The Strange Periodic Comet Machholz

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Science  02 Mar 1990:
Vol. 247, Issue 4946, pp. 1063-1067
DOI: 10.1126/science.247.4946.1063


The recently discovered periodic comet Machholz 1986 VIII (1986e) travels closer to the sun than any known planet and any known comet with an orbital period of less than 150 years, thus providing astronomers with a unique object for studying cometary evolution. The comet is spiraling steadily closer to the sun, from perihelion distance q [unknown] 0.9 astronomical unit at about A.D. 700 to q [unknown] 0.13 at present (orbital period, 5.25 years), to an expected q [unknown] 0.03 by about 2450; should the comet survive such increasingly close perihelion passages, q will begin steadily to increase shortly thereafter. A review of observations made since discovery is presented, together with a discussion of numerical investigations of the comet's orbit over 4000 years and prospects for observing the upcoming return to perihelion in 1991.

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