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If You Want to See a Comet Get Ready for the Tsuchinshan-ATLAS

Tsuchinshan-ATLAS

The Tsuchinshan-ATLAS Comet (Wikipedia)

The Tsuchinshan-ATLAS is being called the “comet of the year,” as it gets close to our world. Come this fall, it should be visible to the naked eye to people here on Earth. So pencil in October 10 on your calendars because that is when scientists say the comet will be most visible.

C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS) is a comet currently captivating astronomers for its potential to become a naked-eye spectacle this fall. This is because ordinarily, it is really hard to predict when a comet can be seen here on Earth.

Qicheng Zhang, a postdoctoral fellow working on small-body astronomy at Lowell Observatory (Arizona), told Sky and Telescope the Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS’s magnitude has “leveled out” and that “barring future outbursts… it should gradually brighten.”

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Discovered independently by the Purple Mountain Observatory in China in early 2023, the comet originates from the Oort Cloud, a vast reservoir of icy objects at the fringes of our solar system. As Tsuchinshan-ATLAS makes its approach towards the sun (perihelion) in September 2024, it’s anticipated to brighten considerably, possibly reaching a magnitude that rivals Venus, the second brightest planet in our night sky.

A comet is an icy, small Solar System body that develops a glowing head and tails when it gets close to the Sun. Primarily made up of ice, dust, and small rocky particles, it travels around the Sun in an elliptical path, often highly elongated. Orbital periods can vary greatly, from a few years to millions of years.

The solid core at the center of a comet is composed of ice and dust. A cloud of gas and dust surrounds the nucleus, formed when the comet nears the Sun and the ice begins to vaporize. It has one or more tails made of gas and dust particles pushed away from the Sun by the solar wind and radiation pressure.

Comets are fascinating objects because they hold clues about the formation of our Solar System. They originate from the distant, frigid regions beyond Neptune’s orbit. The most famous ones likely come from the Oort Cloud, a giant reservoir of icy bodies.

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