How to see comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS)

Let’s say you’re not the person in your social group who can point out astrophysical errors in the opening shot of the movie Contact. But let’s tell you too be A person can easily spot the Big Dipper on a moonless night. In that case, you are in the right place to ask yourself, “Hey, what’s the deal with that comet people were talking about that day? Can I still see it? “

C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS), sometimes called K2 “megacomet,” approached Earth on Thursday, July 14, at a distance of about 168 million miles, about 1.8 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Stargazers using telescopes have been tracking it for a while and watching its tail grow as it approaches, and now Earth waves goodbye to the comet as it departs. But if you’re reading this and it’s still summer, the now receding comet is currently moving in a direction that will bring it closer to the sun, and there’s a good chance you can still look at it if you have one, or a telescope can be borrowed.

What is C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS)?

The comet appears to have originated in the Oort cloud, a potential collection of ice and rock that traverses the last of the planets at the edge of our solar system. The pieces are too faint to be seen – even with the James Webb Telescope – which is why we can only imagine that the Oort cloud ever existed (however, it’s a very educated guess, so you don’t have to become an Oort cloud follower).

The Sun’s gravity sometimes pushes one of these parts out of its comfort zone in the Oort Cloud into our common, and then it’s showtime. When sunlight causes comets to release gases, that’s how they get their apparent glow, sometimes becoming visible to the naked eye – although C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) is note Looks like he’s going to be one of those cosmic pigs to pay attention to anytime in the near future.

But what makes Comet K2 unique is that while other comets appear, time and time again, this appears to be this comet’s first trip into our inner solar system. This unusual situation appears to have made its gases welcome in large and bright quantities since it would mean expelling high concentrations of the gas.

Does this mean that this comet is heading towards Earth?

Our research indicates that netizens looking for information about this comet are also checking to see if it will kill us all – possibly because they recently watched a Leonardo DiCaprio movie about it. The short answer to this question is: Relax. A collision between this comet and Earth is not even a remote possibility. Yes, Comet Ace watchers at the Hawaii-based PanSTARRS and Panoramic Survey Telescope (PanSTARRS) discovered it in 2017, and this outpost is one of Earth’s vigilant guardians, to make sure no deadly “NEOs” take us by surprise. But this has not been reported as a potential risk. Moreover, as I said before: he is now moving away from us, and not closer.

How do I see this comet?

If you are new to this, it may take some trial and error. You’ll be very lucky if you can catch a quick glimpse of the comet on your first night with your new telescope.

Start on any night where you can see the stars, and get used to finding the constellation Ophiuchus, the bearer of the serpent. When you find it, the comet will be a tiny speck in this constellation. You can practice this on your computer using the interactive sky chart at Skyandtelescope.org. With the help of a more detailed star chart, you should be able to find star cluster IC 4665 within Ophiuchus. Look for a block that kind of, sort of, if you stare, seems to spell “hello,” and that’s IC 4665.

You’ll want the sky to be as dark as possible on the night that C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) detects, so look just before moonrise—which you can spot by looking at your area’s moon information chart, or wait until the new moon. This can make timing tricky, so find out what works for you.

From our viewpoint on Earth, C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) is a moving target within Ophiuchus, traveling through or near IC 4665, and moving just under the diameter of a full moon each night. Detecting it will involve pointing your scope toward the correct stellar region, then searching up, down, and everywhere. If you have a powerful telescope, you may be able to see the tail, while a comet viewed through a weaker telescope will look like a glowing ball of fuzz.

Or, since comets are so unpredictable, there’s always the possibility that as they get closer to the Sun between now and December, some unknown chemical reaction on the comet itself will automatically brighten it, making it more noticeable. It can even become so bright that it can suddenly be seen without a telescope, as happened with Comet Holmes in 2007. However, most sources say you have until the end of the summer to observe it. Good luck out there this summer, and be sure to wear mosquito repellent.

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