Enter Comet S3 Erasmus: A Bright Comet For November

Comet C/2020 S3 Erasmus ‘may’ end out the cometary cavalcade for 2020.

Ready for one more comet for 2020? Thus far, this year has been a memorable one for comet watchers, with a steady stream of binocular fuzzball comets, crowned by the amazing sight of naked eye comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE this past summer. 2020 cometary alumni has also included comets F8 SWAN, P1 NEOWISE, and M3 ATLAS. Now, newly discovered Comet C/2020 S3 Erasmus takes center stage.

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Tales of Two Fall Comets: 88P Howell and M3 ATLAS

M3 Atlas

Two more comets – 88P Howell and M3 ATLAS – are worth scouting the sky for into November 2020.

If you’re like us, you’ve been at taking advantage of every clear night during quarantine to get out and observe the night sky. Thankfully, 2020 has thus far been a ‘comet year,’ with a steady string of binocular comets, led by bright comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE this summer. Fall is seeing another surge in comets topping +10th magnitude. Late October sees a brief dawn apparition of Comet C/2020 P1 NEOWISE and now, two other comets grace the dawn and dusk skies.

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Comet P1 NEOWISE Makes a Brief Late October Appearance

Comet P1 NEOWISE will make a brief dawn appearance for northern hemisphere observers in late October/early November.

So, how about Comet F3 NEOWISE this summer? 2020 saw the rapid appearance of one of the best northern hemisphere comets in recent memory, and the first good comet for us up north for the 21st century, as F3 NEOWISE graced early morning skies, and transitioned to a fine dusk apparition for an encore performance in the last half of July.

F3 NEOWISE reminded us that all comets are worth keeping tabs on… just in case. But wait, there’s more. The Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) caught another intriguing object on August 2, 2020 as part of its extended sky survey mission: Comet C/2020 P1 NEOWISE is set to become a fine binocular object in late October and early November.

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Comet F3 NEOWISE May Perform in July

Watch for comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at dusk in late July… if it survives perihelion.

Update – Friday July 3rd: Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE reaches perihelion today at 16:18 UT/12:18 PM EDT. As of writing this, several observers worldwide have recovered the comet at dawn, and it seems to be holding steady at magnitude +0.5. The dawn apparition is, however, a tough catch, as the comet stays very low to the northeast at dawn in early July. We’ve added in a finder chart (below) for this brief dawn apparition; things improve greatly towards mid-July, as the comet shifts over to the dusk sky and heads out away from the Sun. Let’s hope it stays bright, and maybe throws an outburst our way! We’ll continue to post updates on Twitter as @Astroguyz as the celestial situation warrants.

Ready for one more? 2020 has thus far offered up a steady celestial parade of binocular comets, including C/2019 Y1 and Y4 ATLAS, 2017 T2 PanSTARRS, and 2019 U6 Lemmon. Now, we have one more inner solar system interloper from the Oort Cloud with potential: C/2020 F3 NEOWISE.

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Comet U6 Lemmon Brightens in July

Comet U6 Lemmon

Comet U6 Lemmon promises to be a fine binocular object at dusk.

And then there were five. Though we’re long overdue for the next great ‘Comet of the Century,’ 2020 seems intent on on throwing decent binocular comets our way, the ranks of which include comets C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS, C/2019 Y1 and C/2019 Y4 ATLAS and C/2020 F8 SWAN. Now, C/2019 U6 Lemmon is set to take center stage in July.

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Following Comet Y1 ATLAS: the ‘Lost Comet’ of Spring

Comet Y1 ATLAS
Comet C/2019 Y1 ATLAS from February 16th. Image credit: Slooh/José J. Chambó

Got clear skies? If you’re like us, you’ve been putting the recent pandemic-induced exile to productive use, and got out under the nighttime sky. And though 2020 has yet to offer up a good bright ‘Comet of the Century’ to keep us entertained, there have been a steady stream of good binocular comets for northern hemisphere viewers, including C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS and C/2019 Y4 ATLAS. This week, I’d like to turn your attention to another good binocular comet that is currently at its peak: the ‘other’ comet ATLAS, C/2019 Y1 ATLAS.

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Catch Comet T2 PanSTARRS This Spring

The green Comet PanSTARRS passing near the Double Cluster in Perseus on January 22, 2020. Credit Alan Dyer.

Ready for the next great comet? First, the bad news. there is not (as of yet), a good naked eye comet in the cards, for 2020. The good news is… there is a fine binocular comet currently well-placed for northern hemisphere viewers: Comet T2 PanSTARRS.

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Will Blanpain Perform? Comet Prospects for 2020

Comet T2 PanSTARRS
Getting brighter... Comet T2 PanSTARRS from December 6th. Image credit and copyright: Efrain Morales Rivera.

Looking forward to the next bright comet in 2020 or beyond? You’re not alone. Though we’ve had a steady string of decent binocular comets over the past few years, we haven’t had a good naked eye comet since W3 Lovejoy beat solar death during its blistering perihelion passage in 2011. But this survivor turned out to be bashful, and headed for southern hemisphere skies… Comet P1 McNaught followed suit in 2007, hiding from northern hemisphere observers at its best. And we all remember what happened to Comet S1 ISON—touted as the next great ‘Comet of the Century’ on U.S. Thanksgiving Day 2013. Here it is almost 2020, and you have to go allll the way back nearly a quarter of a century to Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake to remember just how brilliant a good naked eye comet can be.

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