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On this day – July 1st

1st July 2019 @ 6:06am – by Webteam
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An astronomical near-miss

Lexell's Comet, named after its orbit computer Anders Johan Lexell, was a comet discovered by astronomer Charles Messier in June 1770. It is notable for having passed closer to Earth than any other comet in recorded history, approaching to a distance of only 0.015 astronomical units (1,400,000 miles). The comet has not been seen since 1770 and is considered a lost comet.

The comet was discovered on June 14, 1770, in the constellation Sagittarius by Messier, who had just completed an observation of Jupiter and was examining several nebulae. At this time it was very faint, but his observations over the course of the next few days showed that it rapidly grew in size, its coma reaching 27 arcminutes across by June 24: by this time it was of magnitude +2. The comet was also noted by several other astronomers.

The comet was observed in Japan. Surviving records identify it as an astronomical and historical phenomenon.

It was observed in the Hejaz in Safar 1184 AH (June 1770), where some believed it to be the comet predicted by the poet al-Fasi, portending future events

On July 1, 1770, the comet passed 0.015 astronomical units from Earth, or approximately 6 times the radius of the Moon's orbit. Charles Messier measured the coma as 2° 23' across, around four times the apparent angular size of the Moon. An English astronomer at the time noted the comet crossing over 42° of sky in 24 hours; he described the nucleus as being as large as Jupiter, "surrounded with a coma of silver light, the brightest part of which was as large as the moon's orb".

Messier was the last astronomer to observe the comet as it moved away from the Sun, on October 3, 1770.

....and it has never been seen since.


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