Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) brightens faster than expected

2013 is gearing up nicely to be a superb year for bright comets. Already we have two comets that promise to be spectacular this year; Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) should peak at magnitude -1 in March and then later in the year comet ISON (C/2012 S1) may even reach the dizzy heights of magnitude -15 in November.

There is another comet that is currently brightening faster than expected and although will probably not be bright as the above-mentioned comets, it may prove to be the surprise package of the year. Its name is Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6).

Discovery

Alex Gibbs of the Mount Lemmon Survey discovered Comet Lemmon on March 23, 2012. The Mount Lemmon Survey is part of the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS), a Near-Earth objects searching project, specifically aimed at finding potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) that may pose a threat of impact to Earth. Currently there are a number of telescopes participating in the survey, each of the order of 1-metre in aperture, located at various astronomical sites. The project is producing superb results with the Mount Lemmon telescope currently the most prolific telescope in the world for discovering Near-Earth Objects.

The objects discovered are often faint; Comet Lemmon was only magnitude 20.7 when found.

Comet Lemmon (Michael Jaeger - http://www.cometpieces.at/index.php?Itemid=9)

Location, magnitude and star chart

Comet Lemmon is currently moving through the southern part of the sky and hence nicely placed for southern hemisphere observers. On January 17 the comet begins its passage through the famous constellation of Crux. On this date, it was predicted to be of magnitude 7.7 and hence well within the reach of good binoculars.

Even better news still, recent observations of Comet Lemmon show it to be already about half a magnitude brighter than previously predicted and based on the current brightening, the comet should reach naked eye brightness during the first week of February. It is now looking promising that Comet Lemmon may peak at magnitude 3.0 on or around March 21, with an ion tail several degrees in length. Perihelion then follows on March 24, when this icy rock will be 0.7313 AU (109.4 million kms or 68.0 million miles) from the Sun.

During the above time period, Comet Lemmon travels southwards through Musca, Chamaeleon and into Octans where on February 4 it reaches its most southerly declination of -87 degrees, close to the South Celestial Pole. Of course, the comet is then circumpolar and never dips below the horizon for southern hemisphere astronomers. It then heads north through Tucana and an interesting visual and photo opportunity occurs on February 14, when comet Lemmon is located only 4 degrees to the west of globular cluster 47 Tucana and the Small Magellanic Cloud. After Tucana comes Phoenix, Sculptor, Cetus and Pisces where on April 19, Comet Lemmon crosses the celestial equator and moves into the northern section of the sky. Although now fainter, the comet is still predicted to be a naked eye object of about magnitude 5 on this date.

Finder Chart for Comet Lemmon from January 11 to January 24, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet Lemmon from January 11 to January 24, 2013 - pdf format

Finder Chart for Comet Lemmon from January 23 to February 2, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet Lemmon from January 23 to February 2, 2013 - pdf format

Current visibility

At the moment, Comet Lemmon can be seen at is best for the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately, it is not visible for observers located in the northern hemisphere until about May. However, from the southern hemisphere it is currently high in the sky and will remain so for some time, especially during the end of February and March when it is at it's best.

Comet Lemmon

NameC/2012 L6 (Lemmon)
Discovered ByA. R. Gibbs (Mount Lemmon Survey)
Discovery DateMarch 23, 2012
Discovery Magnitude20.7
EpochSeptember 30, 2012
Aphelion (AU)~1,000
Perihelion (AU)0.7313
Eccentricity0.9985
Orbital Period (years)~11,000
Inclination (degrees)82.61
Next perihelionMarch 24, 2013

Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) Data Table (data shown at 0:00 UT)

