With the exception of US10 Catalina at the beginning of the year, 2016 was a bit of a damp squid for bright comets when compared to recent years.
So what comet’s are in store for 2017? Are there any more naked eye comets on the horizon? Well, there are a couple of candidates and plenty within binocular viewing limits.
This short period comet is expected to reach closest approach in 2017 at a distance of 0.08au. The comet is brightening rapidly throughout November 2016 however only visible to southern sky observers. Northern observers may get a chance at the end of 2016 as perihelion approaches before it re-emerges in the Northern hemisphere in February. Imaged above on its last closest approach in 2011, this comet has had a few close encounters with Jupiter in the past making some noticeable changes to the comet’s orbit. Throughout January and February 2017 it is expected to reach magnitude 6 covering plenty of ground as it moves rapidly through Capricornus, Aquilla, Hercules, Corona Borealis, Bootes, Coma Berenices and Leo where it will remain throughout March. By this time it will have faded to around magnitude 10 unless anything unexpected happens.
Gracing our skies every 3.3 years, this regular visitor was the first periodic comet discovered after Halley’s Comet. With a nucleus of 4.8km, the comet reaches perihelion on 10 March, 2017 and reaches a fairly respectable brightness of magnitude 7. Positioned in Pisces throughout February for northern observers, the comet will quickly brighten making it visible in binoculars by mid month. The comet will then move rapidly in to Aquarius and sink in to northern dusk by early March.
Another short period comet with more promising prospects than the comet’s above, is expected to reach magnitude 5 in the Spring of 2017 bringing it within naked eye visibility. With a nucleus of an estimated 1.4 kilometers in diameter and a reputation for flaring, this comet reaches perihelion on 13 April, 2017. Well placed for northern sky observers from March until June, this comet will be a treat for binocular observers and may enter the realm of naked eye visibility in dark skies. A notable photographic opportunity arises at the end of April when the comet passes within 5 degrees of Globular Cluster, M92 .
C/2015 V2 (Johnson)
Discovered on 3 November 2015 by Jess Johnson of the Catalina Sky Survey, C/2015 V2 (Johnson) is a hyperbolic comet. Expected to reach Perihelion in June 2017, the comet will be well placed for northern hemisphere observers in the months leading to this. The comet is a morning object at the beginning of the year residing at the top of Bootes then by mid-February moves in to Hercules becoming a late evening object visible for the rest of the night. By May, the comet should reach magnitude 6 which is well within binocular viewing brightness before it plummets south becoming un-viewable to northern sky observers by July. Southern observers will be able to continue observing the object until the end of 2017.