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Past, Present, and Future Orbits by Kazuo Kinoshita

H. Mikuz image of 4P obtained on 1991 October 3
Copyright © 1991 by Herman Mikuz (Crni Vrh Observatory, Slovenia)

This image was obtained on 1991 Oct. 3.89 UT with a 19-cm, f/4 flat-field Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and CCD. Exposure time was 4 minutes. (The image was cropped by the webmaster and converted to black and white to save space.)


     Hervé Faye (Royal Observatory, Paris) discovered this comet on 1843 November 23.04, near Gamma Orionis. The comet exhibited a distinct nucleus, which emitted faint indications of a tail extending 4 arcmin away from the sun. Due to cloudy weather, Faye was not able to confirm his discovery until November 25.21.

Historical Highlights

  • The comet was kept under observation until 1844 April 10 during the discovery apparition, or for more than 4 months. The comet had passed perihelion one month prior to discovery, but was discovered about a day before its closest passage by Earth (0.79 AU). This close approach allowed the comet to attain its greatest magnitude near the end of November, when O. Struve (Pulkovo) said it could be seen with the naked eye. On November 30, South (Kensington) estimated the tail length as 11 arcmin. The comet faded thereafter. By January 10 it was barely visible in a 3.6-inch refractor and by April 10 Struve could barely see it in a 15-inch refractor. The comet has never been as well placed as at this discovery apparition.
  • By 1844 January T. Henderson (Edinburgh) became the first to realize this comet was moving in a short-period orbit. Although his initial computed orbital period was 6.58 years, additional observations allowed both John. R. Hind and himself to independently revise the orbit during the next few months. Ultimately, by May, the period had been refined to 7.43 years.
  • As the comet's expected apparition of 1851 approached, astronomers needed as accurate a prediction as possible to guarantee recovery. Urbain Jean Joseph Leverrier undertook this task. He found the comet had passed 0.25 AU from Jupiter during 1841, which acted to decrease the perihelion distance from 1.81 AU to the discovery value of 1.69 AU. He then determined the comet's next perihelion would fall during early April 1851. James Challis (Cambridge, England) recovered the comet very close to Leverrier's predicted position on 1850 November 28.
  • This comet has been seen at every return since its discovery, except for those of 1903 and 1918, which were especially unfavorable. The comet's having been missed during 1903 brought problems for the 1910 return. Initially searches during the 1910 apparition were failing to locate the comet. Interestingly, Cerulli (Teramo, Italy) found a 10th-magnitude comet on 1910 November 8. After observations were obtained for the next two weeks, the first orbital computations revealed this was Faye's periodic comet.
  • The comet next passed perihelion on 1999 May 6. The comet attained a maximum observed brightness of magnitude 13 in January of 1999 and then entered the sun's glare. The comet was recovered several months after passing perihelion and was about magnitude 14.5-15.0 in October.
  • The comet was favorably placed for observation during its 2006-2007 apparition. Perihelion occurred on 2006 November 15. The comet attained its maximum brightness of about 9.5 during the period of October and November 2006.
  • Close approaches to planets: The comet experienced five close approaches to Earth and two close approaches to Jupiter during the 20th century. It will make three close approaches to Earth and one close approach to Jupiter during the first half of the 21st century. (From the orbital work of Kazuo Kinoshita)
    • 0.68 AU from Earth on 1910 November 10
    • 0.71 AU from Earth on 1932 October 21
    • 0.87 AU from Earth on 1947 December 3
    • 0.60 AU from Jupiter on 1959 February 17
      • decreased perihelion distance from 1.65 AU to 1.61 AU
      • decreased orbital period from 7.41 to 7.38 years
    • 0.74 AU from Earth on 1969 November 21
    • 0.62 AU from Earth on 1991 October 28
    • 1.32 AU from Jupiter on 1993 October 25
      • decreased perihelion distance from 1.59 AU to 1.66 AU
      • decreased orbital period from 7.34 to 7.52 years
    • 0.69 AU from Earth on 2006 October 30
    • 0.63 AU from Jupiter on 2018 March 7
      • decreased perihelion distance from 1.66 AU to 1.62 AU
      • decreased orbital period from 7.51 to 7.48 years
    • 0.94 AU from Earth on 2021 December 5
    • 0.98 AU from Earth on 2036 December 8

    Additional Images

    A. Nakamura image of 4p exposed on 1998 August 25
    Copyright © 1998 by Akimasa Nakamura (Kuma Kogen Astronomical Observatory, Japan)

    The CCD image was taken on 1998 August 25.59 UT, using a 0.60-m f/6 Ritchey-Chretien telescope.

    A. Nakamura image of 4p exposed on 1999 December 7
    Copyright © 1999 by Akimasa Nakamura (Kuma Kogen Astronomical Observatory, Japan)

    The CCD image was taken on 1999 December 7.81 UT, using a 0.60-m f/6 Ritchey-Chretien telescope.

    R. Ligustri image of 4p exposed on 2006 August 31
    Copyright © 2006 by R. Ligustri (Italy)

    R. Ligustri image of 4p exposed on 2006 September 23
    Copyright © 2006 by R. Ligustri (Italy)

    L. A. Mansilla image of 4p exposed on 2006 October 4
    Copyright © 2006 by Luis A. Mansilla (Argentina)

    The CCD image was taken on 2006 October 4.13 UT, using the Bradford Robotic Telescope (Teide, Canary Islands).

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