The Green Comet will reach its brightest moment this week in the Chicago area – NBC Chicago

A ‘once in a lifetime comet’ that hasn’t been seen in the solar system for 50,000 years is expected to reach its brightest moment this week as astronomers will be able to spot it with just a telescope or binoculars in the Chicago area. .

According to the Adler Planetarium, the comet, informally known as the “Green Comet,” “recently made its closest approach to the sun, having traveled tens of thousands of years from the far reaches of the solar system.” It should be brightest around February 1 when it reaches its closest point to Earth.

The comet will be “just slightly brighter than magnitude 6,” the planetarium notes, meaning the comet will be at “the faintest that an object can be seen unaided in very clear, very dark skies.”

But it won’t look like a comet many might imagine, even in photos.

“It will be more like a faint, hazy glow or a streak of light,” the planetarium reported. “Under city or suburban skies, you’ll need binoculars or a small telescope to actually see this comet. Even away from city lights, you’ll likely still need binoculars because when the comet is at its brightest , the bright Moon will be in the sky at the same time, which makes viewing more difficult.”

Discovered less than a year ago, the harmless green comet is already visible in the northern night sky with binoculars and small telescopes, and possibly with the naked eye in the darker corners of the hemisphere. north.

On Wednesday, the comet will arrive within 26 million kilometers of Earth. It will rush between the orbits of Earth and Mars at a relative speed of 128,500 mph. Its core is thought to measure around a mile across, with its tails extending millions of miles.

“But don’t worry, as you watch this cosmic furball, there is no threat of it crashing into Earth, as it will be 26 million miles away from us at its closest approach. “said the planetarium.

On February 10, the comet will be near Mars. It will then speed away, and is unlikely to return for millions of years.

The Comet isn’t expected to be as bright as Neowise in 2020, or Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake in the mid to late 1990s.

But “it will be bright because of its close passage to Earth … which allows scientists to do more experiments and the public to be able to see a beautiful comet,” said University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech, in an email.

Scientists are confident in their orbital calculations placing the comet’s last pass in the planetary neighborhood of the solar system 50,000 years ago. But they don’t know how close it approached Earth or if it was even visible to Neanderthals, said Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Each time the comet orbits the sun and planets, their gravitational tugs very slightly alter the trajectory of the ice ball, causing major course changes over time. Another joker: jets of dust and gas from the comet as it heats up near the sun.

“We don’t know exactly how far they’re pushing this comet,” Chodas said.

The comet – a time capsule of the solar system emerging 4.5 billion years ago – came from what is called the Oort cloud far beyond Pluto. This freezing paradise for comets is thought to stretch more than a quarter of the way to the next star.

NBC Chicago

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