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Comet 96P/Machholz 1 or 96P/Machholz is now brightening rapidly as its heads towards a very close pass of the Sun on July 14, 2012. As of July 1, the magnitude of this short period comet was approx. 9.3 but is predicted - although comet predictions have historically often been way off the mark - to reach a peak magnitude of 2.2 around perihelion. When at its brightest, it is sweeping round the Sun and temporarily lost from view from Earth.

As quickly as it brightens it will fade and by the end of the month it is expected to be back down to magnitude 9. Therefore, the window of opportunity to catch a glimpse of this elusive object is a short one. The charts below show the movement of Comet 96P/Machholz 1 against the stars before, during and after perihelion.

Comet Machholz finder chart from June 26 to July 9

Comet Machholz finder chart from June 26 to July 9 - pdf format

Comet Machholz finder chart from July 9 to July 20

Comet Machholz finder chart from July 9 to July 20 - pdf format

Comet Machholz finder chart from July 20 to July 31

Comet Machholz finder chart from July 20 to July 31 - pdf format

Before perihelion Machholz 1 is visible as an early morning object in the Southern hemisphere, before becoming temporarily unobservable in mid July. After passing perihelion it will then reappear in the evening sky. For Northern hemisphere observers, the comet is unobservable before perihelion, but is viewable near the end of the month when it also appears low down in the evening sky. It remains observable although rapidly fading in brightness into August.

Comet Machholz as imaged by the STEREO-A spacecraft in April 2007

Comet 96P/Machholz 1 was discovered on May 12, 1986 by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz using 130mm (5.1 inch) binoculars. The comet is an unusual short-period one in that it has a highly eccentric orbit of 5.2 years. At closest approach to the Sun, Machholz 1 brushes by at a distance of only 0.12461 AU (18.64 million kms or 11.58 million miles), which is considerably closer than the planet Mercury. This is also the closest approach of all known periodic comets. On the other hand, at aphelion the comet is 5.9079 AU (884 million kms or 549 million miles) distant from the Sun, which is further than the planet Jupiter.

Comet 96P/Machholz 1 Data Table

DateRA (J2000)DEC (J2000)Est. Mag
26 June 20124h 57m 37.5s-9d 53m 11s10.4
27 June 20125h 5m 6.2s-8d 30m 48s10.2
28 June 20125h 12m 33.2s-7d 6m 37s10
29 June 20125h 19m 58.6s-5d 40m 42s9.8
30 June 20125h 27m 22.4s-4d 13m 6s9.6
1 July 20125h 34m 44.6s-2d 43m 53s9.3
2 July 20125h 42m 5.8s-1d 13m 2s9
3 July 20125h 49m 26.4s0d 19m 29s8.7
4 July 20125h 56m 47.2s1d 53m 46s8.4
5 July 20126h 4m 9.4s3d 29m 59s8.1
6 July 20126h 11m 34.4s5d 8m 23s7.7
7 July 20126h 19m 4.4s6d 49m 23s7.3
8 July 20126h 26m 42.4s8d 33m 32s6.8
9 July 20126h 34m 32.9s10d 21m 38s6.2
10 July 20126h 42m 42.2s12d 14m 49s5.6
11 July 20126h 51m 20s14d 14m 35s4.9
12 July 20127h 0m 41.1s16d 22m 49s4
13 July 20127h 11m 7.1s18d 41m 3s3.2
14 July 20127h 23m 3.1s21d 7m 49s2.4
15 July 20127h 36m 34.4s23d 33m 1s2.2
16 July 20127h 51m 0.8s25d 39m 33s2.7
17 July 20128h 5m 30.8s27d 18m 30s3.5
18 July 20128h 19m 43.7s28d 32m 14s4.3
19 July 20128h 33m 39.2s29d 26m 5s5.1
20 July 20128h 47m 22.4s30d 4m 17s5.8
21 July 20129h 0m 57.5s30d 29m 41s6.4
22 July 20129h 14m 26.9s30d 44m 10s6.9
23 July 20129h 27m 51.4s30d 48m 58s7.3
24 July 20129h 41m 10.8s30d 45m 0s7.7
25 July 20129h 54m 23.8s30d 32m 58s8.1
26 July 201210h 7m 28.6s30d 13m 28s8.4
27 July 201210h 20m 23.3s29d 47m 3s8.7
28 July 201210h 33m 5.5s29d 14m 15s9
29 July 201210h 45m 33.2s28d 35m 37s9.3
30 July 201210h 57m 44.1s27d 51m 43s9.5
31 July 201211h 9m 36.5s27d 3m 7s9.8