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Sat, 09 Apr 2016 - Comet 252P LINEAR now visible in northern sky before dawn

...but it's not an easy catch by any means!

For a start, seeing the comet means getting up (or still being awake!) in the very early hours, as 252P isn't really high enough to see until around 1am, and even then it isn't high enough to see properly for another good hour or so. Then you can look for / at it for a good couple of hours before the sky starts to lighten with the approach of dawn. But even then observing the comet will be a challenge because it is quite a large and diffuse object, much more like a misty, out-of-focus star than a traditional comet with a defined head and a tail trailing behind it. Observers are reporting it is still magnitude 5 or so, which means it is technically a naked eye comet, but because of its diffuseness and low altitude you'll only have any chance of seeing it with your naked eye if you go somewhere really dark. 252P is much more likely to be seen through binoculars or a small telescope.

So, where is it?

Well, having delighted observers in the southern hemisphere for the past month or so, 252P LINEAR has now cleared our horizon up here in the north and is currently drifting slowly through the constellation of Ophiuchus, which lies beneath and to the right of Aquila (The Eagle) and Lyra (The Lyre). Here's a chart to show you where to look for it in the hours before dawn over the next week...

 

As for what it looks like, well, I managed to get some photographs of it from a reasonably dark sky site on Friday morning - using my Canon 1100D DSLR on an iOptron star tracker - and they showed how faint and diffuse it is. If you look at this tracked 50mm shot you'll see what I mean - I've had to circle the comet to show where it is...

 

  

 

Here's another image I took - actually a stack of ten iOptron-tracked images taken through a 135mm lens...

 

  

 

252P is easily visible in binoculars and small telescopes, so despite the challenges in seeing it you should definitely give it a try. Good luck!

 

Added by: Stuart Atkinson