Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) may have only been discovered in March but astronomers expect it to be the brightest comet of the year. The “dirty snowball” of ice, rock and gas is now heading past the Sun and will reach its minimum distance from the star tonight (May 27). Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy believes the event will be an unforgettable experience.
What is Comet SWAN?
Comets are frozen lumps of ice, rock and gas that spend most of their orbits far from the Sun.
But as they get closer to the star, their icy layers start to sublimate and produce glowing comas and tails that can stretch for millions of miles.
Comet SWAN was discovered in March this year by amateur astronomer Micahel Mattiazzo from Australia.
Mt Mattiazzo spotted the comet on April 11 in images snapped by the Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN) camera on the Solar Heliospheric Observer (SOHO) spacecraft.
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How to watch Comet SWAN tonight?
The comet will race past the Sun tonight and you will have a chance to watch the flyby in real-time.
Dr Masi will track the comet with the aid of robotic telescopes and broadcast the feed live over the internet.
You can watch the stream in the embedded video player below, courtesy of the Virtual Telescope.
The stream will kick off tonight at 7pm BST (6pm UTC, 2pm ETD).
Observing a nice comet is always an unforgettable experience
Dr Gianluca Masi, Virtual Telescope Project
Dr Masi said: “On May 27, comet C/2020 F8 Swan will be at its closest to the Sun: it is its perihelion day.
“The Virtual Telescope will show you live, in real-time, this long-awaited comet.
“Don’t miss this opportunity, join the show from the comfort of your home.
The stream will follow the comet as it reaches peak brightness.
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Dr Masi said: “Observing a nice comet is always an unforgettable experience.”
“Comet C/2020 F8 Swan is now at its minimum distance from our Sun.
“We have been waiting for this opportunity for months, now the Virtual Telescope is ready to bring this superb view to you.
“We will observe comet C/2020 F8 Swan thanks to our robotic telescopes, sharing it live with the world, via the internet, making possible for you to spot this cosmic snowball from your home.”
Seasoned astronomers in the UK might also have a chance to see the bright comet in person.
The comet rises just before the Sun and can be seen low on the horizon when dawn breaks.
Look towards the north-northeast skies between now and mid-June.
The Royal Astronomical Society said: “With the help of a pair of binoculars the comet should be visible in the north-western sky after sunset, fairly close to the horizon.”
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