A newly discovered comet that has caught the attention of skywatchers around the world appears to be undergoing some dynamic changes.
The comet, called Ikeya-Murakami (C/2010 V1), was first detected last week by amateur astronomers in Japan, but several other skywatchers have since been watching the icy wanderer's changing appearance over the last few days. [Photo: Comet Ikeya-Murakami (C/2010 V1)]
Russian astronomer Leonid Elenin, of Moscow, used the remotely operated ISON-NM telescope in New Mexico to observe the new Comet Ikeya-Murakami over the weekend.
"After the discovery, C/2010 V1 looked like a bright fuzzy ball, without details," Elenin told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "But after a few days, I was discouraged - [this] comet is rapidly changing."
The comet appears to brightening, signifying it could be in the middle of an outburst, according to Spaceweather.com. While the comet cannot be seen with the unaided eye, it should be easily detectable with backyard telescopes, the website added. Typically, however, finding a comet with a telescope can be tricky for those who are not familiar with sky charts and the night sky.
Elenin said that in follow-up observations, the outer coma - the envelope of gas and dust at the head of the comet - had disappeared.
"But I saw an excellent inner coma, which looks like the mini-version of the 17P/Holmes comet after its powerful outburst in 2007," Elenin said. "Also we can see bright and sufficiently long tail."
Comet 17P/Holmes was a small and very faint comet that overnight, in October 2007, became bright enough to see with the unaided eye. The comet, which was discovered in Nov. 1892, surprised astronomers with its unexpected outburst, and what triggered the brightening is still not well understood.
Skywatcher Gregg Ruppel, from Ellisville, Mo., also recalled seeing the comet brighten in his own examinations.
"I learned of the comet shortly after its discovery and was up early in the morning to image Comet Hartley 2," Ruppel told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "The new comet rose just before sunrise and was immersed in the light pollution and haze to the east of my backyard observatory."
"But when I positioned my astrograph to the expected location, there it was," he explained. "At first I wasn't sure if it was a tail because I tracked the comet and the stars appear trailed. But it does seem to be in outburst mode as it brightened considerably over just a few days."
Comet Ikeya-Murakami (C/2010 V1) has been visible near the brilliant ringed planet Saturn in recent days.
The comet and Saturn shine bright in a Nov. 5 photo taken by Italian skywatchers Luca Buzzi and Andrea Aletti of the G.V. Schiaparelli Astronomical Observatory just north of Varese, Italy.
"I was excited when I knew about this bright amateur discovery. I was right in my observatory, doing my routine minor planets follow-up, and I hoped the sky remained clear to catch the comet a few hours later," Buzzi told SPACE.com. "It's good that in this modern era, dominates by the big surveys, there is space left also for amateurs discoveries."
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SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik contributed to this report.