NASA news: Space agency announces huge Comet 168P will arrive THIS WEEK

NASA news: Space agency announces huge Comet 168P will arrive THIS WEEK


Astronomers and amateur photographers alike are in for a treat this week when a huge comet arrives in the night sky. The comet, dubbed Comet 168P-Hergenrother by US space agency NASA, will reach its highest point on Thursday. And expensive equipment will not be required to see the comet as it is expected to be visible with the naked eye.

Comet 168P-Hergenrother will reach its brightest point on Thursday night.

This will see the comet will travelling at 1.37 Astronomical Unit (AU) distance from the Sun and 1.13 AU from the Earth.

An Astronomical Unit (AU) is the average distance between Earth and the Sun, approximately 93 million miles (150 million km).

The comet is forecast to be the most visible at 9.15pm BST and will vanish at around 4.25am on Friday morning.

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What are comets?

NASA describes comets as “cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the Sun.”

When frozen, they can be as large as a small town. When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the Sun, it heats up and spews dust and gases into a giant glowing head larger than most planets.

The dust and gases form a “tail” stretching millions of miles.

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There are likely billions of comets orbiting our Sun in the Kuiper Belt and even more distant Oort Cloud, but NASA is currently keeping track of 3,586.

Rachel Stevenson, a post-doctoral fellow working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has revealed Comet 168P-Hergenrother is splitting apart.

She said: ”Using the Gemini North Telescope on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, we have resolved that the nucleus of the comet has separated into at least four distinct pieces resulting in a large increase in dust material in its coma.”

With more material to reflect the sun’s rays, the comet’s coma has brightened considerably.

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James Bauer, the deputy principal investigator for NASA’s NEOWISE mission, added: “The comet fragments are considerably fainter than the nucleus.

“This is suggestive of chunks of material being ejected from the surface.”

The US space agency added the orbit of comet 168P-Hergenrother is well understood.

Neither the comet, nor any of its fragments, are a threat to Earth.

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