Here is how to observe comet Nishimura before its 400-year departureafter it swiftly moves through the early morning skies of the Northern Hemisphere. However, there exists a brief and optimal timeframe for observing this celestial spectacle.
This comet, first identified by Japanese amateur astronomer Hideo Nishimura on August 12, is set to have its closest encounter with Earth on September 12 before continuing its journey toward the sun. On September 17, it will reach perihelion, its closest point to the sun, at a distance of 78 million miles, making it a challenging yet gratifying target for astronomy enthusiasts.
To catch a glimpse of this comet, the best opportunity lies in the 90-minute window preceding Monday morning's sunrise. For precise sky charts to assist in locating it on Monday morning, you can refer to resources available at astronomy.com.
For those eager to catch a glimpse of this comet and willing to seek out a sky chart, it's crucial to understand that success largely depends on being situated in rural areas with clear, unobstructed views to the east-northeast, all before the first rays of dawn brighten the sky.
Surprisingly, you don't necessarily need to venture far from city lights. Generally positioned within the Leo constellation, the comet will hover just a few finger-widths above the horizon. It remains a somewhat challenging naked-eye object, but binoculars can significantly enhance your chances of spotting it. Keep an eye out for a distinctive greenish glow, a telltale sign of its carbon composition.
Although visible to the naked eye, the comet is extremely faint.
So you really need a good pair of binoculars to pick it out and you also need to know where to look.- Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies
Following its journey around the sun, assuming it doesn't disintegrate during its close approach, the comet will only be visible from the Southern Hemisphere later in the month.
Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi, the visionary behind the Virtual Telescope Project, emphasized in an email that this week marks "the last, feasible chances" to catch a glimpse of the comet from the Northern Hemisphere before it becomes obscured by the sun's intense brightness.
"The comet looks amazing right now, with a long, highly structured tail, a joy to image with a telescope," he said.
Seize this opportunity if you're an intrepid skywatcher. If you happen to enjoy clear, city-light-free skies in the Bay Area, be sure to extend an invitation to everyone. Alternatively, you can patiently await its return, expected around 2458. By then, it will illuminate a world that promises to be vastly different and intriguing.