Saturday 23 December 2017

Comet C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) makes closest approach to Earth.

Comet C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) will make its closest approach to the Earth today (23 December 2017) reaching a distance of 2.05 AU from the Earth (2.05 times as far from us as the Sun, or 307 000 000 km). At this distance the comet will not be naked eye visible, having a magnitude of 11.3, which means it will require a fairly good telescope to spot it. For those that do have such equipment it is currently in the constellation of Taurus, close to the star Epsilon Tauri (Ain).

Image of C/2016 R2 (PANSTARS) taken on 28 November 2017 from Balen in Belgium. The comet is the point to the left of the centre of the picture; the elongate objects are stars, with the elongation being caused by the long exposure needed to take the photograph, in this case 20 minutes, and the movement of the telescope to track the comet. Alfons Diepvens.

C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) was discovered on 7 September 2016 by the University of Hawaii's PANSTARRS telescope. The name C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) implies that it is a non-periodic comet (C/) (all comets are, strictly speaking, periodic since they all orbit the Sun, but those with periods longer than 200 years are considered to be non-periodic), that it was the second comet (comet 2) discovered in the first half of September 2016 (period 2016 R) and that it was discovered by the PANSTARRS telescope.

The orbit and current position of Comet C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS). The Sky Live 3D Solar System Simulator.

C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) has an estimated orbital period of 20 800 years and a highly eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 58.2° to the plain of the Solar System, that brings it to 2.60 AU from the Sun at perihelion (260% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, considerably outside the orbit of Mars); to 1510 AU from the Sun at aphelion (1510 times as far from the Sun as the Earth or 50 times as far from the Sun as the planet Neptune, reaching the innermost part of the Oort Cloud.

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