sky Festival

A New Binocular Comet

An unremarkable object brightened unexpectedly, but is now fading.

252PLINEAR Path

The comet’s path is shown through to mid-April. Its position is plotted for each date at 5:30 a.m., EDT. (Click on the chart for a full-sized version.)

Comet 252P/LINEAR was a southern-sky target up until the end of March and wasn’t expected to brighten much beyond magnitude 10. In other words, it didn’t warrant a great deal of attention from backyard stargazers in Canada. But the comet brightened unexpectedly and became am easy binocular target.

Currently the comet is making its way northward in Ophiuchus on the outbound leg of its journey through the inner solar system. It had its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) on March 15 and passed by our planet on March 21. Because its distance from us and the Sun is now increasing, the comet will likely fade significantly over the next few weeks. In other words, the sooner you can spot Comet 252P, the better. The latest reports peg the comet close to magnitude 6, which means it should still be readily visible in binoculars under dark-sky conditions.

The best time to look for 252P is during the predawn hours. Use binoculars or a small telescope, and the chart above, to pinpoint the its location. Comet 252P/LINEAR should look like a small, tail-less fuzzball.

April 7, 2016 Update:

SkyNews associate editor Ken Hewitt-White observed the comet from his home in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Thursday morning (April 7) and filed the following report:

I swept up the comet in my 10-inch f/5.5 Dobsonian.  At 58× 252P looked almost exactly like what I expected—a large, round, very diffuse patch that was gradually brighter toward the middle. The diameter of the visible coma was about 10 arc minutes. I determined this quite easily as the comet was beside a pair of 8th mag stars exactly 11 arc minutes apart and the diffuse ball looked as though it would fit in between those two stars. No bright nucleus at the centre of the coma that I could see. The comet was roughly magnitude 7,  but with low surface brightness. It’s the kind of sky object that a bit of haze and bad light-pollution could swallow up completely.

I turned to my tripod-mounted 7×50 binoculars. I saw the comet in those, too, but only because I knew exactly where to look. The comet was very small and extremely dim in my city sky. Next, I put my 4.25-inch f/6 Newtonian to the task and it, picked up the comet at 27×. The comet was utterly featureless in those optics — just a diffuse patch of light. But it certainly was visible, city sky notwithstanding.

April 4, 2016 Update:

SkyNews reader Tenho Tuomi, of Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan viewed the comet on Saturday morning, April 2, and passed along this photo and observing report:

Tuomi -252P_15

I observed and photographed comet 252P/LINEAR  09:22 UT. It must have flared since your report from April 1 for it was easy to find with 10×40 binoculars. It would not fit in the eyepiece of my 12-inch scope, so I took a picture (7, 2-minute exposures, combined) of it with my F/5 80-mm Sky-Watcher refractor and Canon T5i camera at ISO 1600.

At SkyNews we love to read about your experiences and see your photos. You can share them with us by e-mailing skynews@skynews.ca.

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