In 2015 Comet Lovejoy was one of the brightest and most active comets since comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. … [+]
Comet Atlas is no more—but Comet Swan appears ready to takeover the title of “best naked eye comet of 2020.”
The Hubble Space Telescope this week published these images, which appear to show Comet Atlas breaking apart into more than two dozen chunks:
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided astronomers with the sharpest view yet of the … [+]
NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q.
So it seems that Comet Atlas—officially known as C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)—is no more. The observations of the comet’s breakup on 20 and 23 April reveal that the broken fragments are all enveloped in a sunlight-swept tail of cometary dust. Comets are rarely photographed falling apart, so astronomers are fascinated, but for comet-watchers and stargazers wanting to actually see a bright comet with the naked eye, it’s all a bit disappointing.
After all, hopes had been high for naked-eye visibility in the coming weeks.
Its own Twitter account says as much:
Was that our last hope of seeing a bright comet with our own eyes this summer? No, there is another.
Cue Comet Swan—officially designated C/2020 F8 (SWAN)—whose ion tail today graces NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day website. The incredible image was taken by Gerald Rhemann in Namibia in mid-April 2020, who captured Comet Swan’s green-glowing coma and unexpectedly long, detailed, and blue ion-tail.
Not surprisingly Comet Swan already has its own Twitter account, too:
The best comet in years?
Is Comet Swan visible to the naked eye?
Yes—just about. After traveling in from the outer solar system, Comet Swan has just brightened from magnitude 6.7 to magnitude 6.5, which is right on the cusp of naked-eye visibility.
Comet Swan is currently 121,427,864 km from Earth in the constellation of Aquarius, so best seen from the southern hemisphere for the moment.
Best time to see Comet Swan
The brightness of comets are notoriously hard to predict; Universe Today says Comet Swan could reach fourth magnitude in the morning night sky on May 17, 2020, while Space.com says it could reach third magnitude during the final week of May. Both predictions would put Comet Swan as an easily seen naked-eye object. However, there are zero guarantees with comets, as seen by what’s happened to Comet Atlas.
What we do know is that will get closest to the Earth on May 13, 2020, and closest to the Sun (perehelion) on May 27, 2o2o. That’s when it should begin to be at its brightest. By then it will be in the constellations of Perseus and Auriga, both visible from the northern hemisphere.
When was Comet Swan discovered?
Comet Swan was discovered in late March by an astronomy enthusiast looking through images taken by the Solar Heliospheric Observer (SOHO) spacecraft’s Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN) camera on March 25, 2020
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.