We see the headlines on sites like Forbes and Yahoo… I’d hate to pull a 45 and say “fake news” but this is the truth! Once again… you rely on mainstream sites that cherry pick information and create click bait headlines.
Take this information from me, a dedicated observer and astrophotographer who gladly jumps at the chance to spot a comet hitting the news-waves! If you actually want to spot this comet, then I can help you the correct way!
So… What’s Going On?
First, it was C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) that was supposed to impress the casual viewers and astronomy enthusiasts alike, only for the comet to break apart in late March and break all hopes of it reaching naked eye levels. Right as this was happening, Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) was making the headlines, and it was as if (SWAN) would be the savior of the sky and dazzle viewers as it gets closer to the Sun.
Adding to the hype were the great images posted from observers in the Southern Hemisphere, where the comet was well placed in the sky as a target. They sure did a good job hyping up the comet, didn’t they!
While this is the week that we expect the comet to be brightest, unfortunately, as the comet has been moving more northerly, it has not brightened to the expected levels, and even though it’s technically hugging that naked eye threshold, you will still need the proper equipment to even glimpse it.
So… It’s not Naked Eye Visible?
Nope… and it most likely will not be. This is what comets USUALLY do… they get brighter as they get closer to the Sun, but often times the Sun’s glare can block any chance of spotting it.
While a magnitude 6 object is bright enough for your eyes to see, you still need the sky to be clear, dark, and have very little interference from any light pollution or even moonlight. That also applies for a point of light, not something diffuse, so you’d actually need it to be closer to magnitude 3-4 to have a chance.
(SWAN)’s path through the sky for the rest of May will put it in front of constellations like Triangulum and Perseus, which being northern Autumn constellations do not rise in the sky until just before dawn in May.
The problem you also have here is that where it’s positioned in the sky means it will practically hug the horizon until it gets too close to the Sun’s glare by the end of May.
When I observed the comet on May 16, it rose around 3:45 am local time, and with local Sunrise occuring at 5:33, that meant that just as the comet gets high enough in the sky, there’s too much twilight.
For something have a chance at shining through the twilight glow at naked eye visibility, especially that low above the horizon, it needs to be as bright as Venus!
You Mean Another Comet That Made Headlines Won’t Live Up To the Hype?
At least C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) was well placed in the northern sky and you had plenty of time to look for it and snap any images throughout the night.
Well… I Still Want To Check It Out!
Good for you!
If you use SkySafari on your smartphone, it should have the comet listed in the database, especially under the “Brightest Comets” tab, and it’ll tell you the current position, and when it’s expected to rise on any given night.
Through my 8″ telescope, it looked dim, and the only way to see the green color will be through long exposure. It won’t be easy to spot through the airglow above the horizon, no matter how dark and unobstructed your sky is!
You should also visit this page for a much more detailed account and up to the minute stats on where this object is and how you can find it. The star charts are much more detailed as well.
Take advantage of the week from May 17-23, especially because it’s a new moon week. After May 23, it may become too difficult to spot it as it gets closer to the Sun’s glare!
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