DateRight AscensionDeclinationMag.Distance from Earth (AU)Constellation
01 Jan 201312h 08m 47s-36d 30m 59s8.71.453Centaurus
02 Jan 201312h 09m 44s-37d 30m 17s8.61.431Centaurus
03 Jan 201312h 10m 41s-38d 31m 12s8.51.408Centaurus
04 Jan 201312h 11m 39s-39d 33m 49s8.51.386Centaurus
05 Jan 201312h 12m 38s-40d 38m 08s8.41.365Centaurus
06 Jan 201312h 13m 37s-41d 44m 14s8.31.343Centaurus
07 Jan 201312h 14m 38s-42d 52m 09s8.21.322Centaurus
08 Jan 201312h 15m 40s-44d 01m 55s8.11.302Centaurus
09 Jan 201312h 16m 44s-45d 13m 35s8.01.282Centaurus
10 Jan 201312h 17m 49s-46d 27m 10s7.91.262Centaurus
11 Jan 201312h 18m 56s-47d 42m 43s7.81.243Centaurus
12 Jan 201312h 20m 05s-49d 00m 16s7.71.225Centaurus
13 Jan 201312h 21m 17s-50d 19m 49s7.61.207Centaurus
14 Jan 201312h 22m 31s-51d 41m 24s7.51.189Centaurus
15 Jan 201312h 23m 49s-53d 05m 00s7.41.172Centaurus
16 Jan 201312h 25m 10s-54d 30m 39s7.31.156Centaurus
17 Jan 201312h 26m 36s-55d 58m 20s7.21.140Crux
18 Jan 201312h 28m 08s-57d 28m 01s7.11.125Crux
19 Jan 201312h 29m 45s-58d 59m 42s7.01.111Crux
20 Jan 201312h 31m 31s-60d 33m 19s6.91.097Crux
21 Jan 201312h 33m 25s-62d 08m 49s6.81.084Crux
22 Jan 201312h 35m 30s-63d 46m 09s6.71.072Crux
23 Jan 201312h 37m 49s-65d 25m 13s6.61.061Musca
24 Jan 201312h 40m 25s-67d 05m 56s6.51.050Musca
25 Jan 201312h 43m 22s-68d 48m 10s6.41.040Musca
26 Jan 201312h 46m 47s-70d 31m 46s6.31.031Musca
27 Jan 201312h 50m 47s-72d 16m 33s6.21.022Musca
28 Jan 201312h 55m 37s-74d 02m 20s6.11.015Musca
29 Jan 201313h 01m 34s-75d 48m 50s6.01.008Chamaeleon
30 Jan 201313h 09m 08s-77d 35m 42s6.01.002Chamaeleon
31 Jan 201313h 19m 08s-79d 22m 27s5.90.997Chamaeleon
01 Feb 201313h 33m 01s-81d 08m 19s5.80.993Chamaeleon
02 Feb 201313h 53m 34s-82d 51m 56s5.70.990Chamaeleon
03 Feb 201314h 26m 35s-84d 30m 30s5.60.987Octans
04 Feb 201315h 24m 57s-85d 57m 10s5.50.986Octans
05 Feb 201317h 10m 36s-86d 54m 06s5.40.985Octans
06 Feb 201319h 30m 30s-86d 52m 06s5.40.985Octans
07 Feb 201321h 12m 28s-85d 52m 57s5.30.986Octans
08 Feb 201322h 08m 28s-84d 26m 15s5.20.988Octans
09 Feb 201322h 40m 17s-82d 48m 51s5.10.990Octans
10 Feb 201323h 00m 09s-81d 07m 09s5.00.993Octans
11 Feb 201323h 13m 36s-79d 23m 47s5.00.997Octans
12 Feb 201323h 23m 15s-77d 40m 01s4.91.002Octans
13 Feb 201323h 30m 31s-75d 56m 31s4.81.008Octans
14 Feb 201323h 36m 11s-74d 13m 44s4.71.014Tucana
15 Feb 201323h 40m 43s-72d 31m 56s4.71.020Tucana
16 Feb 201323h 44m 27s-70d 51m 20s4.61.028Tucana
17 Feb 201323h 47m 33s-69d 12m 04s4.51.036Tucana
18 Feb 201323h 50m 11s-67d 34m 14s4.51.044Tucana
19 Feb 201323h 52m 26s-65d 57m 54s4.41.053Tucana
20 Feb 201323h 54m 24s-64d 23m 09s4.31.063Tucana
21 Feb 201323h 56m 06s-62d 50m 01s4.31.073Tucana
22 Feb 201323h 57m 36s-61d 18m 30s4.21.084Tucana
23 Feb 201323h 58m 56s-59d 48m 37s4.11.094Tucana
24 Feb 201300h 00m 07s-58d 20m 22s4.11.106Tucana
25 Feb 201300h 01m 10s-56d 53m 45s4.01.117Phoenix
26 Feb 201300h 02m 07s-55d 28m 43s3.91.129Phoenix
27 Feb 201300h 02m 58s-54d 05m 15s3.91.142Phoenix
28 Feb 201300h 03m 43s-52d 43m 20s3.81.154Phoenix

See also

Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) now fading but remains visible through small telescopes in the June morning sky
Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) now visible in the morning sky from the northern hemisphere
Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) returns to the morning sky for observers located at southern hemisphere and tropical latitudes
Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) temporarily unobservable as it moves from evening to morning sky
Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) closes in on maximum brightness
Naked eye Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) moves past 47 Tuc and SMC
Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) now naked eye and continues to improve

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Current Bright Comets

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2012 K1)
Puppis, mag +7.3 (Oct 27).
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SH - Visible high in the morning sky.

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