How to see 'once in a lifetime' Comet Nishimura

How to see ‘once in a lifetime’ Comet Nishimura

Comet Nishimura was discovered in August by Japanese astronomer Hideo Nishimura – after whom it was named.

An astrophotographer recorded Comet C/2023 PI when he took long exposure photos of the sky with a digital camera on August 11.

This newly discovered comet is already visible but next week is set to give people their best chance to see it with the naked eye.

When will you see Comet Nishimura in the UK?

According to Professor Brad Gibson, director of the EA Milne Center for Astrophysics at the University of Hull, the comet is already visible to the naked eye.

Professor Gibson said the best time to see the star was an hour after sunset and an hour before dawn looking east-north-east, towards the crescent moon and Venus.

But next Tuesday (September 12) will give people their best chance to see the newly discovered Comet Nishimura.

Professor Gibson said: “A comet takes 500 years to orbit the solar system, the Earth takes a year, and the outer planets may take decades.

“Halley’s Comet, which caused great interest on its last near-Earth visit in 1986, takes 76 years to orbit the solar system.

So, to say that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Nishimura is no exaggeration.

Swindon Herald: Professor Brad Gibson said September 12 would be the best time to see Comet Nishimura.Professor Brad Gibson said September 12 would be the best time to see Comet Nishimura. (Image: PA)

Professor Gibson said: “It is yet to be seen but it will be 78 kilometers from Earth on September 12 and should be the best chance to see it with the naked eye.

“On average, people only have the chance to see an optical comet like this once every ten years – this is a rare and exciting opportunity.”

This may be the only chance stargazers get to see Comet Nishimura.

Professor Gibson said it would pass closest to the sun on September 17, when it would be just 27 million miles away.

He said there was a real chance it could survive this close fly.

What is known about Comet Nishimura

Scientists are still trying to estimate Nishimura’s size but Professor Gibson believes it could range from a few hundred meters to a mile or two in diameter.

He said it is thought that the comet may be responsible for the annual meteor shower called Sigma-Hydrids, which occurs every December.

According to Professor Gibson, there is no danger of Comet Nishimura colliding with Earth as astronomers have carefully determined how it rotates at the speed of travel.

There is a debate among scientists about whether it was an asteroid or a comet that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

He said: “What happened to the dinosaurs is a once in 100 million year event.

“People have been watching comets since ancient times for their interpretations and then taking them for everything from omens of doom to harbingers of good news.”

How are comets made?

Professor Gibson described comets as “balls of ice and rock” left over from the formation of the solar system some five billion years ago.

As they pass close to the sun the comet burns up, releasing the icy gas that gives them their distinctive tail.

He said that small particles of dust and stones from comets are released by the sun as the comet passes nearby and every year the Earth passes through this debris, leading to a shower of meteors.

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