A rare comet travelling through space at 240,000 miles per hour is visible to the naked eye, according to a University of Hull astronomer.
Comet Nishimura, which was discovered in August, will be closest to Earth just before dawn on Tuesday, September 12 – giving the best opportunity to see it.
Professor Brad Gibson, Director of the E.A. Milne Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Hull, said that the comet is already visible to the naked eye around the hour after sunset and the hour before dawn.
He said: “The comet takes 500 years to orbit the solar system, Earth takes one year, and the outer planets can take many decades. Halley’s comet, which caused much interest during its last nearby visit to Earth in 1986, takes 76 years to orbit the solar system. So, to say this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Nishimura isn’t an exaggeration. It can already be seen but it will be 78 million miles from Earth on September 12 and that should be the best chance to see it with the naked eye. On average people have the chance to see such a naked eye comet once a decade – this is a rare and exciting opportunity.”
Comet C/2023 PI is named after Japanese astrophotography Hideo Nishimura who was taking long-exposure photographs of the sky with a digital camera on August 11.
Professor Gibson describes comets as ‘chunks of ice and rock’. As they pass ever closer to the Sun it heats the comet liberating an icy gas which give them their distinctive tail.
They are left over from the formation of solar system nearly 5 billion years ago and provide scientists like Professor Gibson with unique clues as to the earliest moments of planet and star formation in our local neighbourhood.
Tiny particles from comets are liberated by the Sun as a comet passes nearby. These particles of dust and rock continue on the same orbit as the comet itself and each year, Earth passes through this debris leading to spectacular meteor showers, some of which impact on the Earth, providing astrophysicists insights into planetary formation.