We are still ironing out the final kinks in the ASE Remote Observatory (ASERO), but already we have some success with the discovery of a major outburst on Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1. We were fortunate to have clear skies in Spain when many others didn’t.

29P outburstWe had literally just started taking part in the BAA’s Mission 29P and were observing it on 24 March 2024 with the Murrell 0.3m Newtonian at our remote observatory, Trevinca Skies in Spain. We noticed that it was getting gradually brighter so we alerted the 29P community  and continued to gather data on the object.

This is one of our first images of the outburst. Not a “pretty” comet but certainly an interesting one.

Here’s the alert from Richard Miles of the BAA who leads the project:

ALERT: Strong outburst of 29P/S-W1 discovered by Mark Phillips of the Astro Soc. of Edinburgh (ASE), Scotland

Mark Phillips has only recently joined the MISSION 29P initiative using the ASE’s 0.3-m remote telescope in Spain and has struck very lucky with this discovery of a 13th magnitude outburst of 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1..

This is a particularly important discovery as I expect there to be one or two further strong outbursts during the next 5 days.

The reason is that this event comes 107 days after an earlier very strong outburst, which itself happened 114 days after a previous strong outburst in early August detected by Jean-Francois Soulier.

The time interval corresponds with almost exactly two rotations of the nucleus indicative of a highly-active region on a small fraction of the nucleus surface.

Importantly both these earlier events were followed by at least one further strong eruption within the next 5 days of the first.

We may also see a further step-change in brightness within the next 24 hours as happened in early December.

Well done, Mark!

Further monitoring is much encouraged.

Richard Miles
BAA

As Richard also goes on to say:

The time of outburst looks to have been within ~1 minute of Mark Phillips start of a 10 x 60s series of exposures, the chances of this happening again would seem to be vanishingly small!

So yes, a lot of luck involved.

29P is a unique object and undergoes many strong outbursts in brightness in a way that most other comets don’t. It is also easy to observe for large parts of the year due to it currently being locked in a near-circular orbit between Jupiter and Saturn, orbiting the Sun every 14.7 years at about 6 AU distance from the Sun.

This is the light curve for the year showing the various outbursts, including the one on 24 March.

Credit: Richard Miles, BAA Mission 29P

Definitely a comet we will continue to observe – when the weather allows (it’s snowing on our observatory in Spain as I write this)!

Banner image credit: Richard Miles, BAA Mission 29P

Mark Phillips