In a celestial spectacle not to be repeated for another four centuries, comet Nishimura, with its distinctive green glow, is currently visible in the night skies. The comet has recently survived a perilously close encounter with the sun, and now provides a fleeting opportunity for sky-watchers to observe it before it retreats into the outer reaches of the solar system, not to return until the 25th century.
Discovered on August 12th this year, the comet has captivated astronomers worldwide due to its unusual luminescence. Its closest approach to the sun on September 17th, an event fraught with uncertainty due to the potential for total evaporation, saw it passing within a mere 33 million kilometers of the star’s surface. Now, as it recedes from the sun and heads back into the icy darkness, those in the northern hemisphere have a final, brief window to spot Nishimura in the early morning sky just before sunrise.
Comet Nishimura Survives Sun Encounter: A Brief Window to Witness a Spectacle
The comet Nishimura recently endured a close brush with the sun and has emerged unscathed. This celestial wonder is now visible to stargazers for a limited period before it embarks on its journey back to the outer realms of our solar system. Its return is scheduled for 400 years hence.
A Green Glow That Captured The World’s Attention
First spotted on August 12 this year, Nishimura became a subject of global interest due to its peculiar green glow. The comet made its closest approach to the sun on September 17, becoming visible in the northern hemisphere during the early morning hours leading up to the encounter.
Comets, often referred to as dirty snowballs due to their composition of rock and ice, develop a tail when they approach the sun. The ice turns into a charged gas known as plasma, creating the comet’s tail. There was considerable speculation regarding Nishimura’s survival as it passed within a mere 33 million kilometers of the sun. According to Don Pollacco of the University of Warwick, UK, some comets don’t survive such encounters and can completely evaporate. Fortunately, Nishimura avoided this fate.
Nishimura’s Journey Back to Cold Depths
Despite the intense solar storm that blew away Nishimura’s plasma tail in a disconnection event, the comet is now on its return journey to the frigid areas of the solar system. It will remain there for the next 400 years before approaching the sun once again.
The green hue of the comet is due to the presence of a relatively rare carbon gas, diatomic carbon, in its coma. This gas comprises two carbon atoms bound together.
How to Spot Nishimura
For those located in the northern hemisphere wishing to observe this celestial event, Nishimura will be near the horizon shortly after sunset for the coming few days. Looking towards the western horizon as the sun sets, one can spot Mars, with Nishimura just to its right.
For observers in the southern hemisphere, the comet will be visible slightly longer, possibly for another week. It will be situated in the western sky after sunset, appearing directly below Mars. Although some reports suggest it can be seen by the naked eye, Pollacco advises using binoculars for the best view. Post this, as the comet fades, a telescope would be necessary to observe it.
The survival of comet Nishimura provides a unique opportunity for skywatchers and astronomers alike to observe and study a relatively rare phenomenon. The disconnection event it experienced during the solar storm could further contribute to our understanding of these celestial bodies. As we bid farewell to Nishimura, we can’t help but marvel at the wonders of our cosmos that continue to captivate and intrigue us.