Astronomers eye comet pair
Astronomers are hopeful that comets SWAN and ATLAS will continue to brighten to the point they are visible with the naked eye. Here's how, when, and where to look for them.Posted — Updated
Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) was discovered in March by the the Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN) camera aboard the NASA's Solar Heliospheric Observer (SOHO) spacecraft. The camera, a joint project with NASA and atmospheric science agencies in France and Finland, normally watches solar wind looking for variations.
The comet was discovered by Michael Mattiazzo,an amateur astronomer who carefully reviews the SOHO data made available to the public each day. This is his eighth discovery.
Study of Comet Swan's trajectory reveals it orbits the Sun about every 25 million years. The last time this comet would have passed through our neighborhood would have been late in the Paleogene period while the continents continued to drift toward their present positions and elephants with trunks first appeared.
Currently Comet SWAN is visible only to observers in the southern hemisphere, but if it continues to brighten at its current pace, it could be visible from darker locations in our area by the end of May. Look low on the northeastern horizon 30-60 minutes before sunrise.
The comet brightened rapidly in the coming months, raising hopes that it might become bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. Those hopes crumbled with the comet as it fell apart on April 11, the day Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) was discovered.
While astronomers are not exactly sure why the comet broke up, this is not an uncommon end for comets as they draw closer to the Sun. As these icy bodies like comets are warmed, gasses are released from inside, sometimes causing them to break apart.
Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.