The long-tailed Comet SWAN was only found in April 2020 but has created an exciting fuss among skywatchers. Spotted by Michael Mattiazzo, the comet, also known as C/2020 F8, flew at close approach by Earth on May 13th but is expected to remain within sights until June.
As the piece of ice, rock, and dust is blighted by the Sun, it creates a thin atmosphere or coma that glows. Astronomers all over the world are already reporting seeing the comet in the night skies, and people located in the Northern Hemisphere should now be able to spot it. The event is especially exciting because amateur astronomers can spot it without needing some expensive instruments.
Where is the Comet Now?
Comet SWAN made its closest fly by Earth on May 12th to May 13th, passing within 0.56 AU (astronomical units), which is about half the distance to the Sun. It should be visible until May 27th, by which time the space rock will fly within 40 million miles of the Sun.
The comet will be best seen from the Southern Hemisphere but now can also be spotted in the predawn hours in the Northern Hemisphere.
Rick Fienberg of the American Astronomical Society said that there would be some challenges: “The comet gets higher as dawn breaks, which means it’ll never appear in a dark sky for mid-northern observers.”
How to See Comet SWAN
From now until early June, Comet SWAN will follow north and east from the constellation Triangulum, into Perseus and will head to Auriga on June 1st. To better get a glimpse of it, those in Northern Hemisphere are advised to look up about 60 to 70 minutes before sunrise, and the comet should appear approximately 10 degrees above the horizon.
The flyby may not be immediately clear to the naked eye, so looking to the skies with a telescope or binoculars will give you the best chance to see Comet SWAN. It will appear as a circular glow, probably joined by a dim tail pointing upward and to the right.