Another Fragmented Comet
It seems Periodic Comet Machholz 2 (1994o) is falling apart. The fragmented comet has a faint companion, about magnitude 11, discovered 48 arc minutes from the primary comet in late August. But then a third piece was discovered late last week, and now two more fragments have been found. All but the primary are very faint; part B is near 13th magnitude now, and C, D, and E are 14th or 15th. However, Part A remains fairly easy to spot in the predawn sky. Observer Bill Smith of Ukiah, California, says the primary has a distinct, blue-green coma perhaps 15 arc minutes across and a pencil-thin tail extending more than 1 degree to the west. It's at least 7th magnitude and maybe closer to 6th. The latest calculations suggest that P/Machholz 2 has a 5.4-year orbit that ranges from just outside that of Venus to just beyond Jupiter.