Home Science Comet SWAN: How to see this weekend's incredible green-tinged comet flyby

Comet SWAN: How to see this weekend's incredible green-tinged comet flyby

Boasting an 11 million mile-long tail, Comet SWAN will be visible in the night sky from tonight. This event is all the more exciting because even amateur astronomers may be able to view it without the need for expensive equipment.



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What is Comet SWAN?

From the UK it will be low on the eastern horizon before sunrise. Won’t be easy to spot

Astronomer David Blanchflower

The new comet was first spotted in April 2020, by amateur astronomer Michael Mattiazzo using data acquired from NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite (SOHO) instrument called Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN).

The new comet — officially classified C/2020 F8 (SWAN) was spotted in the images because of the large amounts of water it was spewing.

Comet SWAN is currently about 53 million miles from the Earth and is expected to be a “significant” comet in terms of visibility, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The green-tinged ball of ice and dust visits the inner part of the solar system once every 11,597 years and is notable for its long blue-green tail.

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Comet SWAN:This image of Comet SWAN was shot by Esposito Raffaele (Image: Esposito Raffaele)

Comet SWAN: NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite (SOHO) first spotted SWAN (Image: NASA)

Currently moving from the southern to the northern skies, it is just faintly visible to the naked eye.

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But current estimates suggest that, by the end of May, it could be significantly brighter – if it survives that long.

The more material ejected from the comet as it warms up on its way towards the sun, the more sunlight it reflects and the more visible it becomes.

Comets are fragile and often break apart as they approach the Sun.

This happened to Comet ATLAS in April after it was also predicted to become very bright.

Comet SWAN: This image of SWAN was shot by Michael Mattiazzo (Image: Michael Mattiazzo)

How to see Comet SWAN from the UK:

From now through early June, Comet SWAN will track north and east from the constellation Triangulum, into Perseus and will enter Auriga on June 1.

Although the comet will be best viewed from the southern hemisphere, those on the other side of the Earth can also see it low on the horizon in the pre-dawn hours.

Experts recommend to look up approximately 60 to 70 minutes before sunrise.

Your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures roughly 10 degrees.

The comet should appear approximately 10 degrees above the northeast horizon.

The flyby may not likely immediately evident to the naked eye, so scanning the sky with a telescope or binoculars offers the best chance of seeing the comet.

Be on the lookout for a diffuse, circular glow, possibly accompanied by a faint tail pointing upward and to the right.


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What is the difference between asteroids, comets and meteors?

There are possibly trillions of rogue objects constantly in orbit the Sun.

These entities are too small to be called planets and are given the names of comets, asteroids, meteoroids, and if they reach Earth, meteors or meteorites.

With so many names it is understandably easy to forget which is which.

Asteroids: These are the rocky and airless leftovers from the formation of planets in our solar system.

Asteroids usually orbit the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

These range from the size of cars to dwarf planets.

Comet SWAN: The difference between asteroids, comets and meteors explained (Image: Express)

Comets: These are “dirty space snowballs” mostly composed of ice and dust formed during the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Most comets have stable orbits in the outer reaches of the solar system past the planet Neptune.

Meteoroids, meteors and meteorites: Meteoroids are tiny asteroids or the broken-off crumbs of comets and sometimes planets.

They range in size from a grain of sand to boulders 3ft (1m) wide.

When meteoroids collide with a planet’s atmosphere, they become meteors.

If those meteors survive the atmosphere and hit the planet’s surface, their remains are called meteorites.


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