Comet Neowise may light up skies in July enabling skygazers to watch spectacle with naked eyes, predict experts
Space enthusiasts are in for a treat this July. A comet named Neowise is likely to light up the skies as it moves toward the sun. And astronomers predict that people might be able to view the space object with naked eyes. Currently, the comet is about 220,868,305 kilometers away from the Earth. "It might not look like much now, but this comet could blossom in the weeks after perihelion (closest approach to the sun)," wrote astronomer Dr Tony Phillips on Spaceweather.com. Countries in the Northern hemisphere may be able to spot Neowise in the evening sky closer to the Orion constellation, experts said.
According to NASA, comets are cosmic snowballs containing frozen gases, rocks, and dust. When a comet gets close enough to the sun, it disintegrates. The ice melts, ejecting a tail of gas and dust. The space agency has so far detected 3,646 such objects. To view a comet through naked eyes, it has to achieve a certain level of brightness, which is measured by magnitude. Objects with lower magnitudes tend to glow more than the others. Currently, Neowise is shining at a scale of 7.2 and may glow brighter, reaching 2 or 3 by July, few astronomers have predicted. However, astronomers add that Neowise may fail to reach that appropriate level of brightness, like its predecessors: Atlas and Swan. They were expected to be seen through naked eyes but they disintegrated before showing up.
"There's definitely a chance that Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) will reach naked-eye brightness, but there's also a chance that it won't, and we have no way of knowing which outcome is more likely at this point," Rick Fienberg, a spokesperson for the American Astronomical Society, told Newsweek. "You'll recall there was lots of talk of ATLAS reaching naked-eye visibility earlier this spring, and then it broke apart as it neared the sun, fading dramatically and never becoming the spectacle that it had been predicted to become. The same thing could happen here, or we could get luckier and have a bright comet in our skies next month," he added.
The reason they are hard to spit is their unpredictability. Canadian amateur astronomer David H. Levy said these objects behave like cats. "They have tails and do what they want," he said. Other experts think Neowise will not go the Swan or Atlas way. "I would say there's a 70 percent chance this comet will survive perihelion (the encounter with the Sun)," Michael Mattiazzo, a renowned amateur comet observer, told SpaceWeather.com. "Comet Neowise could be a case of third time lucky."
Dr Philips thinks we would soon know what is in store for Neowise. "On June 22nd, the comet will enter the field of view of SOHO‘s C3 coronagraph–a space-based instrument that blocks the glare of the sun to reveal nearby stars, planets, and comets. For a whole week, astronomers will be able to monitor Comet NEOWISE as it approaches the orbit of Mercury. If it falls apart, the event may be visible in the images. Ditto if it survives," he wrote.