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Four Mile-Wide Comet Headed Towards Sun - 96P/Machholz Makes Close Approach to the Sun on Oct. 27 (+Video)

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Comet 96P/Machholz or 96P/Machholz 1 is a short-period sungrazing comet discovered on May 12, 1986, by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz. Comet 96P/Machholz last came to perihelion on July 14, 2012, and will next come to perihelion on October 27, 2017. 96P/Machholz has an estimated diameter of around 6.4 km (4.0 mi).

Comet 96P/Machholz will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of  0.12375 AU or 11.5 million miles (18.51 million km)


It’s unusual among comets in several respects. Its highly eccentric 5.2 year orbit has the smallest perihelion distance known among numbered/regular short-period comets, bringing it considerably closer to the Sun than the orbit of Mercury. It is also the only known short-period comet with both high orbital inclination and high eccentricity. In 2007, Machholz 1 was found to be both carbon-depleted and cyanogen-depleted, a chemical composition nearly unique among comets with known compositions. The chemical composition implies a different and possible extrasolar origin.

Machholz 1 entered the field of view of the orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) in 1996, 2002, and 2007, where it was seen by the corona-observing LASCO instrument in its C2 and C3 coronagraphs. During the 2002 passage the comet brightened to magnitude −2, and was very impressive as seen by SOHO. During the comet’s last perihelion passage in 2007, it appeared in SOHO’s LASCO C3′s field of view from April 2 to 6, peaking in brightness on April 4, 2007,around magnitude +2. In these observations, its coma was substantially smaller than the Sun in volume, but the forward scattering of light made the comet appear significantly brighter.

The most recent opportunity to observe Machholz 1 was when it returned to perihelion in 2012. Between July 12–17, 2012, comet Machholz was visible in the SOHO LASCO/C3 field of view and expected to brighten to about magnitude +2.
 Two small faint fragments of Comet Machholz were detected in the SOHO C2 images.
 The fragments were 5 hours ahead of Comet Machholz, and probably fragmented from the comet during the 2007 perihelion passage.;sstr=96P
Comet 96P/Machholz Sky Charts and Coordinates

Clips, images credit: SOHO, ESA/HUBBLE, ESO & NASA and

Music credit: YouTube Audio Library


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