A newly detected comet is making its inaugural journey through our cosmic vicinity after more than four centuries in the shadows. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, now is the prime opportunity to catch a glimpse, as this celestial wanderer won’t return for another 400 years.
This kilometer-sized (1/2-mile) comet is set to gracefully pass Earth on September 12, coming within a distance of 78 million miles (125 million kilometers). To spot it, early risers should direct their gaze toward the northeastern horizon roughly 1 1/2 hours before dawn, positioned just above the horizon near the Leo constellation.
As it approaches the sun, the comet will grow brighter but simultaneously sink lower in the sky, making it a bit challenging to observe. While visible to the naked eye, it remains extremely faint, necessitating a good pair of binoculars and some sky knowledge for an optimal view, advised Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.
The comet is expected to pass closest to the sun, even closer than Mercury, around September 17, before departing the solar system. There’s optimism that it will survive this journey. Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi, known for the Virtual Telescope Project, emphasized that the upcoming week represents “the last, feasible chances” to observe the comet from the Northern Hemisphere before it gets lost in the sun’s radiance.
With its long, well-defined tail, the comet is currently a captivating sight, particularly when viewed through a telescope, according to Masi. If it endures its solar encounter, the Southern Hemisphere will get its turn to see the comet by late September, albeit positioned low on the horizon during evening twilight.
The comet’s discovery can be attributed to an amateur Japanese astronomer in mid-August, marking a rare achievement in the age of professional sky surveys. This celestial traveler is now named the Nishimura comet after its discoverer.
The comet’s last visit occurred approximately 430 years ago, a decade or two before Galileo invented the telescope.