A huge comet will fly close to Earth next July

Five years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a large comet at the farthest distance ever, as it approached the Sun from a distance between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus.

Now, this giant space snowball is flying towards its closest path to Earth in a few weeks.

Comet C/2017 K2, called K2 for short, will be the most distant active comet ever observed, at its closest point to our planet during its current journey through the inner solar system on July 14.

However, even at its closest point, it would still be farther from us than the average distance between Earth and Mars.

The icy body is finally within reach of amateur astronomers, as it will approach K2’s closest approach to our planet on July 14, and it will approach the Sun on December 19. Assuming K2 survived the hot flight and continued to glow, EarthSky predicts that people with small telescopes will be able to spot the distant visitor.

According to Eddie Irisari of NASA and Kelly Kaiser Waite at EarthSky EarthSky, various observations indicate that the K2 core could be between 18 and 100 miles (30 to 160 kilometers) wide.

Early observations indicate that the trail of dust and gases behind C/2017 K2 ranges between 81 thousand and 500,000 miles (130 thousand and 800,000 km).

And in 2017, Hubble images determined that the comet’s coma (or hazy atmosphere) likely includes oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, all of which turn from solid to gaseous as the comet warms.

“The comet should shine to 8 or 7 degrees, and still be too dim to the naked eye,” EarthSky wrote.

Sharp-eyed viewers can usually detect stars with a brightness of 6 in dark sky conditions without any assistance. But in the case of this comet, observers will need regions far from light pollution to observe it with telescopes.

To see the comet for yourself, you can follow the event with public online observatories, such as the Virtual Telescope Project. You can also use small telescopes and apps like Stellarium, to determine the correct direction as a comet approaches.

After passing us in July, C/2017 K2 will continue toward perihelion, which is the closest point to the Sun, before heading outward into deep space.

Comets tend to behave unpredictably the closer they get to the sun. This comet can suddenly become brighter and brighter, or it may split and disappear completely from view.

Whatever happens, this visit will likely be our only chance to learn about this comet, and its orbit is so long that it won’t return for a few million years.

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