What it is, how to see it and when it will return: NPR

Learn about Comet Nishimura.


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Learn about Comet Nishimura.


A newly discovered green comet passes close to Earth and can now be seen for the first time in more than 400 years.

Comet Nishimura was discovered by Japanese amateur astronomer Hideo Nishimura on August 11, and named after it.

Nishimura first discovered it by taking long-exposure shots with a Canon digital camera and a telephoto lens.

What is this?

When our solar system first formed, it left behind huge amounts of debris. So what we see as a comet is a piece of dirty ice left over from that time.

Comets usually stay far from the Sun, frozen and impossible to see. But every once in a while, someone will come towards the sun.

When the sun’s heat begins to evaporate the icy material that makes up the comet, the dirt and dust inside is released, leaving behind the comet’s tail, which is what we see from Earth.

In the age of automated telescopes, Nishimura’s discovery is a remarkable achievement.

“It’s becoming more difficult for amateur astronomers to scan the sky and see something that’s not in a star chart,” said astronomer Andrew Fracnoy. “But that’s what Nishimura did.” All things considered.

“He discovered a comet before any of the automated systems in space had discovered it. This is a true tribute to his persistence.”

A view of Nishimura in L’Aquila, Italy, on September 7, 2023.

Manuel Romano/Noor Photo via Getty Images

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Manuel Romano/Noor Photo via Getty Images

How can I see it?

Not easily.

Currently, it can only be seen from the Northern Hemisphere. You need to wake up before sunrise and look toward your eastern horizon, so find a place where you can see the horizon very low.

The best chance of seeing this comet is Tuesday morning, when it will be closest to Earth. It will be closest to the Sun on September 17, after which it will orbit the Sun and be visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

To find it, look at the constellation Leo. You will need binoculars or a small telescope to get a good view.

If you’re seriously committed to seeing the comet, Fracnoy recommends checking out Sky & Telescope for star charts to help guide you.

The comet appears to burn bright lime green in photographs. But Fracnoy says don’t look for something green in the sky.

“The naked eye only shows a mysterious white glow,” he said. “The green color only appears in the pictures.”

When was this comet last seen on Earth?

Scientists determined that this comet takes about 430 years to orbit around the sun.

So the last time it was seen from Earth was in the late 16th century. before Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope at the sky.

It will be visible from Earth again in the 1350s.

So, if you miss this time, you’ll be waiting a while for your next chance.

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