Comet Craziness: 252P LINEAR Brightens, and a Close Pass for BA14 PanSTARRS

Comet 252P/LINEAR passes the bright star Canopus on March 13th. Image credit and copyright: Mark Sansom.

Ready for the next big ‘Comet of the Century?’ Yeah, us too. Cometary apparitions are the big unknown in backyard astronomy, an eternal uncertainty in the clockwork goings-on of the universe.Sure, there are no bright comets on the horizon currently, but there are a grab bag of binocular and telescopic ones to watch out for this month, including a surprise actor and an unusually close pass of a comet near the Earth.First up is 252P/LINEAR. Over the past week, this periodic comet jumped a 100-fold in brightness, from +11th to 6th magnitude. That makes it a fine binocular comet that’s knocking on naked eye visibility from a dark sky site. The bad news (for us up north, at least) is the comet currently resides deep in the southern hemisphere around declination -71 degrees south in the constellation Mensa. That southern plunge will deepen, as the comet passes less than three degrees from the southern celestial pole on March 19th.Will 252P/LINEAR keep up its outburst as it moves northward? One advantage as it passes near Earth is that the comet will really be truckin’ at a whopping 10 degrees per day—that’s nearly the span of a Full Moon every hour—at its closest approach. 252P/LINEAR reached perihelion 0.9961 AU from the Sun on March 15th, 2016, and passes 13.9 lunar distances (5.4 million kilometers) from the Earth on March 21st. We might just get first views from up north soon, ‘if’ 252P/LINEAR keeps up its brightening act. The comet will enter the constellation Scorpius next week on March 25th, and crosses the plane of the Earth’s orbit known as the ecliptic northward on March 28th. This would put Comet 252P/LINEAR low to the south for observers based in mid-northern latitudes just after local midnight, and transiting the local —> Read More