Thursday, March 17, 2016
Comet 252P/LINEAR close to the Large Magelleanic Cloud Tonight (17 March 2016)
Comet 252P is still brightening rapidly, with the last reported magnitudes being around 6.5. While this is just below the threshold of visual detection, the comet is diffuse and extended, and will be much harder to see than the magnitude suggests.
Last night in suburban Largs, with good visibility despite a waxing Moon, I was unable to see it with 10x50 binoculars, although it has been reported from darker skies with stronger binoculars. The Tarantula nebula was obvious though in my binoculars.
Tonight the comet is on the outer fringe of the Large Magelleanic Cloud. Despite the waxing Moon, if you have dark skies and wait until the Moon is low, then with decent binoculars or a small telescope you should see a fuzzy ball on the edge of the LMC.
Looking south, if you draw a line from the long axis of the Southern Cross to the Star Achenar, then draw a line perpendicular to this from Canopus, the comet will be around one binocular field up from the intersection of these two lines.
In binoculars or a finder scope, the fuzzy Tarantula nebula will be obvious at this location, the dimmer comet will be one or two fields to the east, near an obvious pair of stars.
Black and white chart of the path of comet 252P/LINEAR suitable for printing and for use with binoculars and finder scopes (with redlight torches). The circle is the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. Click to embiggen and print.
The comet is moving very rapidly leading up to closest approach.
For those of you with ephemeris programs or programmable telescopes, the
MPEC one line ephemeris for Comet P252/ LINEAR
0252P 2016 03 15.2721 0.996074 0.673296 343.3158 190.9520 10.4233 20160402 17.5 4.0 252P/LINEAR
The comet will continue to brighten, but the rapidly brightening Moon will make it harder or see.