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When and how to observe Comet Nishimura, which is about to reach maximum brightness

When and how to observe Comet Nishimura, which is about to reach maximum brightness

Credits: Steven Rahn, CC0.

there Comet C/2023 P1 Nishimura It attracts the attention of amateur astronomers and enthusiasts around the world, who are trying to take pictures of the comet’s nucleus and its long tail. It was discovered only in Mid-AugustThe comet has been seen in recent weeks just before dawn, but not with the naked eye. As the comet approaches perihelion (the point in its orbit at its closest distance to the Sun), it will begin to appear long just after sunset, but always very low on the horizon. Approach to perihelion, expected for September 17 Single 33 million kilometers From our star, it also means that the comet will soon reach its maximum apparent brightness, becoming… Visible to the naked eye. Let’s see some tips on how to identify a comet in the sky, where to look at it and what tools are recommended to do so.

Where to observe it and what is the best time

The proximity of Comet Nishimura to the Sun makes this so these days very Low on the horizon. The comet has been visible in recent weeks just before dawn, while the best time to observe it is these days Shortly after sunset. The comet will reach its maximum elevation at sunset September 16When will Visible to the naked eye About the same size as the North Star 11 degrees above the western horizon. In particular, using the latitudes of Rome and Milan as a reference for the different points on the peninsula, on September 16 the sun will set at Around 7.17pm in Rome And 7.34pm Milan time. This leaves one Viewing window About an hour to Rome and about an hour and 10 minutes to Milan before sunset.

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In order to be able to observe Comet Nishimura at its best, it is recommended to go to a location with it The western horizon is quite clear, free of trees or barriers of various kinds. The seashore, a building overlooking a plain or mountainous place with a western horizon devoid of hills and cities, is the ideal place to enjoy this heavenly scene.

How to identify it and with what tools

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A schematic representation of the position of Comet Nishimura in the sky on September 16 at sunset. Credits: Luca Tortorelli.

Although the comet these days has an apparent brightness similar to that of the North Star, it has become clear They are difficult to spot at dusk Due to the high brightness of the sky in the western direction. Also complicit in the difficult identification process is the lack of bright references in its vicinity, such as planets such as Venus and Jupiter, stars such as Sirius or the Moon itself, which will have recently passed the new moon phase on September 16, showing itself in the shape of a very thin sickle in the sky.

The best advice we can give you is to wait until the sun goes down and paint Vertical imaginary line Which starts from the point where the sun sets. Following the imaginary line from the horizon, Comet Nishimura should appear as one Small bar And it should not be more than A few degrees to the left From this line at sunset, if by passing your gaze you have reached the very thin crescent of the moon, then you have moved a lot towards the geographical south and must therefore return near the imaginary line mentioned above. As the minutes pass, the comet will cross this imaginary line and then move to its right.

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For reference, you can use this approximation: By extending your arm fully, it roughly covers the hand closed into a fist 8-10 degrees Starting from the horizon, while the inch width covers approx 2-3 degrees. We also recommend using a small binocular for easier initial identification and then viewing it with the naked eye or through a telescope or camera.

Comet details

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Image of comet C/2023 P1 Nishimura taken by Spanish amateur astronomers on August 25, 2023. Credits: SomeAstroStuff, CC BY – SA 4.0via Wikimedia Commons.

Comet C/2023 P1 Nishimura It was discovered by a Japanese amateur astronomer Hideo Nishimura In mid-August, when the comet was already in place 1 astronomical unit from the Sun (one astronomical unit corresponds to the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, equivalent to approx 150 million kilometers). From analyzing notes after his discovery and notes the project obtained in the past Pan starsAstronomers were able to determine that the period of Comet Nishimura is about 435 yearsThat is, he is guilty long time. Its orbit around the sun pushes it to distances greater than its orbit Plutowhile the inclination of the orbit itself suggests how it was generated Oort cloudIt is a spherical region of icy bodies surrounding the solar system. The point of closest approach to Earth has been reached September 12 At a distance of approx 126 million kilometers.

Comets are composed of dust and ice, which, as they approach the Sun, develop their characteristic wilting and tails due to the sublimation of gases. This means that the closer the comet is to the Sun, the brighter it becomes, which sometimes makes it visible to the naked eye. The other side of the coin is that its proximity to the Sun makes it usually observable for a short period of time, just before dawn or just after sunset, and always very low on the horizon.

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Comet Nishimura is no exception. Since the discovery, the comet’s approach to the sun has increased its brightness, which astronomers expect it to reach The maximum peak is near perihelion, September 17. Since the comet is in The first step In the inner solar system, it contains a lot of material capable of sublimation, which makes it particularly bright.