The Comet, dubbed as NEOWISE, has appeared to be visible to the naked eye as it approaches the sun. The comet was discovered in late March and travels inside Mercury’s orbit.
As an interplanetary iceberg, it managed to survive solar heating and is on track to be closer to earth. As of now, it is at it is the closest point to earth in over more than ten thousand years. It is expected to still be visible throughout the month of July. In the 21st century, NEOWISE is one of the few comets visible to the naked eye. Which goes against the typical faint sighting of a comet only in the early morning, when there is just enough light to see it without using a telescope.
The comet has already been photographed many times as it traveled past many different sites across the globe.
NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a satellite previously launched to observe the sun, has been monitoring NEOWISE’s behavior for a few days. From observations, it was discovered that the comet has brightened increasingly the closer it gets to the sun.
Scientist Qicheng Zhang, from the California Institute of Technology, analyzed the satellite data and conclude the reason for NEOWISE’s brightness and magnitude rapid increase could be a result of an unstable core. This observation is based on the belief that NEOWISE’s icelike interior could be drastically affected by the sun’s heat the closer it gets. Overheating to the point that if it continues it could break into tiny fragments and completely break apart when it gets to close to the sun.
However, Karl Battams, who is a part of the Naval Research Lab in Washington D.C, has a more hopeful outlook. He believes the comet will most likely have much safe travel past the sun, “Comet NEOWISE looks healthy to me,” he stated. “Throughout its passage across the coronagraph, the comet showed a smooth-and-steady brightness increase, perhaps a little steeper than we might like, but nothing that makes me enormously concerned for its health, as long as it has a reasonably large nucleus.”
In July, NEOWISE will be traveling across the northern hemisphere. The best time to see NEOWISE would be just before dawn, 10 degrees above the northeastern horizon.
As the comet continues to harmlessly pass by earth it continues to get photographed and even received a special shout out from Bob Behnken, a NASA astronaut currently on the International Space Station that witnesses the comet as well.
Part of NASA’s NEOWISE satellite’s job is to help researchers distinguish objects that can be a danger to earth from those that are not a threat. Battams clarified that a satellite like this was “crucial” for closer potentially much dangerous asteroids.
Written by: Brielle R. Buford
Edited by Sheena Robertson
International Business Times: Comet NEOWISE Rapidly Brightens As It Approaches The Sun
SciTech Daily: Comet NEOWISE Has Suddenly Become Visible to the Unaided Eye
CBS Miami: Look Up! Newly-Discovered Comet NEOWISE Now Visible With Naked Eye
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Joel Tonyan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License