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6/15/2024 10:44:05 AM
Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS to become visible to the naked eye soon
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Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS to become visible to the naked eye soon


Saturday, June 15, 2024

Richard Harris Richard Harris

Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS (C/2023 A3) is brightening and developing a tail, potentially becoming visible to the naked eye. Expected to reach Venus-like brightness, this rare comet will be best seen from the northern hemisphere after its closest approach to the sun on October 10, 2024.

The universe has another treat in store for 2024. Following the recent total solar eclipse and sudden solar superstorms, astronomers are now turning their attention to Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS (C/2023 A3), which promises to become the “comet of the year” and potentially a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS, discovered in February 2023 by astronomers at the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in South Africa and the Tsuchinshan Observatory in China, is currently making its way between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. For now, it remains a target for large telescopes, residing in the constellation Virgo. However, as it brightens and develops a tail, it is expected to become visible to the naked eye later this year.

A rare opportunity to observe Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS (C/2023 A3)

Comets visible without aid are notoriously unpredictable, but the comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS holds promise. If predictions hold true, Comet A3 could shine as brightly as Venus, reaching a magnitude of -5. Such a display would not only make it the “comet of the year” but potentially one of the most significant comets of the century.

Photo credit: Jose J. Chambo on September 9, 2023, at 04:21 UT.

Comet Tsuchinshan ATLAS is a long period comet

Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS is a long-period comet

Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS is a long-period comet, originating from the distant Oort Cloud, a spherical shell of icy bodies surrounding our solar system. With an orbit spanning over 80,000 years, its arrival is a rare event. This comet follows the wake of notable predecessors like the “eclipse comet” 12P/Pons-Brooks and 2020’s comet NEOWISE, each bringing their own unique displays to our skies.

Photo credit: Stuart Atkinson

Viewing Comet Tsuchinshan ATLAS

Viewing Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS

The optimal time to witness this celestial event will be shortly after the comet’s perihelion—the closest point to the sun - on October 10, 2024. For observers in the northern hemisphere, the best viewing will be in the southwestern sky just after sunset. As October progresses into November, the comet is expected to climb higher in the sky, potentially making it easier to observe.

Photo credit: Comet C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS) location in March 2024, captured with Stellarium software.

Brightness of Comet A3 remains uncertain

Brightness of Comet A3 remains uncertain

While the exact brightness of Comet A3 remains uncertain, its potential to reach Venus-like brilliance has generated significant excitement. Even at its brightest, the comet may appear low on the horizon, making visibility a challenge for northern hemisphere observers. Nonetheless, as it rises post-perihelion, it should become a more prominent and accessible feature in the night sky.

If Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS becomes visible to the naked eye, it will offer a rare and stunning sight for sky-watchers across the globe. This potential spectacle underscores the unpredictability and beauty of our universe, providing an opportunity for both seasoned astronomers and casual stargazers to witness a piece of cosmic history.

As we anticipate this celestial event, it’s a reminder of the wonders that lie beyond our planet, waiting to be discovered and admired. Keep your eyes on the skies this October, and you might just catch a glimpse of the comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS.

Photo credit: Tim Jackson


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