How You Can See Comet SWAN Cruising Across Earth’s Sky

comet swan, comet swan visible, when to see comet swan

(Flickr/Christian Gloor) The Comet Swan.

Comet SWAN was discovered by Michael Mattiazzo, an amateur astronomer from Victoria, Australia, who spotted it in early April, according to the New York Times.

It was spotted by a spacecraft owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency called the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The observatory has a camera called the Solar Wind ANisotropies, for which the comet is named.

Comets are “snowballs of frozen gas, rock and dust that orbit the Sun.” These comets are the size of small town in their frozen state. As they get closer to the sun, they develop a glowing head and leave a “tail” of dust and gas for millions of miles. Comets with dust leave a brighter and more obvious trail while comets that are more full of gas appear most ghost-like in the sky.

According to NASA, there are over 3,500 comets.

The first photo of Comet SWAN was taken March 25, Space.com reported. Indian TV News reported that the comet has already been spotted in the United Kingdom.

The comet is more than 52 million miles away from Earth, according to India TV News; the estimate is based on how long it takes light to travel from the comet to us.


How can you see Comet SWAN?

You’ll likely need a pair of binoculars or small telescope to see it well and you’ll need to be in the right location at the right time. However, it is expected to be most visible to the naked eye on the night of the 13th.

Rick Fienberg, the spokesperson for the American Astronomical Society, told the New York Times that the comet would be very low in the northeastern sky and higher toward Hawaii or southern Florida.

“The comet gets higher as dawn breaks, which means it’ll never appear in a dark sky for mid-northern observers,” he said.

India TV News also advises gazing at the sky in the wee hours of the morning. After May 25, Space.com suggests looking 60-70 minutes after sunset near the yellow star Capella.

According to Space.com, Comet SWAN appears to be mostly made of gas, meaning it might not remain as bright as it is currently is. The site based its assertion on the Comet Observation Database, which measures stars and other celestial bodies by “magnitude” and the faintest stars are visible to the naked eye at +6 (the higher the number, the fainter the star). The database showed Comet SWAN shining at magnitude +7 on April 24, +5.2 a week later and +5.6 after May 8.

Comet SWAN is expected to track a path through Earth’s sky from May 12, when it will be 52 million miles away to May 27, when it will be 40 million miles from the sun (also known as perihelion, the period when a come gets the closest to the sun).

Here’s how Space.com expects the comet to track through the constellations:

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. From now through May 24, your best chance of catching a view of the comet will be in the morning sky.

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