Comet 15p finlay

Various celestial objects form a part of our solar system. Inhabiting the Oort cloud and Kuiper belt in millions, some of them venture into our solar plane. Known as comets, these objects light up as they approach the Sun. They fade away as they depart. Enroute, some of them exhibit a sudden dramatic flare. This surge of brightness is displayed by certain comets only. One such comet is the comet Finlay. The 15th comet to be discovered, Finlay is a short– period comet belonging to the Jupiter family. Let us understand this comet in detail.

Who discovered comet 15P/ Finlay?

Astronomer W H Finlay from Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope discovered this comet on 23rd September, 1886. The presence of the comet was confirmed by Finlay around the 27th of September, 1886. The comet was named comet Finlay after its discoverer, astronomer W H Finlay.

What were the observations made about this comet?

Observations made about comet Finlay include:

  • The comet appeared faint and had no tail.
  • It appeared condensed at the centre.
  • The comet gained some brightness in October. It was bright at 2.5 arc minutes in October.
  • Fading started by November and December onwards. The comet faded excessively and was last seen in April.
  • This comet was observed as having a parabolic orbit. 
What was the magnitude noted?

The magnitude noted of comet 15P/Finlay on discovery in September, 1886, was 11.  The next apparition in 1893 revealed a magnitude of about 11 while the comet appeared faint and diffused. It reached a magnitude of 6 on its 1906 return and appeared bright during the last few days of August and September. However, subsequent apparitions were very faint and were unfavourable till 1953. 

What is its perihelion distance?

The perihelion distance (nearest to the sun) of comet 15P/Finlay is noted at around 0.976 AU while its aphelion distance (far from the sun) is noted at 6.019 AU.

What was the orbital period noted?

On its discovery, the orbital period of comet 15P/Finlay was noted at 4.32 years. During June 1910, comet Finlay passed about 0.45 AU from Jupiter, which changed its orbital period from 6.54 to 6.69 years.

Did the comet reappear or was it recovered?

Astronomer Finlay recovered the comet on 18th May, 1893. It appeared diffused and very faint. The 1899 return was unfavourable and hence, the comet was missed but it was recovered at a very favourable return in 1906. The comet 15P/Finlay appeared very bright as it reached perihelion. However, the 1913 apparition was missed but the comet was recovered again in 1919 and was again favourably recovered in 1953.

Did it encounter any other planet?

Encounters of comet 15P/Finlay include the following:

  • Close encounter with Jupiter in June, 1910, which increased the perihelion distance and changed the orbital period.
  • Close encounter with Jupiter in September, 1993, which decreased the perihelion distance from 1.09 AU to 1.04 AU
  • Close encounter with Jupiter in May, 2004, which decreased the perihelion distance from 1.03 AU to 0.97 AU.
Is it expected to reappear?

Next perihelion is expected around 13th July, 2021. The last perihelion of the comet 15P/Finlay was on 22nd June, 2008 and 27th December, 2014.

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