The first comet to pass through our planetary neighborhood in more than 400 years is a recently discovered comet.
Since it won’t be back for another 400 years, astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere should catch a glimpse as soon as they can, either this week or early the following year.
On September 12, the kilometer-sized (half-mile) comet will safely pass by Earth, coming within 78 million miles (125 million kilometers).
About 1 1/2 hours before dawn, early risers should look toward the northeastern horizon; more specifically, less than 10 or so degrees above the horizon close to the constellation Leo.
As the comet approaches the sun, it will become brighter but also appear lower in the sky, making it difficult to see. The comet, though visible to the naked eye, is incredibly faint.
As a result, Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said that in order to spot it, you “really need a good pair of binoculars, and you also need to know where to look.
On or around September 17, the comet will approach the sun more closely than Mercury does before leaving the solar system. Assuming it doesn’t explode when it buzzes the sun, even though Chodas claimed “it’s likely to survive its passage.”
The comet will be “the last feasible chance” to be seen from the Northern Hemisphere in the coming week, according to Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi, who founded the Virtual Telescope Project, in an email. The comet currently has a long, highly structured tail that makes it enjoyable to image through a telescope, he said.
By the end of September, the comet, if it survives its encounter with the sun, should be visible in the Southern Hemisphere, sitting low on the horizon in the waning light.
Since the rare green comet was discovered by a Japanese amateur astronomer in mid-August, astronomers have been monitoring it. His name is now attached to the Nishimura comet.
Given the professional sky surveys conducted by large ground telescopes these days, it’s unusual for an amateur to find a comet, according to Chodas, who added that “this is his third find, so good for him.
According to Chodas, the comet was last seen around 430 years ago. That was before Galileo created the telescope, by about ten or two years.