SPA Comet News, August 2001

As suggested in the last comet notes, 2001 A2 (LINEAR) was indeed a binocular object throughout July. Several SPA members were able to view it, although it wasn't quite as easy as the media made out. Their suggestion that all you had to do was to go outside and look in the east, was quite wide of the mark, however it was a reasonably bright object and with the help a finder chart was not too difficult to spot. By and large it was just a fuzz ball, however from dark skies a faint ion tail was visible. I was very pleased to receive a number of drawings, as making a sketch of any object is a good way to improve your observing skills. The very act of drawing what you can see helps you to see more detail and makes your observation more useful. The comet is fading quite rapidly now, and is becoming much more diffuse, but it should remain within reach of binoculars for the rest of August.

Comet 19P/Borrelly is coming into view in the morning sky in Orion. This comet was discovered by Alphonse Borrelly in 1904 and was the 19th comet to have its orbit determined. It should be within reach of medium to large binoculars, but is unlikely to do better than 9th magnitude. To stand a better chance of seeing it, you should get well away from any street lights and the glare that they create. Unfortunately you will need to get up in the early morning to see the comet, as it does not become an evening object during this apparition. The brightness should peak shortly after perihelion, towards the end of September, when it is in Gemini. The solar elongation only slowly increases, but the comet moves north, although remaining a morning object. Slowly fading, it passes through the Leos (October) and into Ursa Major (November).

It is still not certain how bright 2000 WM1 (LINEAR) will become, so detailed news will have to wait until the next Circular. The indications are that it is brightening as expected and should be within reach of large apertures from August onwards.

Michael Oates has continued to search the SOHO LASCO database with considerable success and has discovered a further 20 or so SOHO comets. In total the satellite has discovered nearly 350 comets, with Michael having found 1/3 of them. For his efforts he received the BAA Stevenson Award in July.

For more information on current comets see my web page at

Jonathan Shanklin