(ORDO NEWS) — The comet, which has fascinated scientists for five years now, will this week approach the closest distance to Earth where it can be seen with binoculars.
There is a chance to see comet C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS, also called K2, later in the week when it makes its last pass through the solar system, says David Jewitt, professor of earth, planetary and space sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Experts say that in order to see it, you will need at least a small telescope or binoculars.
At a distance of about 274 million kilometers from Earth, Jewitt warned astronomers that Comet K2 would still be quite far away. By comparison, the Sun is about 150 million kilometers away, he said.
Comet C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS caught the attention of the Hawaii-based Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System on May 21, 2017. According to experts, images of the comet taken before the discovery in 2013 were later found.
It traveled millions of years from the cool depths of the solar system when it was discovered between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus at a distance of about 1.5 billion kilometers from the Sun.
K2 was the most distant active incoming comet ever observed, first captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
K2, a frozen “city-sized snowball of ice and dust,” as NASA has called it, is believed to have come from the outermost region of the solar system, where many comets are thought to have originated, the Oort clouds.
According to experts, the cloud is a giant spherical shell, consisting of icy pieces of space debris the size of a mountain or more.
“The comet is filled with materials that have been frozen since the beginning of the solar system,” Jewitt said.
Experts believe that frozen carbon monoxide keeps K2 active at very large distances from the Sun.
Why K2 fascinates scientists
What intrigues scientists about K2 is that it came from the Oort cloud at an unusually long distance. Telescope data show that K2 was active at an unprecedented distance of 35 astronomical units, which is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun.
“If we consider the velocity component in our direction that is, how fast the comet is approaching or receding from us we get that this component is 0 kilometers per second at the time of its minimum distance from us, but it will remain below 10 kilometers per second at during this month,” scientists say.
The comet will be visible in the constellation Ophiuha from the Northern and Southern hemispheres. And in small telescopes, the comet will be visible for several more months.
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