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The surprise comet of the year thus far is turning out to be Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6). When discovered by Alex Gibbs on March 23, 2012 as part of the Mount Lemmon Survey, the comet was predicted to perhaps reach naked eye brightness on or around March 21, 2013. Amazingly and great news for comet watchers, Lemmon is currently brightening much faster than expected and its now believed that it could peak as high as magnitude 2. That could be even brighter than the much hyped, but currently disappointing Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4).

Recent observations

On January 1, 2013 Lemmon was at magnitude 8.4. Despite no visible tail the comet displayed a 5 arc minutes diffuse coma with a definite bright centre. It continued to brighten by about 0.5 magnitudes a week and by the middle of January, Lemmon was up to magnitude 7.3 with a coma of the order of 7 to 8 arc minutes in diameter. On this date, the core had noticeably brightened with better definition. The coma appeared slightly elongated although still no tail. Since Lemmon is brightening at such a nice rate it wont be long before it attains naked eye visibility and by January 30, it was close to that scenario. With a magnitude of 6.2, the comet moved within easy binocular range. The coma on January 30 was up to 10 arc minutes in diameter with reports of a small tail visible in binoculars. In addition, Lemmon has a green look to it that's especially noticeable when imaged.

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

Location, magnitude and star chart

Comet Lemmon is continuing to move through the far southern constellations and is currently so far south it will pass close to the South Celestial Pole on February 5 and February 6. Consequently, during February it's well placed for observation from southern and tropical latitudes and from many of these locations it will be circumpolar and therefore never sets. In the Northern Hemisphere, the comet is not observable until May.

The comet starts February in the constellation of Chamaeleon before moving into Octans on February 2. At this point, it has a declination of 83 degrees south and is visible from practically the entire southern hemisphere. Lemmon then continues it southerly motion and passes within 4 degrees of the South Celestial Pole on February 5. With an estimate magnitude of 5.4 it should be visible to the naked eye, especially from dark sites, and a very easy binocular target. With any luck there should also be a small tail present.

Lemmon then begins moving north and will eventually cross the celestial equator before moving into far reaches of the northern part of the sky. Before then, on February 13 it moves into Tucana and on the following day passes 4 degrees west of globular cluster 47 Tucanae and the Small Magellanic Cloud. The comet then moves through Phoenix, into Sculptor and then onto Cetus and Pisces. Peak magnitude should occur on or around March 21, when hopefully Lemmon will be as bright as magnitude 2.4. Perihelion then follows on March 24, when it will be 0.7313 AU (109.4 million kms or 68.0 million miles) from the Sun.

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

Finder Chart for Comet Lemmon from February 2 to February 12, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet Lemmon from February 2 to February 12, 2013 - pdf format

Current visibility

During February, Lemmon can be seen from the southern hemisphere and from tropical locations. It stars February in the constellation of Chamaeleon, then moves through Octans and Tucana before ending the month in Phoenix. At no point in February does the declination of Lemmon move further north than 50 degrees south and hence the comet is well placed from the southern hemisphere and the tropics and even circumpolar for many observers at these latitudes.

Lemmon is not observable in the northern hemisphere until about May, when it should still be in good shape although gradually fading.

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 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 47s4.90.997Octans
12 Feb 201323h 23m 15s-77d 40m 01s4.81.002Octans
13 Feb 201323h 30m 31s-75d 56m 31s4.71.008Octans
14 Feb 201323h 36m 11s-74d 13m 44s4.61.014Tucana
15 Feb 201323h 40m 43s-72d 31m 56s4.51.020Tucana
16 Feb 201323h 44m 27s-70d 51m 20s4.41.028Tucana
17 Feb 201323h 47m 33s-69d 12m 04s4.31.036Tucana
18 Feb 201323h 50m 11s-67d 34m 14s4.21.044Tucana
19 Feb 201323h 52m 26s-65d 57m 54s4.11.053Tucana
20 Feb 201323h 54m 24s-64d 23m 09s4.01.063Tucana
21 Feb 201323h 56m 06s-62d 50m 01s3.91.073Tucana
22 Feb 201323h 57m 36s-61d 18m 30s3.91.084Tucana
23 Feb 201323h 58m 56s-59d 48m 37s3.81.094Tucana
24 Feb 201300h 00m 07s-58d 20m 22s3.71.106Tucana
25 Feb 201300h 01m 10s-56d 53m 45s3.71.117Phoenix
26 Feb 201300h 02m 07s-55d 28m 43s3.61.129Phoenix
27 Feb 201300h 02m 58s-54d 05m 15s3.61.142Phoenix
28 Feb 201300h 03m 43s-52d 43m 20s3.51.154Phoenix
01 Mar 201300h 04m 25s-51d 22m 54s3.41.167Phoenix
02 Mar 201300h 05m 02s-50d 03m 55s3.31.180Phoenix
03 Mar 201300h 05m 36s-48d 46m 21s3.31.193Phoenix
04 Mar 201300h 06m 06s-47d 30m 08s3.21.206Phoenix
05 Mar 201300h 06m 33s-46d 15m 13s3.21.219Phoenix
06 Mar 201300h 06m 58s-45d 01m 34s3.11.233Phoenix
07 Mar 201300h 07m 20s-43d 49m 06s3.01.246Phoenix
08 Mar 201300h 07m 40s-42d 37m 47s3.01.260Phoenix
09 Mar 201300h 07m 58s-41d 27m 34s2.91.274Phoenix
10 Mar 201300h 08m 14s-40d 18m 23s2.91.287Phoenix
11 Mar 201300h 08m 28s-39d 10m 10s2.81.301Sculptor
12 Mar 201300h 08m 41s-38d 02m 54s2.81.314Sculptor
13 Mar 201300h 08m 53s-36d 56m 31s2.81.328Sculptor
14 Mar 201300h 09m 03s-35d 50m 57s2.71.341Sculptor
15 Mar 201300h 09m 12s-34d 46m 10s2.71.354Sculptor
16 Mar 201300h 09m 20s-33d 42m 08s2.61.368Sculptor
17 Mar 201300h 09m 27s-32d 38m 48s2.61.381Sculptor
18 Mar 201300h 09m 34s-31d 36m 06s2.61.393Sculptor
19 Mar 201300h 09m 39s-30d 34m 02s2.51.406Sculptor
20 Mar 201300h 09m 45s-29d 32m 32s2.51.418Sculptor
21 Mar 201300h 09m 49s-28d 31m 35s2.41.430Sculptor
22 Mar 201300h 09m 54s-27d 31m 08s2.51.442Sculptor
23 Mar 201300h 09m 58s-26d 31m 11s2.51.454Sculptor
24 Mar 201300h 10m 02s-25d 31m 40s2.61.466Sculptor
25 Mar 201300h 10m 05s-24d 32m 36s2.61.477Cetus
26 Mar 201300h 10m 09s-23d 33m 57s2.61.488Cetus
27 Mar 201300h 10m 13s-22d 35m 40s2.71.498Cetus
28 Mar 201300h 10m 17s-21d 37m 46s2.71.509Cetus
29 Mar 201300h 10m 21s-20d 40m 14s2.81.519Cetus
30 Mar 201300h 10m 26s-19d 43m 02s2.91.529Cetus
31 Mar 201300h 10m 31s-18d 46m 09s2.91.538Cetus

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) brightens faster than expected