Comet 46P/Wir­ta­nen bright­ens

Sky at Night Magazine - - OCTOBER / THE SKY GUIDE -

WHEN: 6-18 Oc­to­ber when Moon in­ter­fer­ence is low­est

South-mov­ing comets seem to be the theme this month. While 21P/Gi­a­cobini-Zin­ner trav­els down the east­ern side of Ca­nis Ma­jor, 46P/Wir­ta­nen moves south into the con­stel­la­tion of For­nax, the Fur­nace.

How­ever, un­like 21P, comet 46P is bright­en­ing. Don’t be fooled by its ap­par­ent poor po­si­tion­ing and di­rec­tion. The comet con­tin­ues to head south through Oc­to­ber and into the start of Novem­ber, but as we head through the main part of Novem­ber it turns north­east, rapidly ac­cel­er­at­ing and bright­en­ing as it goes.

Con­se­quently, if you can find it this month then you’ll be well-pre­pared to ob­serve it at its best later in the year, when Wir­ta­nen is pre­dicted to be­come a naked-eye comet. Spot­ting it now means you’ll be ready for the tran­si­tion and have a head start on those who only start try­ing to lo­cate it when it bright­ens up.

It be­gins the month 5° south and slightly east of mag. +4.0 Up­silon (p) Ceti. De­spite its very low UK po­si­tion, its mo­tion south is quite slow dur­ing Oc­to­ber. It’ll be 1° west of mag. +5.4 Pi (/) For­nacis on the night of 13/14 Oc­to­ber and by the end of the month will have tracked ap­prox­i­mately 6° south of where it was on 1 Oc­to­ber.

Wir­ta­nen be­gins Oc­to­ber at mag. +9.7 but is ex­pected to have bright­ened to +8.7 by the time it passes Pi For­nacis. By the end of the month, the comet is pre­dicted to be at mag. +7.4; an over­all bright­en­ing of 2.3 mag­ni­tudes through­out Oc­to­ber.

The re­gion of sky Wir­ta­nen will be trav­el­ling through is best seen when at its high­est po­si­tion in the sky, due south. This oc­curs at 02:30 BST (01:30 UT) on 1 Oc­to­ber, 01:30 BST (00:30 UT) on 15 Oc­to­ber and 23:30 UT at the end of the month. Good luck with your comet hunt but if you don’t find it, don’t de­spair. Comet 46P/Wir­ta­nen is just about to start the main show!

De­spite ap­pear­ances, Wir­ta­nen isn’t about to fol­low Gi­a­cobiniZin­ner over the horizon

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