New Comet Itagaki

A new comet has been discovered by amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata, Japan. Comet C/2009 E1 (Itagaki) is a long-period comet which will come within 0.61 AU of the Sun at perihelion on April 7.

The comet is located in the evening sky near the “head” of the constellation of Cetus. At magnitude ~9.5 to 10.0, the comet is bright enough to be seen in a reasonably sized backyard telescope. Having said that, I was just barely able to see it from my backyard in Tucson with my 12″ telescope.

Though the comet is still approaching the Sun, it is also moving away from Earth. That and the fact that it becoming more poorly placed for observation every day means the comet will only be observable for another week or two. There is a chance the comet will still be bright enough for backyard telescope users in May when it will be a morning object.

This is the 1st comet to bear Koichi Itagaki’s name but it is not his 1st discovery. Back in 1968, he was a co-discoverer of Comet Tago-Honda-Yamamoto. Due to the rule that only the 1st 3 discoverers can have their name attached to a comet, his name was left off. Only a few months ago, he also re-discovered long-lost comet Giacobini.

Like many comets, Comet Itagaki has 2 tails, a dust tail and a gas tail. Images showing the 2 tails (they are faint and hard to see) can be seen at Francois Kugel’s site.

An ephemeris can be found at the Minor Planet Center.