COMET NEOWISE – the latest comet to have piqued the interest of astronomers across the planet – will likely be visible to the naked eye come mid-July.
This year has seen two comets making their way through the solar system, only to disintegrate as they approached the Sun. Comet ATLAS and Comet SWAN made headlines this year as astronomers spotted the bright space rocks making their way through the solar system. Researchers had been hoping to analyse how the comets acted as they approached the Sun, and were hoping the comets would become visible to the naked eye.
However, both comets began to crumble and break apart as they voyaged past the planets of the solar system.
But the latest comet – Comet NEOWISE – looks a safe bet to make its way past Earth as it voyages through the system, and experts believe it is a good bet to be visible to the naked eye.
Observations by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) show the comet continues to amplify in brightness.
Qicheng Zhang, a PhD candidate in planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology, said: “Comet NEOWISE has been rapidly brightening since entering the coronagraph’s field of view on June 23rd.
“It’s jumped from magnitude +4.0 to +2.9.”
If the comet continues on this trajectory, according to astronomers, the comet could be visible to the naked eye come mid-July.
Website Space Weather said: “If this trend continues, Comet NEOWISE will be easy to see with the unaided eye when it emerges from the Sun’s glare in mid-July. First, though, it has to survive the Sun.
“Comet NEOWISE reaches perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) near the orbit of Mercury on July 3. SOHO will be able to follow the comet to the doorstep of that encounter.
“If NEOWISE it is still intact on June 28 when it leaves the coronagraph’s field of view, there’s a good chance it will ‘go the distance’ and become a summer comet of first magnitude. Stay tuned!”
Comet NEOWISE has been analysed by astronomer Michael Mattiazzo who said: “Pushing the limits of comet observing, I had to leave home to find a clear horizon.
“When I took the picture, Comet NEOWISE was very close to the Sun and only five degrees above the local horizon.
“Its visual magnitude was near +7.0, below the threshold for naked-eye visibility.
“I’d say there’s a 70 percent chance this comet will survive perihelion. Comet NEOWISE could be a case of third time lucky.”