Thursday, 9 February 2017

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková approaches the Earth.

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková will pass the Earth at a distance of 12 440 000 km (32.4 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon or 8.32% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun) at about 8.20 am on Saturday 11 February 2017. Sadly the comet will not be naked-eye-visible, achieving a maximum magnitude of about +7, which means it will require a reasonably good telescope to see it, and since this will occur the night after the Full Moon (on Saturday 11 February), so that it is likely to be hard for inexperienced astronomers to observe.

Image of 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková taken on 22 December 2016 from Tivoli Astrofarm in Namibia. Gerald Rhemann.

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková was discovered on 3 December 1948 by astronomers Minoru Honda, Antonín Mrkos, and Ľudmila Pajdušáková. The designation 45P implies that it was the 45th periodic comet discovered. 

45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková s a short period, Jupiter Family comet (a comet with a period of less than 20 years with an orbit angled at less than 30° to the plane of the Solar System), with a 5.26 year orbital period and an elliptical orbit tilted at 5.25° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.53 AU from the Sun (i.e 0.53 times as far from the Sun as the Earth, between the orbits of Mercury and Venus) to 5.52 AU from the Sun (i.e. 5.52 times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, slightly outside the orbit of Jupiter). This means that close encounters between the comet and Earth are quite common, with the last having occurred in August 2011 and the next predicted for October 2032. It also has frequent close encounters with the planet Jupiter, with the last having happened in May 1983 and the next predicted for June 2018.

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