Copyright © 1993-2000 by the California Institute of Technology
In the course of the Second Palomar Observatory Sky Survey, the 48-inch Oschin Schmidt Telescope at Palomar Observatory (California, USA) accidently photographed this comet on 1986 September 30.40. The comet trailed during the exposure of the Kodak IIIaF (red) plate. This image was obtained through SkyMorph at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
R. Spitaler (Vienna, Austria) discovered this comet on 1890 November 17.14, while attempting to make his first observations of a new comet that is now known as C/1890 V1 (Zona). He knew the discovery position of Zona's comet, as well as the direction and rate of motion, and, as the morning of the November 17 was clear, he began searching with the 69-cm refractor. It was not long before he found a faint nebulous object near the likely extrapolated position of the comet; however, he noted it seemed too faint to be Zona's comet. He began moving the telescope back and forth, and soon came upon the comet discovered by Zona. The comet was found in Auriga.
The comet was almost lost, because it was so faint that only large telescopes could see it. During the nights following the discovery, Spitaler and several key European observatories were hampered by bad weather. It was hoped that the comet would be confirmed by the United States observatories, but the telegram containing the announcement gave an erroneous discovery position, so that they were searching in a different part of the sky. By the morning of November 25, with there still being no confirmation of the comet's existence, Spitaler was greeted with clear skies shortly before the beginning of twilight and began sweeping for the comet. He found a cometary object a few degrees northwest of the discovery position and estimated its position. Unfortunately, morning twilight quickly washed out the object. Moonlight and bad weather followed before Spitaler could again search for the comet. On December 4 he checked the position of the November 25 object and found it was still there. This object was not his November 17 comet, but a nebula. Spitaler began sweeping with the telescope and soon found an object that matched the appearance of his November 17 comet. He described it as about magnitude 13, with a round coma 0.5 arc minute across and a distinct nucleus. Thus, it took more than two weeks to obtain a confirming observation.
The comet faded during the remainder of the 1890-1891 apparition, as it moved away from both the sun and Earth. It was last observed on 1891 February 4.77, when Spitaler saw it with the 69-cm refractor and described it as quite faint and diffuse. Spitaler unsuccessfully searched for the comet on February 7 and 9, and March 6 and 7.
The first orbit was calculated by G. M. Searle. He used positions spanning the period of November 17 to December 8, and determined the perihelion date as 1890 September 30.89 and the period as 12.71 years. A few days later, G. Rosmanith used positions spanning the period of November 17 to December 13 and determined the perihelion date as 1890 October 26.97 and the period of 6.4 years. Additional orbits were calculated by Spitaler, Searle, J. F. Tennant, and J. R. Hind.
The comet's next expected apparition was in 1897 and, in 1896, Spitaler predicted it would pass perihelion on March 12.74. The comet was not recovered and, in fact, remained lost for the next several decades.
The comet was accidentally rediscovered by J. V. Scotti (Spacewatch, Kitt Peak Observatory, Arizona, USA) on 1993 October 24.30. He gave the total magnitude as 17.2 and the nuclear magnitude as 19.6. He also noted a coma 18 arc seconds across and a tail extending 0.76 arc minute in PA 234°. Scotti suggested this was Spitaler's comet and B. G. Marsden was able to roughly link the 1890 and 1994 apparitions.
Interestingly, sometime after this comet's rediscovery, a diffuse, trailed image, which exhibited a tail, was found on a plate exposed during the second Palomar Sky Survey, on 1986 September 30. This image is displayed above.