Solar flares tore off the tail of the incoming comet

The comet’s regular walk toward the sun is risky, and this year’s promising space snowball is already feeling the heat on its journey toward Earth and our home star.

Comet C/2023 P1 (Nishimura) was first spotted last month by Hideo Nishimura, an amateur astronomer in Japan, using only a digital camera setup and a lot of skill. It is scheduled to pass near Earth on September 12 and then orbit the sun on September 17 before being returned to deep space. If he stays alive for a long time.

Comet Nishimura encountered some serious resistance in the form of explosions of charged particles and plasma from the turbulent Sun. Observers like astrophotographer Michael Geiger (see above) watched on Saturday as a solar storm swept through the comet and appeared to blow part of its tail away for a moment.

Here is a more dramatic example captured by NASA in 2007 of Comet Encke having its tail briefly stolen:

Comet Encke experienced an outage in 2007.


“This event is called the ‘separation event’ by the researchers,” former NASA astronomer Tony Phillips wrote at “Nishimura’s tail has grown back since then — but it may not last for long. More coronal emission are on the way.”

CME stands for coronal mass ejection, an eruption from the sun’s outer layers that often accompanies a solar flare. Think of it as a very powerful gust of energetic winds hurtling through space causing electromagnetic chaos. This is the same force that makes the aurora borealis light up the sky when it collides with Earth’s magnetic field. It can also affect other things in space, such as asteroids and comets.

The sun is currently heading towards the peak of its roughly 11-year solar cycle, which means more coronal ejections and flares. At least two of the projectiles mentioned by Phillips were released from the solar corona on Tuesday, exploding in the direction of Comet Nishimura.

How to catch a comet

All this harsh space weather can be a little painful for skywatchers hoping to see the comet with the naked eye. And although the comet is still approaching Earth, now might be the perfect time to start looking for it. Nishimura is expected to be bright enough to see it on September 8, but in the Northern Hemisphere it will appear near the horizon, making it a bit more difficult to locate.

“It really is better to see it with binoculars or a telescope,” Alison Klisman, Ph.D. in astronomy, wrote to “But with that optic, you’ll be dazzled.”

In other words, it would be easier to spot the early morning sky with some kind of zoom, so you’d better start looking right away.

And you can look for the comet in the constellation Leo an hour or two before sunrise. You can use apps like Stellarium, Star Walk, or TheSkyLive to help locate it.

It is very difficult to know what the future holds for a comet. They can travel many centuries from the edge of the solar system to make one orbit around the sun. Meanwhile, they are fragile objects that tend to disintegrate as they pass through the inner solar system. They are also known to collide with Jupiter or the Sun along the way. Dinosaurs, too, may have had a close encounter with one of these creatures several million years ago.

So, with all the turmoil the Sun has been sending out lately, it’s a good idea to get up early to try and see Comet Nishimura for yourself while it’s still holding on. good luck!

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