Having the opportunity to witness a comet zoom through the sky can be an exciting and impactful experience. Unfortunately, seeing this type of event is rare, and we only get a few chances each year. Is Comet 2023 going to be your Comet Year?
Because it is so infrequent, you must keep track of when and where to be for each forecasted sighting.
For that reason, we came up with a Comet Watch calendar you can reference, giving you the best chance at never missing a sighting.
How Often Can You Watch a Comet?
You can walk out your backdoor on any clear night and have the opportunity to see bright shiny stars at any time. We can see the moon, the galaxy, and other planets anytime. But it isn’t that easy to see a comet.
Typically, only a handful of comets can be seen from Earth, with and without a telescope or good pair of binoculars each year.
In fact, major comets are only visible from Earth once every five years, give or take. Sometimes you won’t see a significant comet between five and ten years apart, depending on all the variables determining when these objects fly by.
One variable is cluster comets, when multiple great comets pass by close enough to see within a short time frame. An example of this is the cluster from 1910 to 1911. At this time, four separate major comets could be seen from Earth.
What About Giant Comets?
Seeing a major comet fly by Earth is quite a wait, but seeing a giant comet is even worse. Giant comets are only visible once every ten years.
The last giant comet on record was the infamous Hale-Bopp comet. This comet was discovered in 1995 but could be viewed by the naked eye until a year later, and it was another year after that before it reached its peak potential coming closest to Earth in 1997.
Hale-Bopp is a famous long period comet; you could observe this comet for more than 18 straight months before it disappeared.
While these interesting and unique opportunities are extremely rare, the chances of seeing your average comet happens a little more often.
Aside from sheer size, the only difference between comets is the orbit length. Short-period comets orbit typically under 200 years, while long-periods orbit greater than 200.
Where and When Can You See Comets in 2023?
The second half of 2023 will be good for comet watching with numerous opportunities to capture amazing images of comets of all sizes.
We have already enjoyed seeing a few comets orbiting across our planet’s atmosphere with great visibility.
2023’s Missed Opportunities
In 2023 three comets have already come and gone, and if you didn’t get a chance to go out and see them, you are out of luck for now.
PanSTARRS (C/2017 K2)
The C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS comet was a long-tail comet with an orbital period so long it will be visible from our solar system in the year 20000. The comet was brighter in January of 2023, reaching a magnitude of 6.
- Discovered on 5/21/2017 at Hawaii’s Haleakala Observatory
- Closest to the Sun: 12/19/22
- Closest to the Earth: 7/14/22
- Where it was visible: Southern Hemisphere
ZTF (C/2022) E3
The ZTF comet was first considered an asteroid until the coma was noticed.
- Discovered on 03/02/22 by Zwicky Transient Facility
- Closest to the Sun: 01/12/23
- Closest to Earth: 02/01/23
- Where it was visible: Best seen in the Northern Hemisphere in January and the Southern Hemisphere in early February
The 96P comet was a short-period comet and passed very close to the sun’s surface with an extrasolar origin.
- Discovered on 4/12/1986
- Closest to the Sun: 01/31/23
- Closest to the Earth: 01/31/23
- Where it was visible: Visible from both hemispheres
Comets to Watch for the Rest of 2023
Now it is time to discuss the comets still visible for the 2023 year. We will let you know when it will be closest to the Earth and where you need to be to see it clearly, and what equipment you should have on you to see each comet in perfect detail.
07/20/23-07/31/23: Lemmon (C/2021 T4)
The Lemmon comet is a long-period comet that can be seen from the Southern Hemisphere with a small telescope or a quality pair of large binoculars.
- Discovered on 10/07/21 by MNT Lemmon Observatory
- Closest to the Sun: 07/31/23
- Closest to the Earth: 07/20/23
- Where you can observe: Southern Hemisphere
09/26/23-10/12/23 Hartley (103P)
Malcolm Hartley was the first to see this comet in 1986 from Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory. It was then spotted again in 2010 by NASA’s Deep Impact Spacecraft, which was able to snap a photo of the comet’s unique nucleus, shaped like a peanut.
When the Hartley comet comes into our solar system, both hemispheres will have the opportunity to see it. If you are looking for a good view, you want to be somewhere in the Northern half around the middle of October, though the southern half can still be seen if you look much lower at the end of September.
When checking out this comet, ensure you have a small telescope or a good pair of large binoculars.
- Discovered in 1986 by Malcolm Hartley
- Closest to the Sun: 10/12/23
- Closest to the Earth: 09/26/23
- Where you can observe: Northern and Southern Hemispheres
09/24/23-10/21/23 Encke (2P)
The Encke comet is unique, having the shortest orbital period known to date. This comet orbits the galaxy every 3.3 years. So, if you miss it this time, you will get another chance in 2026.
If you want to check it out, you will need to have a nice set of binoculars on hand early in the morning because it will not be visible to the naked eye and will only be observable before sunrise.
This comet was first seen by Pierre Mechain, a French astronomer, in 1786. However, it got its name in 1819 from John Franz Enche, a German astronomer who calculated its orbit.
- Discovered on 01/171786 by Pierre Mechain
- Closest to the Sun: 10/21/23
- Closest to the Earth: 09/24/23
- Where you can observe: Northern Hemisphere
12/24/23-01/30/24 Tsuchinishan (62P)
The Tsuchinishan comet was first discovered in Nanking, China, by the Zijin Shan Astronomical Observatory in January 1965. It will be perfectly positioned for the Northern Hemisphere to see through a quality pair of binoculars on Christmas Eve.
Compared to other short-period comets, Tsuchinishan’s is pretty short at 6.4 years.
- Discovered on 01/01/1965
- Closest to the Sun: 12/24/23
- Closest to the Earth: 1/30/204
- Where to observe: Northern Hemisphere
12/12/2023-01/25/2024: Kushida (244P)
Kushida is another short-period comet seen in 2023 with a small telescope or high-quality binoculars. The comet will become visible to both hemispheres, becoming the brightest and most visible in early January 2024.
This comet was founded by Yoshio Kushinda at Japan’s South Base Observatory back in January 1994.
- Discovered on 01/08/1994 by Yoshio Kushida
- Closest to the Sun: 1/25/24
- Closest to the Earth: 12/12/23
- Where to observe: Northern and Southern Hemispheres
02/14/2024- 03/14/2024 (possible visibility in 2023): PanSTARRS (C/2021 S3)
Though this comet reaches perihelion (closest distance to the sun) in 2024, there is still a chance for both hemispheres to see it with the help of a small telescope in 2023.
Discovered in 2021 at Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii by the Pan-STARRS 2 telescope, this comet is the last comet to watch out for in 2023.
- Discovered in 2021 by Pan-SSTARS 2 telescope
- Closest to the Sun: 02/14/2024
- Closest to the Earth: 03/14/2024
- Where to observe: Northern and Southern Hemispheres
Make Sure You Are Prepared to Track These Comets
Be ready ahead of time. Because it is already difficult to locate most comets due to their small size and fuzzy appearance, it is essential that you know right where you should be looking. Luckily there is an extremely easy way to have a map of the entire sky right in your hands, and that is through a smart app on your phone.
Many smart apps are available today that can help you find the next upcoming comet no matter where you are located. Enter the come’s name, hold your phone to the dark sky, and wait for the arrow to guide you.
These rare sightings are amazing events you do not want to miss.