Last chance to see ‘Czechoslovak’ comet

Comet 45P Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková, photo: YouTube, the First Space Channel

Over the next few days, people in the Czech Republic can observe a unique dwarf comet in the sky with the aid of just the smallest binoculars. The comet was named after Czechoslovak astronomers and it was last visible on the sky back in 2011. Although it turns around the Sun every five years and three months, this is the last time in the 21st century when it is so easily visible.

Comet 45P Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková,  photo: YouTube,  the First Space Channel
The 45P Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková is a short-period comet which was first discovered by Japanese astronomer Minoru Honda in December 1948. A few days later, his Czechoslovak colleagues, Antonín Mrkos, and Ľudmila Pajdušáková announced their own independent discovery.

The comet revolves around the Sun on an elliptical orbit every 5.25 years and was last clearly visible on the sky in autumn 2011, when it became the fifteenth comet detected by ground radar telescope.

Just a few days ago, the comet entered the Ophiuchus constellation, where it should be visible by Thursday morning. Afterwards, the Moon will become too bright and outshine it. 45P Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková will re-appear once again on February 14 for just a few more days. Jakub Černý is the head of the Czech Society for Interplanetary Substance:

Jakub Černý,  photo: Czech Astronomical Society
“We have to observe it before the Sun rise. Once the Sun starts rising, its bright light makes the comet virtually invisible. The elliptical orbit of the comet has been predicted for the rest of the century and we know that the current ideal conditions will not be repeated. So this is really the last chance to see the Czechoslovak comet.”

According to Pavel Suchan of the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Science, the best way to observe the comet is to get as far away from the city, where the sky is polluted by light, as possible.

The astronomical phenomenon, however, is not visible with the unaided eye. Those who want to see it will need at least small binoculars. Jakub Černý of the Czech Society for Interplanetary Substance once again:

“The best thing is to take a small binocular, field glasses or even theatre binoculars, find the right position in the sky and start searching for it. I would also advise people to print out a map and not to use their smartphones or tablets, which are too blinding and prevent us from seeing the objects on the sky.”

Antonín Mrkos,  photo: Public Domain
In regular binoculars, the 45P Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková comet usually appears to be just a tiny cloud, but if you are lucky enough you can also spot its long and beautiful tail. Interestingly, there is another object in the space that bears the name of the Czechoslovak astronomer Ľudmila Pajdušáková. She was in fact married to her colleague Antoním Mrkos and when she died, he named a planet after her, which he had discovered in 1982.