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Monday June 24, 2024

This celestial body to shine brighter than stars this fall

Comet approaching earth this autumn could outshine stars in a spectacular celestial display

By Web Desk
May 22, 2024
 
Approach of a bright comet that could dazzle the autumn sky. — The Virtual Telescope Project
 Approach of a bright comet that could dazzle the autumn sky. — The Virtual Telescope Project

Here is good news for skywatchers as they have a cosmic treat this autumn.

A comet approaching the earth will be visible with more shine than the stars. Known as C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan–ATLAS), this comet was spotted by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in South Africa on February 22, 2023.

Initially, scientists believed it was an asteroid, but later observations from the Purple Mountain Observatory in China confirmed it as a comet.

In recent years, two comets have made the news. The “Great Green Comet” passed near Earth in February 2023, and the “Devil’s Comet” sparked interest of skywatchers last month as it shone exuberantly. However, both were hard to spot without a dark sky and good binoculars or a small telescope.

When it was first spotted, the comet was beyond Jupiter’s orbit, about 680 million miles from the Sun. But on September 27, this year, Tsuchinshan–ATLAS is expected to come closest to the Sun. It will pass at a mere 36 million miles away from the sun. This is almost as close as Mercury's usual distance. Then, just over two weeks later, on October 12, 2024, it'll pass within 44 million miles of Earth.

Astronomers think that these close encounters could make the comet brighten up to become as radiant as some of the brightest stars, possibly even developing a striking tail. If all goes according to plan, by mid-October, it could be an eye-catching sight in the evening sky out west.

If the predictions pan out, it would be a truly breathtaking spectacle for stargazers.

There is the possibility that Tsuchinshan–ATLAS might become as brilliant as Venus on October 8, 2024, according to some calculations.

It will start fading as it recedes from both the sun and Earth. However, it hopefully will be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.