Saturday, March 4, 2023

Potential comet for 2024: C/2023 A3


Q.-Z. Ye reports cometary activity of an asteroidal NEOCP candidate (initially reported by ATLAS South Africa - M22 on Feb. 22 UT) in prediscovery images obtained by Palomar Mountain-ZTF (I41) on Dec 12, 2022 UT, noting a very condensed 2" coma and a straight 10" tail at position angle 230-250 deg. The object was independently discovered on Jan. 9 UT at Purple Mountain Observatory, XuYi Station (D29).


At discovery, the comet was still 7.3 astronomical units (AU) from the sun, and shining at a dim magnitude 18.

Preliminary analysis of its trajectory suggests comet “A3” completes an orbit around the sun every 80,660 years. As of March 2023, the celestial visitor is currently between the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter. Although some specific facts and dates might be updated, currently it appears that closest approach to Earth should occur on October 13, 2024 at 05:38 UTC.


As viewed from Earth, the comet may be as luminous as the brightest stars in the sky during its upcoming flyby, according to EarthSky. This is brighter than the green comet C/2022 E3 that just passed by Earth in January. That comet had a brightness of around magnitude +4.6, just visible to the naked eye. The new comet may have a brightness of magnitude 0.7, potentially peaking at magnitude -5, similar to Venus at its brightest(opens in new tab). (Lower numbers mean greater brightness on the stellar magnitude scale.) 

Much is yet unknown about C/2023 A3, including its size. Without more data, astronomers are still debating the comet's chances of survival. In a message chain for astronomers(opens in new tab), University of Pennsylvania postdoctoral researcher Qicheng Zhang(opens in new tab) summed up the situation, calling C/2023 A3 the most promising comet in years to provide naked-eye views but cautioning that these hopes could be dashed. "C/2023 A3's survival, while promising, is not guaranteed at this point," Zhang wrote.

I plan on following this comet closely! Excited to see what mass measurements come out, and it will be fun to try and photograph it.

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