Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Comet C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) reaches its perihelion.

Comet C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) reached its perihelion (the closest point on its orbit to the Sun) on Monday 6 July 2015, when it was 0.31 AU from the Sun (i.e. 0.31 times the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, slightly inside the orbit of the planer Mercury). Unfortunately this comet is poorly placed for observation from Earth, within 10° of the Sun observed from Earth at perihelion, and not realistically visible to Earth-bound astronomers, though it may be visible later in the year, particularly to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

Comet C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) imaged from the FRAM telescope in Mendoza Province, Argentina, in May 2015. The comet is the slightly diffuse object at the center of the frame, the linear objects are stars, elongated by their movement over the length of the exposure. Martin Mašek/Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic/Česká Astronomická Splolečnost.

C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) was discovered on 16 August 2014 by the University of Hawaii's PANSTARRS telescope. The name C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) implies that it is a non-periodic comet (C/) (all comets are, strictly speaking, periodic since they all orbit the Sun, but those with periods longer than 200 years are considered to be non-periodic), that it was the first comet (comet 1) discovered in the second half of August 2014 (period 2014 Q), and that it was discovered by the PANSTARRS telescope.

The path of C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) through the inner Solar System. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) has a 14 400 000 yearl period and a highly eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 43.1° to the plain of the Solar System, that brings it to 0.31 AU from the Sun at perihelion (0.31% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, slightly inside the orbit of Mercuary) and to 2312 AU (2312 times as far from the Sun as the Earth) at aphelion. This is 77 times as far from the Sun as the planet Neptune, and 46 times as far from the Sun as the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, but  still only touching the inner boundary of the Oort Cloud.

It is possible that C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) will break up at perihelion, due to heating and tidal forces generated by the Sun, but failing which it may be possible to observe it with binoculars in the constellation of Gemini from about 15 July onwards, though it will be close to the horizon and only visible shortly after dusk. As the comet moves above the horizon later in the month it will also move closer to the moon, making it harder to observe. On 19 July the comet will pass into the constellation of Leo, and on 22 July to Sextans, which is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere. From here it will move into the constellation of Crater on 5 August, then Hydra on 18 August and Centaurus at the end of the month. It will fade throughout this period, and by the end of August a fairly good telescope will be needed to view the comet.

See also...

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