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Green Comet 45P: Photos and video

Green Comet 45P has been in our sky for months and passed closest on February 11, 2017. It’s a faint one, but intrepid astronomers have captured some wonderful images!

The video above – from Greg Hogan of Kathleen, Georgia – shows the fast movement over 28 minutes of green Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková – which swept closest to Earth on February 11, 2017, temporarily becoming the most famous comet that practically nobody saw. Its closest point was around 8 UTC on Saturday, at which time the comet was 0.08 AU (7.4 million miles, about 12 million km, or some 30 times the moon’s distance) from the Earth. Experienced observers and astrophotographers, used to finding faint objects in the sky, had a shot at seeing it, although they had to contend with this weekend’s bright moon. The estimated brightness of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková at its closest and brightest was magnitude +7. That’s well outside the limit for visibility with the unaided eye. What’s more, a diffuse object, like a comet, is even tougher to see at that magnitude, or any magnitude. The comet is still around, but an extremely dark sky and optical aid (at least binoculars, probably a telescope) are needed to see it.

On the other hand, we are beginning to see a few photographs of Comet 45P, and we’re hoping we’ll see more in the days ahead.

February 7, 2017 photo of green Comet 45P by Brian Ottum, using a remotely operated telescope in Animas, New Mexico.

Brian Ottum, who created the beautiful composite image above on February 7 with three 5-minute exposures and a 10-inch telescope, told EarthSky:

I’ve been taking shots of 45P for 2 months. Waited excitedly for it to emerge from the sun’s glow. Unfortunately, it seems to be fading. No naked eye comet here.

Abhinav Prakash Dubey in New Delhi, India caught the green comet on February 7, too. His image, below, gives you a better idea of how some faint comets look on the sky’s dome, but his image is a composite, too (5 frames, 2-mins each stacked in Photoshop). Notice how many stars are visible here; your eye doesn’t see this many. Still, it’s a gorgeous photo. The comet is the blurry spot, around 8 o’clock from center.

Comet 45P on February 7, 2017 by Abhinav Prakash Dubey in New Delhi, India. He wrote: “Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova was located in the constellation of Aquila seen in the early morning twilight hour from North India. A bit difficult to capture due to twilight and the comet was dimmed to the 7th magnitude, but I managed to get this shot.

Chris Plonski in Charlotte, North Caroline wrote that he had:

… poor transparency and poor seeing, high altitude clouds swirling, gusting winds and a full moon.

But, still, Chris managed to catch 8 frames at ISO 3200 4-minute consecutive exposures (32 minutes total) showing the speed of the comet’s movement.

This composite image shows the movement of Comet 45P – 8 frames over a total of 32 minutes – on February 11, 2017. Photos and processing by Chris Plonski in Charlotte, North Carolina.

If you want to give the comet a try in the days ahead – especially if you’re a photographer or experienced skywatcher – we have some charts you can use, below, courtesy of Bob King aka AstroBob. The comet is in the sky before dawn, about 82 degrees west of the sun at maximum brightness. As you can see from the photos on this page, some people are catching it. But, as Bob King points out in his article at skyandtelescope.com:

Guess who’s back throwing unshielded light around with abandon? Yep! Starting Thursday (February 9), the waxing gibbous moon pushes into the morning sky and remains there as the comet whirls west and slowly fades.

The comet will be fading as it passes through the constellations Corona Borealis, Boötes, Canes Venatici, Ursa Major into Leo by the end of February.

This map shows the position of the comet around 5 a.m. CST, an ideal viewing time. If you’re east of that time zone, the comet will be very slightly behind the positions shown; if west, it will be slightly ahead of them. Stars shown to magnitude +6.5. Click to enlarge and then print out for use at the telescope. Image via Bob King/ Skyandtelescope.com/ Stellarium. Used with permission. Thanks, Bob!

This map shows stars down to magnitude +8 and extends the comet’s arc through Feb. 14. Time is 5 a.m. CST but the positions will be close to those shown across U.S. mainland time zones. Click to enlarge and print. North is up. Image via Bob King/ Skyandtelescope.com/ Chris Marriott’s SkyMap.

This comet passed closest to the sun that binds it (and us) in orbit on December 31, 2016. It’ll soon recede back into the deeper space of our solar system, but it’ll always return, as least for the foreseeable future. Its orbital period is only 5.25 years. At its 2011 return near the sun, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková made a slightly closer pass to Earth. Many observers saw it with binoculars that year. Maybe those 2011 observations are helping to prompt media attention this year, which is why so many people are asking.

By the way, we didn’t see very many astrophotos of the comet’s much-publicized sweep near the moon on New Year’s Eve, 2016. But at least one Japanese astrophotographer (@w_coast) got a gorgeous shot of the moon and comet on January 1, which he posted to Twitter (and a shout-out to @cosmos4u on Twitter for pointing it out).

Gerald Rhemann captured this photo of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková – using a telescope – on December 22 from Farm Tivoli in Namibia, Africa. Used with permission. People see beautiful photos like this one and expect to see something like this in the sky. but you definitely won’t see Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková look anything like this with your eye. Read more about this image.

Bottom line: Green Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková passed closest to Earth on February 11, 2017. It is not particularly close, and it’s not bright enough to see with the eye. It’s not even an easy object with binoculars. But astrophotographers might catch it! If you do, submit your image to EarthSky here.

Deborah Byrd

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