When was the last time we had two bright comets in the same year?

There were two very bright naked eye comets in 1947 and 1948. The rest of the dozens of comets found between 1947 and 1952 were rather faint and in most cases not visible except with a telescope.

The Great Comet of 1947, Comet 1948l, was also called the Eclipse Comet because it was a spectacular sight during the first week of November during a total solar eclipse when it was approaching the Sun. It was, however, a Southern Hemisphere object not well seen by people in the Northern Hemisphere. See Sky and Telescope magazine, January 1949 for pictures and commentary. According to John Bortle's pages over at JPL's Comet Page

ECLIPSE COMET, (C/1948 V1=1948 XI). Period of naked eye visibility extended from Nov. 1 until about Dec. 20, T=1948 October 27. Visibility was limited to the Southern Hemisphere and low Northern latitudes. First spotted as a brilliant object situated about 2 degrees southwest of the Sun during the total solar eclipse of November 1st, magnitude about -2. Re-discovered in the morning twilight of November 4th as an object of zero or 1st magnitude displaying a 20 degree tail. Moved southwestward from Hydra to Puppis during November and December. In mid November, 2nd magnitude with a tail described by some as up to 30 degrees in length. On November 26th still magnitude 3.5 but tail considerably shorter. Of 5th magnitude during the first week of December and finally lost to the unaided eye around the 20th of the month.

The Great Comet of 1947, Comet 1947n, was first seen on December 8, 1947 and had a 25 degree long tail from locations in South Africa. It was hailed as the brightest comet since Halley's in 1910. See articles in Sky and Telescope magazine for February and March, 1948 for more details. John Bortle notes on his page that:

SOUTHERN COMET, (C/1947 X1=1947 XII). First sighted on Dec. 7, faded rapidly and was lost to the naked eye by Dec. 25th, T=1947 December 2. Comet visible only from the Southern Hemisphere. Very short-lived object. Discovered in the evening twilight of December 7 as an object of at least 0 magnitude and perhaps much brighter. Comet's head orange in color and tail 20-30 degrees in length. Moved slowly almost due eastward across Sagittarius. On December 9th, about 1st magnitude. A week later the brightness had declined to 3rd magnitude and the tail had was no more than 5 degrees long. By December 20 the comet's head was between 4th to 5th and its appendage was very short. The object dropped below the naked eye limit about December 25.


Copyright 1997 Dr. Sten Odenwald

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