OBSERVING BLOG by Tony Flanders
The Other Bright Comet of 2007/2008
With Comet Holmes still blazing away nearly as bright as ever, it's easy to forget that another bright comet is crossing the far-northern sky.
Although no match for Holmes, Comet 8P/Tuttle is now visible through 10×50 binoculars under dark skies. A telescope may be required in the suburbs.
To help you find the comet, we have prepared two printable finder charts in PDF format. Comet positions on both charts are shown for 0 h in Universal Time — equal to 7 p.m. on the preceding date in Eastern Standard Time.
Click here to see the comet's path before Dec. 25.
Click here for a chart covering late December and all of January.
The comet is predicted to peak in brightness around the New Year, as shown at right. And recent magnitude estimates indicate that the predictions are pretty much on target.
So far, the comet appears to be a modest-sized, medium-faint circular blob. But comets are famously unpredictable, as Holmes has just demonstrated in the most dramatic fashion. So Comet Tuttle bears watching too, despite its current rather bland appearance. Nobody can predict when or if it will sprout a tail — or even undergo a dramatic outburst like Comet Holmes.
Tuttle moves across the sky at a fairly sedate pace in early December, but it picks up speed as it makes its closest approach the Earth — just 23.5 million miles away — on New Year's Day. Despite the full Moon, the comet should be a fairly easy target by the time it crosses the W of Cassiopeia from December 20-25. And around 0 h UT on December 31st (7 p.m. Dec. 30 EST), the comet passes through the outer edge of Messier 33, the Triangulum Galaxy. (Think photo-op!)
The comet moves south quite rapidly during January, passing through Pisces, Cetus, Fornax, and then into the southern reaches of Eridanus. It will become a challenging target for northern observers around the middle of the month, when it's swallowed in the glow of the first-quarter Moon.
For more information on Comet Tuttle, see the January issue of Sky & Telescope. And don't miss the sidebar on the checkered career of Horace Tuttle: comet hunter, war hero, and embezzler.
Posted by Tony Flanders, December 12, 2007
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