A Stunning, Green Comet With 11 Million-Mile-Long Tail Will Be Visible This Weekend

A Stunning, Green Comet With 11 Million-Mile-Long Tail Will Be Visible This Weekend

Comet SWAN "visits the inner part of the solar system once every 11,597 years and has a long blue tail stretching 11 million miles behind it."

There's something really special to look forward to in the coming weekend, and you will want to keep your eyes peeled for it. Daily Mail reports that the comet SWAN and its 11 million mile long green-tinged tail will be visible in the night. Those in the southern hemisphere will be able to witness this fantastic event in terms of its visibility. However, that doesn't mean those in the northern hemisphere will miss out. They too will still be able to see it low on the horizon in the pre-dawn hours. Comet SWAN is now visible from the northern hemisphere low in the northeast just as nautical dawn is beginning, KGW reports. According to Forbes, Monday, May 18, 2020, is possibly the earliest you can begin to see it before dawn, and that week is your best chance to do so. If the skies aren't clear, do keep checking every morning as this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as Daily Mail notes that "the green-tinged ball of ice and dust visits the inner part of the solar system once every 11,597 years and has a long blue tail stretching 11 million miles behind it." SWAN stands for the Solar Wind Anisotropies camera on NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).   



Currently, the comet SWAN is 53 million miles away from Earth. and the European Space Agency believes that this is a "significant comet" in terms of its visibility. It will be even brighter if it survives at the end of the month. SWAN was discovered by an Australian astronomer Michael Mattiazzo in March. While it has already passed the Earth, it is getting brighter as it approaches the Sun. But experts are cautiously optimistic. "Such comets usually appear as nothing more than a fuzzball to the eye, and the resulting tail will tend to be a faint and narrow appendage, stretching straight out from behind the coma," Space.com's Rao said. A coma is the nucleus of a comet. According to Rao, Comet SWAN appears to be a "new" comet, or as he put it, a "virgin" from out of the Oort Cloud, a shell of icy bodies at the outskirts of the solar system that is considered the "breeding ground" of comets. 



For a better viewing experience, binoculars are recommended. Director of the Comet Section at the British Astronomical Association Nick James said, "It is true that estimates are being affected by bright skies—twilight and the Moon—but earlier predictions of magnitude 3 or brighter are now looking optimistic." Space. com also has cautioned stargazing enthusiasts that the photos we see of the comet will not necessarily match the one we see with our eyes in the sky.  Con Stoitsis, an astronomer said that one could view it with the naked eye.  "It should be an 'obvious' naked eye target in mid-May," he tweeted.  The comet's tail will be only a fraction of its length and it will be bright as the faintest star in the sky,  Space.com cautions. 




To find the comet, here's how you go about it. One way is to find the bright star Capella in the northern sky which is part of the constellation of Auriga. Capella can be seen about 10º above the horizon, about the same as Comet SWAN. Once you do, you can easily scan to the right with your binoculars or telescope and look for Comet SWAN in the northeast. Another way is to find the constellation of Cassiopea above the northeast horizon. and find the right hand 'V' shape and the outer two stars, Caph and Shedar. Once spotted, you can easily draw a line between them to the horizon and you'll slice right through the part of the sky which will reveal Comet SWAN.  



Now that the comet has already passed the Earth before and is now approaching the Sun. According to Rao, it will get within 40.2 million miles -- less than half the distance between the Earth and the Sun. "Now there are two tails, both faint. We will be losing the comet and handing it over to more northerly horizons," longtime skywatcher Stephen O'Meara, who has been observing Comet SWAN from Maun, Botswana, told Space.com. "Hopefully, the dustiness will continue to increase as the comet nears the sun and give you guys a decent dust tail, rather than a domino tail. Fingers crossed."


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