Comet Ikeya-Zhang

This 1-minute exposure of Comet Ikeya-Zhang was taken by Sky & Telescope senior editor Dennis di Cicco at 0 hours Universal Time on March 1, 2002. He used a CCD camera attached to a 16-inch telescope at f/3.3. The field of view is about 1/3° wide. North is up.

According to reports sent to Sky & Telescope, Comet Ikeya-Zhang (C/2002 C1) is brightening on schedule and has reached naked-eye visibility. Michael Begbie of Zimbabwe writes that he and other observers in Poland and Italy spied the comet without optical aid on the evening of February 28th.

Comet expert John Bortle in New York reports: "I saw the comet last evening at magnitude 5.5 with 10x50 binoculars and note that this brightness is entirely consistent (considering the expected increase with approach to perihelion) with previous observations made over the preceding week. While I do anticipate the comet to brighten beyond current predictions, I do believe this is the start."

Although Bortle notes that some observers claimed that the comet experienced a significant brightening, he says he doubts that there was an outburst. Bortle explains: "The timing corresponds exactly to the transition from the final evening of strong moonlight interference to the first night that the comet can once again be observed against a dark sky. A similar moonlight-induced false 'brightness outburst' occurred in conjunction with [a comet] last summer."

Although the comet is not very well placed right now, skywatchers at midnorthern latitudes may be able to spot it this weekend about 15° directly below Mars in the western sky after dusk. Try soon after the end of twilight, as the comet sets around 8 p.m. For comet positions, a finder chart, and recent historical details, see Bortle's Comet Ikeya-Zhang article.


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