Amateur astronomer Don Machholz bagged his 12th visual comet discovery on the morning of Nov. 7 from his home in Colfax, Calif. These days, most comets are found by robotic survey telescopes that scan the sky all night long looking for anything that moves. For an amateur to spot one the old-fashioned way with a telescope in their front yard is an incredible feat. Machholz logged 746 hours of searching since his last visual comet discovery in 2010. That’s dedication.
The new comet, yet to be formally named, bears two temporary designations: TCP J12192806-0211143 and DM001. Its final name may include more than one discoverer as two Japanese observers spotted it at nearly the same time as Machholz. (This just in! — the new object just got its official name: C/2018 V1 (Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto)
When first discovered, it was estimated at about magnitude 10, bright enough to pick up in a 6-inch or larger telescope. But it appears to be getting brighter quickly. I spotted it Saturday morning just before the start of dawn at around magnitude 9 in my 10-inch scope. Others are already seeing in larger binoculars from dark skies and putting it closer to 8th magnitude. Exciting!
C/2018 V1 was easy to spot at a magnification of 56x in my scope — a small, fuzzy glow about 3.5 arc minutes across (30 arc minutes equals the diameter of the full moon) with a bright center. There may have been a hint of a tail pointing to the west, but I couldn’t confirm it. If you have a 6-inch scope or maybe even a little smaller, you can see this! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Find a location with as dark a sky as possible in the eastern direction.
- Get to that spot about 2 hours before sunrise
- Set up your telescope and use the maps below to point you to the comet.
C/2018 V1 is slowly trekking east-northeast across northern Virgo at the rate of about 1.5° per day. Lucky for us, it will be near the easy, naked-eye star Porrima (Gamma (γ) Virginis) for the next few mornings. Porrima is beautiful double star in its own right and well worth a look. Use a magnification of 100x or higher.
To find Porrima look about two fists or 20° high in the eastern sky below the tail of Leo the Lion. Gamma is the star at the center of a Y-shaped asterism called the Bowl of Virgo. Next, point your scope at the star, center it in the field of view and use the detailed chart to slide or “star hop” to the comet. You can’t mistake the comet for anything else — it will be the only bright, fuzzy blob in the area.
If you have a view clear down to the horizon, you’ll see the amazing duo of Venus and Spica rising in tandem. They’re excellent sky guides and will help direct you to Porrima if you’re having difficulty. Just don’t wait too long after you spot the pair because the start of dawn is imminent upon their appearance! The two will be within 1.5° of each other through Nov. 18.
I’ll have further updates, maps and maybe even a name for this brand new visitor from afar in future updates. You’ll find more information at these sites:
- Don Machholz’s Twitter page
- Transient Object Followup Reports
- Minor Planet Center’s Possible Comet Confirmation Page Observers with sky mapping software or star charts can select “DM001” then click “Get Ephemerides” to get updated comet positions.