Best chance to see SWAN is now through May 24.
What's green and a streaking machine? No, I'm not talking about the Hulk after all his Bruce-Banner clothes rip, I'm talking about a brand new comet that is gracing the night sky!
Peaking this week, early this week to be more precise, the green SWAN Comet was discovered by an Australian astronomer in March.
"The comet's name is SWAN, an acronym for the Solar Wind Anisotropies camera on NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Officially designated as C/2020 F8, the comet was discovered by Australian amateur astronomer, Michael Mattiazzo, while exploring SWAN imagery on March 25," says Space.com.
The comet has passed the Earth and is approaching the sun, currently, but our viewing conditions are the best they are going to be the next few weeks. Eventually, it will come within 40.2 million miles of the sun at its closest point.
While there have been some great pictures on the internet of the comet, like the one above, it's important to note that it won't be as glorious to our eyes. Comets are composed of gas, and the more dust it has in it, the more of a show it will put on. This comet, however, is not particularly dusty at this point, so it will appear dimmer, or more "ghostly" to the average viewer. If the comet's dustiness increases as it gets closer to the sun, then it may be more visible.
"I see an outburst, followed by fading, then some recovery, then more constant fading," says Robert Pickard, a member of the International Comet Quarterly (ICQ), in a post to the ICQ Facebook group.
But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to catch a glimpse! It's best to use a telescope or binoculars, and look for a diffuse, circular glow, with a possible faint tail pointing upward and to the right.
"From now through early June, Comet SWAN will track north and east from the constellation Triangulum, into Perseus and will enter Auriga on June 1. From now through May 24, your best chance of catching a view of the comet will be in the morning sky.
Start looking about 60 to 70 minutes before sunrise. Your clenched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10 degrees. The comet should appear roughly 10 degrees above the northeast horizon; not likely immediately evident to the unaided eye, so scan the sky with binoculars," says Space.com.
Starting on May 25, the best chances of seeing the comet will transition to the evening sky. About 60 to 70 minutes after sunset, the comet will be positioned about 10 degrees above the north-northwest horizon, with any semblance of a tail pointing upward and to the left, according to Space.com.
If you want to learn more about the comet and see various interactive models of its path and where it will be on specific dates, check out the amazing resources on Space.com. You can also follow the comet and find out exactly where it is on the Comet Swan Twitter page.
Will you be looking for this new comet this week? Do you have any recommendations for stargazers on how to view faint comets like this one? Let us know your tips in the comments below!