January 26, 2023

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Great January comet – the brightest comet of the 20th century

The great January comet of 1910 was first seen at dawn on January 12th, exactly 113 years ago. It was already visible to the naked eye at that time, which is why many considered themselves its discoverers. It was probably first seen by gold prospectors in the Transvaal. The sensational information soon reached the media and scientists began to observe. At the time of discovery, the comet’s magnitude—the observed magnitude—was -1, making it one of the brightest objects in the sky. It was brighter than the Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Sirius. However, on January 17, the great January comet passed perihelion, the point of its closest orbit to the Sun, and had a magnitude of -5. It became the brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon and was visible in broad daylight. Two days later, the comet approached Earth at a distance of 0.86 astronomical units, so it was closer than the Sun, which is 1 astronomical unit away from us.

No wonder the comet caused such a stir. The more the world awaits the comet’s sensational return. Just not that. The great January comet is remembered primarily for its spectacular tail. It was a staggering 50 degrees in the sky. To realize its size, you need to know that the magnitude of the full moon is 0.5 degrees, and that the famous Halley’s comet, during its last flight near Earth in 1986, could have a tail length of 15 degrees. And the angle between the horizon and the upper point is 90 degrees, so the tail of the great comet extended more than half of this direction. People remembered the January 1910 comet so much that when Halley’s comet reappeared near Earth in 1986, many of the elderly people said they had seen it before. However, their relationship corresponds to January’s great comet, not Halley’s comet.

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Perhaps the brightest comet of the 20th century, the Great January Comet was visible to the naked eye until mid-February. It can now be found in the constellation Eagle. It appears above the horizon after seven o’clock and disappears behind it after eight o’clock. It is located about 19.6 billion km from Earth, which is more than 130 astronomical units. Its orbital period is 14,000 years. 968 years old. The next perihelion of the great January comet will therefore occur on July 20, 16878 at 21:48. Stay alert!