Astronomy EssentialsSpace

Fast comet closest to Earth this week

View larger at EarthSky Community Photos. | Comet Iwamoto was heading for the Sickle of Leo – a backwards question mark pattern – when caught by Dr. Ski in the Philippines on the morning of February 11. At closest approach, the comet will be in front of Leo, visible late night to dawn now.

Japanese astronomer Masayuki Iwamoto discovered a new comet in late 2018. It’s a fast-moving comet that will be closest to Earth on February 12, 2019, at around 3:10 p.m. EST (20:10 UTC; translate to your time zone). The celestial visitor will safely pass by Earth at some 28 million miles (45 million km). The comet has been designated C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto).

This comet is fast! Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is traveling through space at the amazing speed of 147,948 miles per hour (238,099 km/h) or 66 km per second, relative to Earth.

The best nights for observing the comet with optical aid should be on February 12 and 13. It will not be visible to the eye alone. But observers report it is now visible in binoculars.

Location of comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) from February 12 to 14, 2019. Facing east at 9 p.m. CST as seen from central U.S. Binoculars or a small telescope should provide a nice view of the fuzzy patch of light. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry using Stellarium.


Location of comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) on February 13, 2019. Facing East at 9 p.m. CST as seen from central U.S. The fuzzy patch of light is visible using binoculars or a small telescope, away from city lights. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry using Stellarium.


Star chart showing comet and small fuzzy oval galaxy.
The comet offers an exquisite sight shortly after nightfall on Wednesday, February 13, 2019. Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) will pass very close to NGC 2903, a beautiful galaxy in Leo.  Although the encounter’s timing favors observers in Europe and Africa, sky enthusiasts in America will also see the comet passing close to the galaxy, if they have their telescopes ready at nightfall. This view will be amazing, especially for astrophotographers! Illustration by Eddie Irizarry, using Stellarium.

The orbit of comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is so elliptical (elongated), that calculations indicate it takes around 1,371.3 years to return.

As you see this astronomical object with your own eyes (using binoculars or a small telescope), it will be amazing to realize that humans might see this comet again around year 3390.

Long arc-shaped partial orbit crossing nearly circular planetary orbits.
A close look at comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto)’s orbit, via NASA/JPL.
Complete long oval orbit crossing the solar system.
Orbit of comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto), zoomed out to show the full orbit. Image via Northolt Branch Observatories/Rankinstudio.

Amateur astronomers have been catching wonderful images of this comet for some time. If you get a good image, please submit it to EarthSky Community Photos. Good luck!

Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) shows two tails in this amazing sequence captured on February 12, 2019 by Michael Jäger.

Green comet, elongated due to movement, in front of starry background.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Fast-moving comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto as captured in 20 50-second images, stacked, by Alan Forsyth in Cowal, Argyll, Scotland. “This fast comet can sure shift through the skies in the 20 minutes of this combined exposure!” he wrote. Photo taken February 10. On Tuesday night, when the comet is closest to Earth at 28 million miles away, its movement will be even more noticeable.
A rich star field, with the green comet below and tiny Sombrero Galaxy above.
View larger at EarthSky Community Photos. | Emilio Lepeley in Elqui Valley, Vicuna, Chile, caught comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) – the green fuzzball at bottom center – on February 3, 2019, in the same field of view as the famous Sombrero Galaxy. Thank you, Emilio!
greenish small fuzzy dot and small fuzzy oval galaxy.
Green comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is seen here as it was passing close to the Sombrero galaxy (Messier 104) on February 3, 2019. The galaxy is at the bottom of this image by Rolando Ligustri. Thank you, Rolando.
Star field with big fuzzy green spot.
Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) looks great in this image taken on January 17, 2019, by Rolando Ligustri.

Our friends from Northolt Observatories captured an animation or sequence of images in which Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is seen as it moves across the sky:

C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto)

C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is a long period comet that is currently observable at 7th magnitude, just too faint to be seen with the naked eye.

C/2018 Y1 will come to perihelion on February 7th. Five days later, it will make its closest approach to Earth, at a distance of 0.30 AU (45 million km).

The tumbling satellite OLYMPUS-1 is crossing the field of view.

Northolt Branch Observatories
The PACA Project
ESA – European Space Agency

Publicado por Northolt Branch Observatories en Domingo, 3 de febrero de 2019


Bottom line: A new comet soon to be within reach of binoculars and small telescopes is heading toward a February 2019 encounter with the sun and Earth. It’ll pass Earth safely on February 11-12.

EarthSky lunar calendars are cool! They make great gifts. Order now.

February 11, 2019
Astronomy Essentials

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