An new icy visitor is making its rounds through the inner solar system this month and the next week or so will put on its best show. Comet McNaught, named after its Australian discoverer was first spotted back in September last year through a telescope and has been brightening ever since. In the last few days it has become just barely visible with the naked eye from a dark location away from city lights and some predict it will be as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.
When and Where?
Look for it in the low northeastern sky at about 3 to 4 am local time. It is flying through the constellation Auriga and will be positioned just to the upper right of the constellation’s brightest star – Capella. This superbright, orange- hued star will make for an easy guidepost to hunt down McNaught even from suburban locales. However keep in mind, the comet is plunging closer and closer towards the Sun every day and so it is slowly becoming lost in its glare – so don’t wait – now is the time to see the comet.
Below is a general skychart showing the location of the comet now.
What does it look like?
It is a great sight however through any old pair of binoculars. Many observers are reporting that they are seeing a fuzzy ball with a faint, wispy tail trailing northward. Caused by gas and dust escaping from the nucleus of the comet, the tail is about as long as the full moon disk when viewed through binoculars., however it stretches out a lot more than that on photographs. Check this photo out below taken by amateur astronomer in Austria just a few days ago.
Astronomers say that this comet is in a hyperbolic orbit which means after it rounds the Sun at the end of June it will be quickly heading out to the farthest reaches of the solar system, into the Oort Cloud – some 12 billion km away – not returning for thousands of years. So take a peek at this once-in-a-lifetime comet while you can.
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