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Dr Ian Musgrave  - iTelescope Science Advisor

An avid amateur astronomer, Ian writes the weekly sky updates for ABC Radio Science and is science adviser to iTelescope. When not staring at the sky he is an equally enthusiastic molecular pharmacologist at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

You can follow Ian Musgrave on his Astroblog for daily posts about astronomy, biology and life, the Universe and everything.

"Over at Astroblog I largely guide people to the view of the sky as seen with the unaided eye. But I’m also an iTelescope.Net user, and I’m very honoured to have been invited to highlight some of the interesting objects that can be seen through the iTelescopes.

While many people are familiar with the larger, more glamorous objects in the night sky that make good iTelescope targets, there are a host of lesser known, interesting objects that are well worth chasing such as fast moving Near Earth Objects, Novae and Comets."  Twitter @ianmusgrave

Entries in Comet (96)


ALERT! Comet C/2017 T1 Heinze near M44 for Christmas

Comet C/2017 T1 Heinze as seen at 2:22 pm Local time for Mayhill, NewMexico, when it is at transit. The Comet is near M44, the Beehive cluster. The large square is the field of view of T14, and the small square the field of view of T5. Click to embiggen.

Comet C/2017 T1 Heinze is currently in cancer and will pass close to M44, (the Beehive Cluster) on Christmas Day.

From the northern hemisphere it is in range of the scopes from around 10:00 pm local time until astronomical twilight in the morning. It is highest at transit (2:22 am).

For Southern scopes it is in range from 1 am local time until astronomical twilight in the morning, being highest at 3:45 am local time. The Northern scopes have the best view

Imaging the comet and M44 will need wide field imagers like T12, T14 or T20, or assembly of mosaics with narrower field scopes. Getting the balance between the “bright” (magnitude 5-6) stars of the Beehive and the fainter magnitude 11 comet. You may need to shoot short exposures of the cluster and longer exposures of the comet then assemble them into one picture.

Comet C/2017 T1 Heinze as seen at 3:45 pm Local time for SSO, when it is at transit. The large square is the field of view of T12. Click to embiggen.








The MPC one line ephemeris is:

CK17T010  2018 02 21.7136  0.580751  1.000503   96.9069  102.3228   96.8246  20170904  12.5  4.0      C/2017 T1 (Heinze)


ALERT! Comet C/2016 R2 in Outburst (and keep an eye on 174P/Echeclus)

Comet C/2016 R2 PanSTARRS as seen at 22:40 Local time for Mayhill, NewMexico, when it is at transit. The Comet is currently near the Hyades. The large square is the field of view of T14, and the small square the field of view of T5. Click to embiggen.

Comet C/2016 R2 PanSTARRS is currently near the Hyades. It is visible from both Northern and southern scopes from astronomical twilight (northernscopes) about an hour after astronomical twilight (Southern scopes), being highest around 22:40 am local time for northern scopes and 23:45 local time from SSO. The Northern scopes have the best view.

The comet is currently in outburst, having brightened to nearly magnitude 9, a full magnitude brighter than the predicted maximum. The tail is showing some interesting structure and is well worth following (see these gifs for the 18th, here and here, and this image from the 19th). It is possible the comet will continue to brighten.

The MPC one line ephemeris is:

CK16R020  2018 05 09.5796  2.602313  0.996530   33.1930   80.5696   58.2198  20170904   7.0  4.0      C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS)

174P/Echeclus is developing a very distinctive coma, and is staying reasonably bright after its outburst, so it is well worth keeping an eye on too. Details here.


ALERT! 174P/Echeclus in outburst and showing coma, observations required. 

Comet 174P/Echeclus from Mayhill  at transit (21h 29m 25s local time). Click to embiggen and print.

AS many of you are aware, the Centaur and sometimes comet 174P has brightened to magnitude 14, up from 17.8.

It is visible from both northern and southern scopes at the base of Cetus (near Mu Ceti), with northern scopes favoured, transit is 21h 25m 28s local time from MayHill and 22h 37m 44s local time from SSO. The comet is moving slowly, so may be difficult of discern on a single image, comparing images over several days will help.

174P/Echeclus high power scope spotting image, the comet is near Mu Ceti. The small rectangle is the field of view of T5. Click to embiggen and print

The outburst has been confirmed by several people including some itelescope users.

A major question is if there has been any outgassing to create a coma and the evolution of such a coma.

Coma observations have now been reported from independent sites, and ongoing observation is requested to follow the evolution of the outburst.

MPC one line ephemeris is:

0174P 2015 04 21.1812 5.814420 0.455667 162.8046 173.3329 4.3445 20170904 9.4 2.0 174P/Echeclus

Chart by Charles Ball of outbursts of 174P.




ALERT! A potential Interstellar comet C/2107 U1, Observations urgently requested

Location of comet C/2017 U1 as seen from SSO at transit (23:00 AEDST). The comet is moving quickly through Pisces.

There has been a lot of speculation that rouge comets ejected from other solar systems might pass through ours, but until now there have been no good candidates.

Comet C/2017 U1 (PANSTARRS) is currently our best candidate for an interstellar interloper with an e of ~1.2.

To quote M.P.E.C. 2017-U181

Further observations of this object are very much desired. Unless there are serious problems with much of the astrometry listed below, strongly hyperbolic orbits are the only viable solutions. Although it is probably not too sensible to compute meaningful original and future barycentric orbits, given the very short arc of observations, the orbit below has e ~ 1.2 for both values. If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet.

