17 Dec 2002
(Source: Sky & Telescope)
A Christmas Comet
By Roger W. Sinnott
Sky & Telescope
Early on the morning of December 14th, Japanese amateur Tetuo Kudo was searching the skies with his giant 20 x 120 binoculars. While scanning the constellation Hercules, he spotted something new - a fuzzy 9th-magnitude glow moving slowly east-southeast. Follow-up observations by Ken-ichi Kadota (Saitama, Japan) confirmed the object and revealed a short tail about 1/3? in length, pointing away from the Sun.
The comet was announced on International Astronomical Union Circulars 8032 and 8033, and has been officially named Comet Kudo-Fujikawa.
A preliminary orbit calculated by Brian G. Marsden of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, indicates that this comet is headed for perihelion in late January, when it will pass well inside the orbit of Mercury and may brighten considerably. Unfortunately, it will then be almost directly behind the Sun as seen from Earth, hence virtually impossible to observe. Before that time, Northern Hemisphere observers should be able to follow the comet with binoculars in the morning sky through mid-January. Skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere are in a position to see it emerging from the Sun's glare in late February, in the evening sky.
Currently the comet is about 7th magnitude, making it a viable binocular object for amateurs. It could be 6th magnitude or brighter by the year's end. Contributing editor Steven James O'Meara, observing from Volcano, Hawaii, on the morning of the 16th, reported the comet as being "Magnitude 7.8. Bright, easy target - could have been discovered from a city with a small telescope. Could not confirm a tail."