How to See Comet SWAN in Night Skies

May 20, 2020

Fresh from the outer solar system, the cosmos offers us a show that’s trailing a 10 million-mile tail.

Even as humans on Earth remain locked down, the heavens abide. There is always reason to look up, perhaps now more than ever.

The latest evidence of this is the newly discovered Comet SWAN now streaking through the constellation Pisces. If you are fortunate to live in the Southern hemisphere and can find Pisces, you can see this comet, a chunk of dirty, very old ice shedding gas and dust as it nears the sun, as a pinpoint of light, about as bright as the dimmest stars visible to the naked eye.

In photographs taken by many delighted amateur and professional astronomers, however, the comet has a fuzzy greenish-yellowish head, with a thin squiggly blue tail some 10 million miles long.

When can I see Comet SWAN?

Astronomers have their fingers crossed that the comet will keep brightening in the coming weeks as it heads north, passing 52 million miles from Earth on May 12 at its closest approach to our planet, and then rounding the sun on May 27.

Tony Philips, an astronomer and writer who runs the website spaceweather.com, said he was cautiously optimistic of a big show in the weeks ahead.

“As for the cool-factor, I would give it a big resounding MAYBE :)” he wrote in an email. “It just depends on how the comet reacts to solar heating as it approaches the sun in the next few weeks.”

The comet could become a victim of the solar system’s ravages before more of us get to see it.

“Two brightness surges followed by drop in activity,” said Michael Mattiazzo, an amateur astronomer who lives in Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia, and first spotted the comet. “My guess is that it will outburst again before finally disintegrating.”

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