CABO CAÑAVERAL, Florida, EE.UU.
A recently discovered comet is traveling relatively close to Earth, providing a nocturnal spectacle after passing close to the Sun and extending its tail.
Comet Neowise – the brightest visible from the northern hemisphere in a quarter century – passed through Mercury’s orbit a week ago. Its proximity to the Sun caused dust and gas to burn on its surface to create an even longer tail of debris.
It is now heading toward Earth’s orbit and its closest approach will be in two weeks.
NASA’s Neowise Infrared Space Telescope discovered the comet in March.
Scientists said the comet is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter. Its core is covered in carbonaceous material that dates back to the origin of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
The comet will be visible throughout the northern hemisphere until mid-August, when it will once again head for the outer zone of the solar system. Although it is visible to the naked eye in dark skies with little or no light pollution, binoculars are needed to see the tail, NASA said.
It will be about 7,000 years before the comet returns, “so I wouldn’t suggest waiting until the next time it happens,” said Joe Masiero, deputy principal investigator for the telescope, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
He said it is the brightest comet since the 1990s for astronomy fans in the northern hemisphere.
Astronauts on the International Space Station could already see it.
NASA’s Bob Behnken posted a spectacular photo of the comet on social media Thursday night showing it near the edge of our planet, with the space station in the foreground and Central Asia in the background.
“Stars, cities, spaceships and a comet!” He tweeted from space.