Nov. 12, 2018: There’s a new comet in the morning sky. Discovered just last week by three amateur astronomers–one in Arizona and two in Japan–Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto (C/2018 V1) has quadrupled in brightness over the past few days. “It is now glowing like a fuzzy 8th magnitude star in the constellation Virgo,” reports Michael Jäger of Turmkogel, Austria, who photographed it on Nov. 11th:
“The discovery of a comet by amateur astronomers is a rare event nowadays because robotic Near-Earth-Object search programs usually catch them first,” he says. “My special congratulations to the three discoverers.”
Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto appears to be a first-time visitor to the inner solar system. It is plunging toward the sun on nearly-parabolic orbit that will take it just inside the orbit of Mercury. Closest approach to the sun (0.38 AU) is on Dec. 3-4; closest approach to Earth (0.67 AU) is Nov. 27th.
Click to view the comet’s 3D orbit
Fresh comets like this one are notoriously unpredictable. They can surge in brightness, seeming to promise a spectacular display, when suddenly they fizzle as fragile deposits of ice are exhausted by solar heat. No one knows if Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto will even become a naked eye object. At the moment it is an easy target for backyard telescopes with the promise of … unpredictability. Stay tuned!
Resources: 3D Orbit; Ephemeris; Orbital Elements; Sky Maps.