Scientists love catchy acronyms. OK, maybe love is too strong a word. But you've got to admit, scientific jargon serves up a huge bowl of alphabet soup. NEAT, is one of the slew of acronyms you'll run across in astronomy. It stands for near-Earth Asteroid Tracking. NEAT scientists use telescopes in Hawaii and California to search for potentially hazardous asteroids and comets. As of May 2004, NEAT astronomers had discovered more than 50 PHAs, potentially hazardous asteroids. They've also found a number of comets.
One of the NEAT comets is C/2001 Q4. This frozen dirt ball was discovered in August 2001. By December of that year, there was speculation that this very distant, very faint comet had the potential to put on quite a show when it passed through the inner solar system in May 2004. Some astronomers predicted a peak brightness of 0 magnitude. Experienced comet observer John Bortle was more cautious in his assessment, "I'd say an optomistic value for peak brightness would be magnitude 2-3 (with the comet very low in the SW evening sky for northern observers)." As it turns out, Bortle was right.
Comet NEAT has put on a very fine display since May 7, 2004, when it passed just 30 million miles (0.3 AU) from Earth. Click on the below link to see my sketch and observation notes for comet C/2001 Q4 (NEAT).
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Revised: April 15, 2006 [WDF]