Comet LINEAR at magnitude 9.6

Comet Pons-Gambart may be the center of attention in the comet community lately, but it is not the only comet putting on a show. This morning is was able to observe Comet C/2012 K5 (LINEAR) at magnitude 9.6. In 30×125 binoculars, the comet was nicely condensed with a coma 3′ across and a tail 5′ long. The comet is currently located near the end of the Big Dipper’s handle in Ursa Major.

Right now the comet is located 1.16 AU from the Sun 0.66 AU from Earth. Having passed perihelion on Nov 28 at 1.14 AU the comet is now heading away from the Sun. But it is still heading towards Earth and will pass within 0.29 AU (27 million miles or 43 million km) of us on Dec 31. It will brighten all  month as it closes in and should be around magnitude 8.0 by month’s end.

Below is an excerpt from my ‘In the Sky This Month – December 2012‘ posting that goes into more details including a image of the comet I took a back in late October:

C/2012 K5 (LINEAR) is a long-period comet discovered by the LINEAR near-Earth asteroid survey program on May 25, 2012. At the time the comet was around magnitude 17-18. Though it passed through perihelion on Nov. 28 at a distance of 1.14 AU, the comet will become brighter this month as it rapidly approaches the Earth. Close approach will occur at the very end of December at a distance of 0.29 AU (27 million miles or 44 million km).

Recent visual observations place the comet around magnitude 10.0 at the end of November. The comet should brighten by another 2 magnitudes by the end of December. This month it is primarily a northern hemisphere object and spends much of the month running the length of the Big Dipper from the handle to the bowl before rocketing southward through the rest of Ursa Major into Lynx. The fact that it spends the first 3 weeks of the month among the familiar stars of the Big Dipper should aid many people in seeing the comet.

The comet starts the month as a small telescope object but by the middle of the month it should be visible in binoculars for observers under a dark sky. For bright sky observers a small telescope may still be needed.

I did observe the comet back on Oct. 21 with the University of Arizona’s Kuiper 1.5-m telescope. Though still over a month from perihelion and located low in the sky, the comet displayed an impressive tail and even some near-nucleus jet activity.