Giant comet twice the size of Mount Everest likely to make close approach to Earth tonight; here's how to watch it

The celestial body is getting brighter as it continues to make its way towards the inner solar system



Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: AP
Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: AP
by

Nandini Sircar

Published: Thu 14 Jul 2022, 5:53 PM

Last updated: Thu 14 Jul 2022, 10:33 PM

A giant comet that is twice the size of Mount Everest is likely to make a close approach to Earth today (Thursday). Experts say people will need at least a small telescope to see this comet.

Explaining the phenomenon Hasan Al Hariri, CEO-Dubai Astronomy Group, said, “It has a supersized nucleus of around 18km (in width) and was discovered beyond Saturn’s orbit. It’s approaching the inner solar system, and it will reach the nearest point on Thursday, where it will be 2.8 million km from Earth.

"This is a big-sized comet and is anticipated to have a long tail but because it is far away from Earth, it will not be visible through the naked eye. People will get a better view of it by the use of telescopes.”

He adds, “It doesn’t pose any threat to the Earth as it is quite far. Usually, we see comets with a nucleus of two or three kilometres or maximum of four km. So, it’s unusual for a comet to have a big-sized nucleus. The heavier the comets are, the less frequent are their movements.”

As per scientists, the comet is getting brighter as it continues to make its way toward the inner solar system.

According to NASA, it has been travelling for millions of years from the frigid depths of the solar system, when it was discovered between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus about 1.5 billion miles from the sun.

Sarath Raj NS, Project Director – Amity Dubai Satellite Ground Station, Programme Leader – Aerospace Engineering at Amity University Dubai, said, “Currently, comet C/2017 K2 is visible in the Ophiucus constellation. In a hyperbolic orbit, C/2017 K2 has been leaving the Oort cloud for around 3 million years. Oort Cloud is a hypothesized collection of frozen objects located outside the solar system.

"In Dubai, the comet C/2017 K2’s topocentric coordinates are Right Ascension at 17h 16m 51s and Declination at +00° 17' 38".

"The celestial equivalent of longitude on Earth is right ascension. When projected onto the celestial sphere, declination is equivalent to geographic latitude and hour angle. From Dubai, C/2017 K2 is below the horizon. Given its present magnitude, it can be seen using a telescope with an aperture of at least 6 inches (150 mm).

“Presently, Comet C/2017 K2 is 272,845,792 kilometers (1.823861 astronomical units) away from Earth. On July 14, 2022, comet C/2017 K2 will pass within 1.80793583 astronomical units (or 270,463,351 kilometers) of Earth. Comet C/2017 K2 is currently 10.77 in visual magnitude. C/2017 K2's orbit eccentricity and inclination are 1.00040763 and 87.54276196°, respectively. K2's precise size is unknown.

"The nucleus of comet K2 has been measured by the Hubble Space Telescope to have a diameter of about 18 kilometers. However, the CFH telescope (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope) estimated that the comet's nucleus has a radius between 14 and 80 kilometers. K2's tail is approximately 800,000 kilometers long.”

According to Space.com, “It's probably the most primitive thing in the inner solar system at this time.”

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