SPA Comet News, July 2004

 

It has been a very busy spring for comets, and it promises to be a busy summer.Comet 2003 K4 (LINEAR) is brightening relatively rapidly and already a couple of European observers have reported that it is visible to the naked eye, so it is doing significantly better than when I last reported.It is probable that the rapid brightening will slow down, and it will only gain another magnitude by the time it dips into the western twilight sky in early September, but surprises are always possible.Weíll see it again as a 5th magnitude object as it passes through the SOHO coronagraph field at the end of September and early October, but after that youíll need to head for the Southern Hemisphere.For the moment it is conveniently placed in the evening sky in Bootes, heading southwards into Virgo.At the end of July it passes about 4į from globular cluster M3, which will probably be a little fainter.This appulse makes a good opportunity for sketches, photographs or wide-field CCD images, so Iíll look forward to receiving observations.

 

Comet 2001 Q4 (NEAT) is still on view, and is fading very slowly, so should be a binocular object into September.It is easy to find, as it is heading northwards through the bowl of the Plough.It didnít do quite as well as Iíd hoped, but it was a naked eye object for a while during May, showing a short tail a few degrees long in binoculars.I had some good views of it from rural southern Germany, where I was carrying out some calibration work on our Antarctic ozone measuring instrument.Shelagh Godwin sent in a couple of observations and former SPA Comet Section Director David Frydman also made an observation, finding it an easy object on June 11th.Mike Feist has sent in an excellent series of observations.Despite the generally poor weather, there do seem to have been some breaks in the cloud, and I managed half a dozen observations during the first half of July.

 

Early morning enthusiasts might like to try for the rather fainter comet 2004 H6 (SWAN), which is now visible.Its future behaviour is not entirely certain.It is fading from 8th magnitude, but is rapidly becoming diffuse and may be in the process of disintegration.

 

I have been very busy over the last few months, so donít worry if you have sent me observations, either by post or email and have not yet received a reply.Iíve had so much to do that I just havenít had time to sit down and send you responses. Your observations are valuable, so keep sending them in and I will reply when I can.In the meantime you can get all the latest updates on comet discoveries from my web page at http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~jds

 

Jonathan Shanklin