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.
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!