On January 9, 2023, astronomers at the Purple Mountain Observatory in China discovered a previously unknown comet. The same comet was then spotted by astronomers using the Asteroid Terrestrial-Test Alert System (ATLAS) telescope in South Africa on February 22. From that moment on, scientists and amateurs from all over the world began to look for a new comet on old and new photographs taken by telescopes. As it turned out, for the first time she got into the frame of the wide-angle camera of the telescope at the Palomar Observatory on December 12 last year, but then no one noticed her. Now C / 2023 A3, as scientists called this object, is located between Saturn and Jupiter, and is heading towards the Sun at a speed of more than 290 thousand km / h. According to scientists, it makes a revolution around the Sun once every 80,660 years. The object will make its closest approach to the Sun on September 28, 2024, allowing the comet to be observed with the naked eye. What’s more, according to experts, it will be brighter than many of the stars we see.
What is a comet
Comets are small bodies in the solar system that are made up of dust, frozen gases, and ice. Their shape depends on the distance from the Sun. When a comet is far from a star, it is not visible and has no tail. But as the comet approaches the Sun, the ice heats up and begins to evaporate, resulting in a cloud of gas that envelops the comet’s head and also leaves behind it a plume known as a tail.
The diameter of the nucleus, or head of a comet, can range from 1 to 20 kilometers. A small comet nucleus with a diameter of several kilometers can surround a cloud of gas (coma) with a diameter of up to 80 thousand kilometers. Comets revolve around the Sun in a highly elongated orbit. According to data released in August 2021, 6996 of these objects were discovered in the solar system.
Where do comets come from?
There is no exact information regarding the occurrence of comets. Presumably, they fall into the inner solar system from the so-called Oort cloud. This is a spherical region located on the outskirts of the solar system, which contains many cometary nuclei.
Objects inside the Oort cloud are mostly made up of ammonia vapors, as well as frozen methane and ice. This cloud is believed to be about one light year from the Sun. However, its existence has not been proven, that is, this object is more hypothetical than real.
When can you see a comet in the sky
The appearance of a comet in the night sky next year is not a guaranteed fact. The fact is that comets, unlike asteroids and meteorites, are unstable objects. Balls of stones, dust and gases are poorly connected to each other, and as they approach the Sun, they begin to melt and disintegrate.
But if C/2023 A3 is lucky and doesn’t break up, it will become visible in amateur telescopes as early as June 2024. We talked about what a comet looks like in an amateur telescope earlier. When the comet reaches its closest point to the Sun, it will be visible on Earth with the naked eye. It is best to observe the comet at the end of October, when it crosses the Head of the Serpent, that is, the western part of the constellation Serpens, and in the night sky it will be in the constellation Ophiuchus.
According to the EarthSky resource, the comet will be the same as the brightest stars that we see. That is, it will be much brighter than comet C / 2022 E3, which flew relatively close to the Earth in January of this year. The brightness of this comet is +4.6 magnitude, visible to the naked eye. As scientists suggest, C / 2023 A3 will reach a value of -5 (the smaller this value, the higher the brightness). As a result, it may become even brighter than Comet Leonard, which we talked about earlier.
What is known about the new comet
Unfortunately, there is still very little information about comet C/2023 A3. In particular, scientists do not even know what size it is. Therefore, it is not known how great the chances are that the object will survive and we will see it. However, many researchers are optimistic. For example, an employee of the University of Pennsylvania Qicheng Zhang considers this comet one of the most promising in recent years. That is, in his opinion, the comet can still be seen next year.
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Finally, we recall that one of the comets in 2015 survived even after a “meeting” with the Sun. True, she was not like the others. Earlier we talked in detail about what it is.