New Fast-Moving Comet May Become Visible From Earth

SOHO-2875 seen SOHO's LASCO C3, wide-field coronograph called LASCO C3 at 11:02 a.m. (CST) today Feb. 20. It's already moved a good distance to the east-southeast of the Sun and still displays a short tail. Credit: NASA/ESA
SOHO-2875 seen SOHO’s LASCO C3, wide-field coronograph called LASCO C3 at 11:02 a.m. (CST) today Feb. 20. It’s already moved a good distance to the east-southeast of the Sun and still displays a short tail. Credit: NASA/ESA

A newly-discovered comet may soon make an appearance in the evening sky. Dubbed SOHO-2875, it was spotted in photos taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) earlier this week. Astronomer Karl Battams, who maintains the Sungrazer Project website, originally thought this little comet would dissipate after its close brush with the Sun. To his and our delight, it’s now outperforming expectations. Given the comet’s rapid movement away from the Sun, we won’t have to wait long to find out whether it might be visible in a telescope.

Composite of Comet SOHO-2875 crossing the C2 coronagraph field yesterday. Credit: NASA/ESA/Barbara Thompson
Composite of Comet SOHO-2875 crossing the C2 coronagraph field yesterday. Credit: NASA/ESA/Barbara Thompson

Most sungrazing comets discovered by SOHO are members of the Kreutz family, a group of icy fragments left over from the breakup of a single much larger comet centuries ago. We know they’re all family by their similar orbits. The newcomer, SOHO’s 2,875th comet discovery, is a “non-group” comet or one that’s unrelated to the Kreutz family or any other comet club for that matter. According to Battams these mavericks appear several times a year.

Photo taken at 20:00 UT (2 pm. CST) Feb. 19 with the SOHO C2 coronagraph, a device that blocks the Sun, allowing a view of the area close by. A faint tail can be seen just below the comet's bright head. Credit: NASA/ESA
Photo taken at 20:00 UT (2 pm. CST) Feb. 19 with the SOHO C2 coronagraph, a device that blocks the Sun, allowing a view of the area close by. A faint tail can be seen just below the comet’s bright head. Credit: NASA/ESA

What’s unusual about #2,875 is how bright it is. At least for now, it appears to have survived the Sun’s heat and gravitational tides and is turning around to the east headed for the evening sky. I’m no expert but having looked at many SOHO photos over the years, I’d estimate the comet is presently about magnitude +2.5 and some 5° from the Sun. No one can say for sure whether it has what it takes to hang on, so don’t get your hopes up just yet.

We’ll be watching and waiting. I’ll have an update on SOHO-2875’s progress soon.

11 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    First time I heard of this one. Keep us informed. I suppose that Lovejoy now cannot be seen without optical aid except by the sharp est eyed people. I have not been out to look at it in 2 weeks. I could find it easily without star charts before but now would probably need them. I heard of predicted snow last night. To my disappointment I saw clear skies later on, but the hour was late and I had to get up early in the morning, so I missed a probably good opportunity.

  2. J S

    No one seems willing to mention this, and so will only leave my initials… But is there a possibility that this “Comet” is very dense compared to most comets? It did survive a close encounter with Sol, and shortly after the point of “Interaction” there was the destabilization of the solar filament to erupt in a most spectacular fashion as though there might have been a slight “Gravitational” force or interaction between the 2 bodies. Just a preliminary observation of course…

    1. astrobob

      Hi JS,
      Good observation. Regarding the filament, we have to be very careful (as you noted) to assign a comet as cause. These sorts of eruptions happen nearly continuously with or without comets around.

  3. Jeffrey

    Thanks for alerting us to the new comet. Now that LASCO and SOHO are in place we see a great deal more comets. I would also like to see asteroids approaching the sun as well.

    My guess is the CME that just arose from the sun 02-21-2015 02:18 UTC might very well be debris from this comet impacting the sun.

  4. Allison

    Which hemisphere will be favored if the comet becomes visible? Assuming north is at top in the above photographs it appears as though the comet has turned somewhat northward as it rounded the sun but I am wondering if it will continue to do so, or will trail off towards the ESE, favoring southern hemisphere observers.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Allison,
      Good question. It approached from the northwest, swung around due south and is now headed northeast. I would say the northern hemisphere is favored based upon its path.

  5. Chris

    Yes, thanks for the Information about this comet.

    It seems that something is going on – see the magnitude of big earthquakes everywhere, Japan, Fukushima, Central US, Mexico, Greece, everywhere……..

    1. astrobob

      Hi Chris,
      You’re welcome. Keep in mind though that comets do not influence events here on Earth. They are much too small and far away to do that.

  6. Chris

    Hi Bob,

    thanks for your welcome.

    You are absolutely right, not the comets, this comet itself is influencing things on earth, but only the big one CREATOR of EVERYTHING, of COSMOS = BEAUTY AND ORDER, and by such signs of his perfectest celestial creation he reminds us that all material is vain and empty and that time has come to seperate the good from the evil. For the big one creator GOD himself one little ray of his will and of his spirit and of his energy will be sufficient to save or to destroy EVERYTHING.

    Don’t underestimate this big force!

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