This week on Star Watch, we are talking about a comet that will not be seen again for over 400 years.
First, let’s answer the question: what is a comet?
A comet is a celestial object made of ice, rock and dust that orbits the sun.
A comet has some key features: the Nucleus, the Coma, and the Ion and the Dust Tails.
The nucleus is the solid center of the comet. It is usually made up of solid rock, ice and dirt.
Surrounding the Nucleus is the Coma. The Coma is a layer of gases and dust escaping from the Nucleus. Often when these gases interact with the sun’s energy, the gases will turn different colors or brighten.
Finally, a comet has two types of tails trailing behind the Nucleus as it zooms across the sky. The Ion Tail is a trail of electrons that fall behind the comet after interacting with the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. The Dust Tail is particles of dust being blown back behind the comet.
This comet in particular was only discovered last month. On Aug. 12, 2023, Hideo Nishimura discovered this comet as it was visible through telescopes over Japan.
The comet was closest to Earth on Sept. 12 and has become brighter in the past couple of nights. This weekend will be one of the last times to see this comet before it disappears for 435 years.
On Sunday, Sept. 17, Comet Nishimura will be at perihelion – the moment when the comet will be the closest to the sun in its orbit.
In order to see this comet, you will need a telescope. About an hour before dawn on Sunday, if you focus your telescope just under the moon above the horizon, you may be able to catch a glimpse of Comet Nishimura. It will be tough to see because of the rising sun, but if you keep a close eye, you may be able to see Comet Nishimaura zooming across the sky.