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Updated: June 13, 2010 13:09 IST

Comet McNaught to brighten up night sky

PTI
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A file picture of Comet McNaught seen over the sky. Photo: AP
AP A file picture of Comet McNaught seen over the sky. Photo: AP

An opportunity of a lifetime awaits star gazers as a comet with distinct tail will be seen in the night sky till the month end.

Comet McNaught (C/2009 R1) can be seen as it is only 160 million kilometres away from Earth, Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators President C. B. Devgun told PTI.

The comet, which has a vivid green head and a long wispy tail, can be seen low in the north-eastern sky before dawn in constellation Perseus, Consultant at Indian Institute of Astrophysics R. C. Kapoor said.

McNaught will appear brighter as it approaches Earth for a close encounter on June 15th and 16th. The orbit of the comet is hyperbolic, meaning the present apparition is its first visit and that the comet shall never return.

“So, a view of a lifetime is round the corner,” Mr. Kapoor said.

Discovered last year, the sun-orbiting comet will pass the Earth and continue to shed debris as it closes in on the Sun until early July, he said.

After reaching about half of the Earth-Sun distance from the Sun, the comet should fade rapidly as it then heads out of the inner solar system, he added.

The comet was discovered by Australian astronomer Robert H McNaught on September 9, 2009, when he was using the 19.7-inch Uppsala Schmidt Telescope as part of the Siding Spring Observatory Survey.

At the time of discovery, the comet glowed faintly with a light 25,000 times fainter than a human eye can detect.

The celestial treat can be seen with binoculars or a telescope in a dark sky, where the comet’s tail will look like a sword angling upward into the northern sky, Mr. Devgun said.

After June 15, the comet will come nearer to the Sun and also brighten up. Till June 26, the comet will be seen in the east, and after that it would begin trailing the Sun.

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