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A Christmas Comet

2020 December 25
by Russ

This Christmas season has a visitor to the inner solar system well placed for viewing in the pre-midnight sky. The visitor is Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS).

As of this writing, Comet ATLAS is in the constellation Auriga near the bright star Capella.  I happened to catch it last Saturday night.

Comet C/2020 M3 ATLAS on December 20, 2020.  This sequence of images shows Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS)  as it crawled through the constellation Auriga on December 20, 2020. This animation was cropped from an animation showing a larger area of sky. The size of this field of view is approximately 9.8′ x 6.6′, or 0.16° x 0.11°. North is up. East is to the left. You can see the full image here.

The image to the left is an animated gif covering a 47 minute period. Although the comet appears to be dashing across the sky, during that time, it moved just 3 arcminutes, or a mere 0.05 degrees.

During this session I estimated the comet’s magnitude as 11.8, although other observers were consistently estimating it as bright as magnitude 9.9. Unfortunately, even at magnitude 9.9 the comet is too faint to be seen without a telescope. Magnitude 6 is about the best the bare eyeball can do, and that’s from a very dark location with dark-adapted eyes.

Each of the seven images that went into this animated gif is made up of a stack of 10 to20 15-second subimages.  Images were live-stacked at the telescope with SharpCap and cropped and processed into an animated gif in GIMP.

Image Details:
Object: Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS)
Date/Time:  20 December 2020 06:34:01-07:13:34 UT
Telescope: Celestron C8 (203mm f/10) reduced to f/5
Camera: ZWO ASI224MC




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