Telescope view from SSO when the comet transists (around 23:00 AEST) with various illustrative FOV's, the large Square is T31, the rectangle is T11 and T5, the small square is T17. Click to embiggen (the magnitude on the chart is wrong I had to guess H and G parameters).

The good news is the comet is well placed for both northern and southern iTelescopes, it is quite high above the horizon at transit (23:00 local time SSO around 22:48 local time Mayhill) with the northern scopes having the best view. There is also a good window of observing opportunity around transit.

The bad news is that at magnitude 20 and fading, it will be a challenge to image, requiring deep sky instruments and long exposures.

Current orbital parameters and ephemerides are below, if you have a charting program you can use this to generate accurate positions.

Orbital elements:
    C/2017 U1 (PANSTARRS)
Epoch 2017 Sept. 4.0 TT = JDT 2458000.5
T 2017 Sept.  9.41719 TT                                MPCW
q   0.2515404            (2000.0)            P               Q
z  -0.7541603      Peri.  241.01670     -0.63536548     +0.68733697
 +/-0.0181483      Node    24.61531     +0.49903801     +0.71329677
e   1.1897018      Incl.  122.32770     -0.58929769     -0.13702411
From 34 observations 2017 Oct. 18-24, mean residual 0".5.


Ephemeris for SSO, RA Dec is for 23:00 local time

Date           Rise          Ast Twi E  Altitude       Transit      Set          Ast Twi B  Top R.A.          Top Dec 
26 Oct 2017 17:12:38 21:10:55 +50° 06' 24" 22:59:02 04:56:13 04:49:21 00h 03m 38.5s +04° 59' 13" 
27 Oct 2017 17:03:01 21:12:09 +49° 54' 00" 22:49:16 04:45:20 04:47:56 23h 57m 45.6s +05° 06' 50" 
28 Oct 2017 16:54:12 21:13:23 +49° 36' 00" 22:40:19 04:35:26 04:46:31 23h 52m 41.7s +05° 13' 29" 
29 Oct 2017 16:46:02 21:14:39 +49° 13' 49" 22:32:02 04:26:21 04:45:07 23h 48m 18.5s +05° 19' 22" 
30 Oct 2017 16:38:26 21:15:55 +48° 48' 27" 22:24:18 04:17:56 04:43:44 23h 44m 29.3s +05° 24' 40" 
31 Oct 2017 16:31:18 21:17:11 +48° 20' 36" 22:17:02 04:10:05 04:42:22 23h 41m 08.7s +05° 29' 30" 
01 Nov 2017 16:24:34 21:18:28 +47° 50' 50" 22:10:11 04:02:42 04:41:00 23h 38m 12.4s +05° 33' 58" 
02 Nov 2017 16:18:10 21:19:46 +47° 19' 33" 22:03:40 03:55:44 04:39:40 23h 35m 37.0s +05° 38' 07" 
03 Nov 2017 16:12:04 21:21:04 +46° 47' 01" 21:57:27 03:49:06 04:38:21 23h 33m 19.7s +05° 42' 02" 
04 Nov 2017 16:06:14 21:22:23 +46° 13' 29" 21:51:30 03:42:46 04:37:02 23h 31m 18.0s +05° 45' 45" 

Ephemeris for Mayhill RA Dec is at 22:48 local time


Date            Ast Twi E   Rise       Altitude       Transit     Set          Ast Twi B Top R.A.           Top Dec 
25 Oct 2017 19:40:13 16:36:07 +62° 02' 40" 22:48:48 05:12:06 05:51:31 00h 05m 44.0s +04° 56' 10" 
26 Oct 2017 19:39:17 16:25:27 +62° 05' 36" 22:38:44 05:01:41 05:52:14 23h 59m 33.0s +05° 04' 10" 
27 Oct 2017 19:38:23 16:15:44 +61° 57' 26" 22:29:32 04:52:12 05:52:59 23h 54m 14.4s +05° 11' 07" 
28 Oct 2017 19:37:30 16:06:48 +61° 40' 55" 22:21:02 04:43:29 05:53:43 23h 49m 39.0s +05° 17' 15" 
29 Oct 2017 19:36:38 15:58:31 +61° 18' 04" 22:13:08 04:35:25 05:54:27 23h 45m 39.5s +05° 22' 45" 
30 Oct 2017 19:35:48 15:50:46 +60° 50' 25" 22:05:43 04:27:53 05:55:12 23h 42m 10.2s +05° 27' 44" 
31 Oct 2017 19:34:59 15:43:28 +60° 19' 07" 21:58:45 04:20:48 05:55:56 23h 39m 06.5s +05° 32' 19" 
01 Nov 2017 19:34:11 15:36:35 +59° 45' 02" 21:52:07 04:14:07 05:56:41 23h 36m 24.8s +05° 36' 35" 
02 Nov 2017 19:33:25 15:30:01 +59° 08' 47" 21:45:49 04:07:46 05:57:26 23h 34m 01.9s +05° 40' 34" 
03 Nov 2017 19:32:40 15:23:45 +58° 30' 53" 21:39:47 04:01:42 05:58:11 23h 31m 55.5s +05° 44' 22"