Get ready to cast your gaze skyward this coming weekend. A unique celestial spectacle is set to grace Thailand’s skies, with the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (Narit) revealing that the recently discovered Nishimura comet may be visible from the country on Sunday evening as it journey towards the sun.
The comet, recognized formally as C/2023 P1, is named in honor of Japanese amateur astronomer Hideo Nishimura. Its orbit tracing a 437-year route around the Earth, the Nishimura comet, with its composition of dust and ice, is projected by Narit to come within a span of 125 million kilometers from the Earth on the forthcoming Tuesday.
However, Narit forewarns stargazers that the initial attempt might prove daunting as the comet’s angled trajectory relative to the Earth and sun might make it difficult to find. But not to worry, because as early as Friday, the elusive Nishimura comet should be located in the western sky once twilight descends and will be visible by Sunday as it settles within 34 million kilometers from the sun.
The Comet Observation database suggests that the comet’s brightness will peak at magnitude 3, which makes it possible to spot without any technological aid. Narit elaborates that Sunday evening would be an opportune time for people in Thailand to observe the Virgo constellation, as it is where the comet is most likely to appear. However, this may be a fleeting chance of roughly an hour before the comet begins to dim.
Narit also provides a helpful hint for observers to pinpoint the comet by looking for a distinctive green hue and a long tail, both of which are hallmark features of the Nishimura comet. The first sighting of this celestial object was reported by the amateur astronomer Nishimura on the morning of August 11, as he was taking long-exposure snapshots of the night sky using a digital camera. His findings were later validated by the Minor Planet Centre on August 15.
This latest discovery adds a third addition to Nishimura’s records, following the Comet Nakamura-Nishimura-Machholz (C/1994 N1) and Comet Nishimura (C/2021 O1). Interestingly, another green comet, officially known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), made a brief cameo in the night sky around February’s start, marking its first appearance in about 50,000 years. Astronomers first detected C/2022 E3 (ZTF) from California’s Palomar Observatory in March 2022.
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