The brightest comet of 2023 is still intact after orbiting the Sun over the weekend.
Comet C/2023 P1 (Nishimura) it was first spotted last month by Hideo Nishimura, an amateur astronomer in Japan, using only a digital camera setup and a lot of skill. It made a close flyby of the Sun on September 17 before being ejected back into deep space.
Under a dark sky, the comet is easily visible with the naked eye. Unfortunately, as it moves toward the outer limits of the solar system, it is best seen low on the horizon just after sunset, when it can be washed out by waning daylight.
A number of sky watchers and astrophotographers report be lucky enough to photograph it with a digital camera on a tripod and capture images that last at least a few seconds.
It’s encouraging, though, that Nishimura survived its encounter with the Sun, and there’s always a chance it could lighten up as it passes through Earth’s orbit.
How to catch a comet
This comet is harder to see than other bright comets in recent flybys because of its low angle to the horizon, which is actually a reflection of how close it passed the Sun. This is why it was most visible before sunrise on its way to the Sun and now after sunset as it recedes into space.
“It’s best seen with binoculars or binoculars,” wrote Alison Klesman, who has a PhD in astronomy. Astronomy.com. “But through that lens, it’s going to dazzle.
You can look for a comet in the constellation of Leo an hour or two before sunrise. You can use apps like Stellarium, Star Walk or TheSkyLive help find it.
It is very difficult to know what the future holds for the comet. They can travel for centuries from the edge of the solar system to complete one orbit around the Sun. At the same time, they are fragile things that tend to disintegrate as they pass through the inner solar system. They were even known about Jupiter impact or the sun on the way. Dinosaurs may also have had a close encounter with one many millions of years ago.
During its journey, the comet encountered serious resistance in the form of bursts of charged particles and plasma emanating from the turbulent sun. Observers like astrophotographer Michael Jaeger (see above) watched a solar storm engulf the comet earlier this month, appearing to momentarily blow away part of its tail.
Here is a more dramatic example captured by NASA in 2007 Comet Encke when his tail was briefly stolen:
“Researchers call this a disconnection event; it’s caused by a CME (or fast solar wind stream) hitting the comet,” wrote former NASA astronomer Tony Phillips. Spaceweather.com.
CME stands for coronal mass ejection, which is an eruption from the outer layers of the Sun that often accompanies a solar flare. Think of it as a very strong gust of energy wind hurtling through space and causing electromagnetic chaos. It’s the same force that causes the aurora borealis to light up the sky when it collides with Earth’s magnetic field. It can also affect other things in space, such as asteroids and comets.
The Sun is currently reaching the peak of its roughly 11-year solar cycle, which means more frequent eruptions and CMEs.