Once In A Lifetime View: New Year Brings Extremely Rare Comet Visible From Earth
NASA just announced a good new to start the year off. The comet called C/2016 U1 NEOWISE zoomed past the Earth on Dec. 31, and if weather permits, it will be visible through binoculars until Jan. 14.
Quoting Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, NASA reported that it "has a good chance of becoming visible through a good pair of binoculars, although we can't be sure because a comet's brightness is notoriously unpredictable."
According to Phys.org, the comet was discovered by the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) space observatory on its extended mission on October 21st, 2016. This marks the first time that the comet is entering the inner solar system.
The best chance of seeing the comet is to look in the south-eastern sky just before sunrise. And because it has an orbit that can take as millions of years, this may be the first and the last time skywatchers will have the opportunity to revel in it.
David Dickinson of Universe Today said the "comet C/2016 U1 NEOWISE is set to break binocular +10th magnitude brightness this week, and may just top +6th magnitude (naked eye brightness) in mid-January near perihelion."
The NEOWISE project is the asteroid-hunting portion of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. Aside from tracking comets and asteroids, it provides a rich archive for searching WISE data for solar system objects. The C/2016 U1 is the ninth comet discovered by the extended NEOWISE mission since 2014.
Meanwhile, C/2016 U1 is not the only comet detected by the project in the recent weeks. NASA also announced coming across 2016 WF9. Scientists had quite a hard time classifying whether it should be under comet or asteroid, but they eventually settled on comet. Both do not pose a threat to the Earth, as clarified by the scientists.