Comet 13P/Olbers: Halley-Type Comet Returns After 69 Years

~4 min

Comet 13P/Olbers is the next target for comet hunters after the news-making comet Pons-Brooks. Although it's a bit fainter, comet Olbers is well-placed in the sky and may be seen with binoculars, especially when it reaches its closest point to the Sun on June 30. You can already find the comet with the astronomy app Sky Tonight and observe it with your backyard telescope. Now let's learn more about comet 13P/Olbers and prepare to observe it at its best.


Comet 13P/Olbers quick facts

  • Official name:13P/Olbers
  • Type: short-period Halley-type comet
  • Orbital period: 69.3 years
  • Inclination: 44.67°
  • Next perihelion: June 30, 2024
  • Next closest approach to the Earth: July 20, 2024
  • Predicted maximum brightness: 6.5
  • Visible from: both hemispheres

Comet 13P/Olbers tonight

Is comet 13P/Olbers visible now?

Comet 13P/Olbers has already exceeded a magnitude of 8 and is gradually getting brighter. For now, it’s visible in a telescope. Also note that comets look fainter than stars with similar magnitudes, because the magnitude scale measures the total light spread out over the object, and in comets’ case this light is diffuse.

Where and when to see comet 13P/Olbers?

Comet 13P/Olbers is now in the constellation Auriga and will be visible on the western horizon for about 2 hours after sunset. Note that the exact position of the comet and the observation window depends strongly on your location. To find out how the comet will look tonight in your city, find 13P/Olbers in our free Sky Tonight app. Let’s see how to do it step by step.

How to find the comet in the sky?

The easiest way to locate the comet is to use the Sky Tonight app. Just open the app, type 13P/Olbers in the search bar, tap the target button next to the matching result, and you'll see the comet's location on the sky map. Then tap the blue compass button or simply point your device at the sky and – voilà – the app's sky map will adjust to your sky in real time. Follow the white arrow on the screen until you see 13P/Olbers. That's it, you've found the comet's position in the sky. Have fun observing!

How to find comet Olbers in the sky
Find comet 13P/Olbers in just a few steps with the Sky Tonight app.

13P/Olbers visibility forecast for 2024

Now, let’s take a look at the main points of the comet’s path across the sky and its visibility forecast.

  • June 18: mag ~7.0, moves from the constellation Auriga to Lynx;
  • June 21: mag ~7.0, passes bright stars Castor (mag 1.6) and Pollux (mag 1.2);
  • June 30: mag 6.5, passes perihelion 🌟;
  • July 2: mag ~7.0, passes the star Alsciaukat (mag 4.3);
  • July 9: mag ~7.0, passes the star HIP 44248 (mag 4.0);
  • July 14: mag ~7.0, enters Leo Minor;
  • July 20: mag ~7.0, reaches the nearest approach to the Earth (1.895 AU) 🌟;
  • July 21: mag ~7.0, passes the stars Tania Australis (mag 3.1) and Tania Borealis (mag 3.5);
  • July 28: mag ~7.5, enters Ursa Major;
Comet Olbers path
The path of 13P/Olbers across the sky (June-July).
  • August 1: mag ~8.0, passes the stars Alula Borealis (mag 3.5) and Alula Australis (mag 4.4);
  • August 12: mag ~8.0, moves to Coma Berenices;
  • August 21: mag ~9.0, passes the Black Eye galaxy (M64);
  • *August 30: mag ~9.0, passes the globular cluster M53;
  • September 7: mag ~9.0, enters Bootes;
  • September 10: mag ~10.0, enters Virgo;
  • October 15: mag ~11.0, passes possibly naked-eye comet C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS), near the globular star cluster M5, but is poorly visible.
Comet Olbers path
The path of 13P/Olbers across the sky (August-October).

What is comet 13P/Olbers?

Comet 13P/Olbers is a Halley-type comet with an orbital period of 69 years. Like the other comets, it's an object composed of ice, rock, and dust. Because of this composition, comets are sometimes called "dirty snowballs" hurtling through space. That may sound unattractive, but it doesn't really make them look any worse to us on the Earth.

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A man watching a meteor shower
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Comet 13P/Olbers name

The name of the comet contains data about where and when it was first seen:

  • The letter P means the comet is periodic (a comet that takes less than 200 years to orbit the Sun);
  • The number 13 means that comet Olbers was the 13th comet identified as periodic.
  • Olbers indicates the name of the comet's discoverer, Heinrich Olbers.

Discovery and previous appearances

The comet was discovered in 1815 by the German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers, who is also famous for the formulation of the dark sky paradox. In the year of its discovery, 13P/Olbers reached a maximum magnitude of 5.

Then 13P/Olbers appeared in 1887, reaching magnitude 9 at its brightest. It went unnoticed for a while until another famous astronomer, William Brooks, accidentally found it on August 25.

In 1956, the comet returned once more. It reached a maximum magnitude of 6.5, while the tail reached a maximum length of one degree. The next time the comet will return to perihelion is on June 30, 2024, when it's expected to reach a magnitude of 6.5.

Comet Olbers in 1887
Comet 13P/Olbers, sketched by William R. Brooks on October 14, 1887, through a telescope with 100x magnification.

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When is the next comet 2024?

When comet Olbers is gone, keep your eyes on the sky! A potential "comet of the century," C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS), is set to approach the Earth in October 2024. Optimistic predictions suggest it could shine as bright as magnitude 0. To learn more about this exciting space traveler, check out our dedicated article. Both comets, Tsuchinshan-ATLAS and 13P/Olbers, can be tracked in the Sky Tonight app. You can follow their paths and set up alerts for their upcoming passages. So, let's enjoy the humble beauty of comet Olbers and hope for an even more spectacular display with Tsuchinshan-ATLAS!

Comet 13P/Olbers: bottom line

13P/Olbers is a short period comet of the Halley type. It is now on its way to the Sun and will reach perihelion on June 30. At that point it is expected to shine with a magnitude of 6.5, visible through binoculars. However, comets are notoriously unpredictable, so we'll keep this article updated. Stay tuned! And don't forget to set the notification for the 13P/Olbers perihelion in the Sky Tonight app.