A new comet, identified by a space telescope in March, will be bright enough to be seen from Earth this weekend, NBC News reports.
The comet "Neowise" is named after the space telescope that first spotted it on March 27.
Most comets are not bright enough to be seen from Earth, but scientists said this one showed early promise. It will be visible to the naked eye after sunset just above the horizon in the northwest, as it moves away from the sun starting Saturday.
"As soon as we saw how close it would come to the sun, we had hopes that it would put on a good show," University of Arizona astrophysicist Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator for NASA's Neowise mission, told NBC News.
The comet survived its closest approach to the sun, which is when NASA officials said it was most in danger of breaking apart from gravitational forces, last Friday.
On July 22, it is expected to pass within 65 million miles of Earth.
Astrophysicist Karl Battams of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington said its nucleus is a 3-mile wide "dirty snowball" left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.
"They're collections of rock and dust, all bound together with frozen ices and gases," he said.
As a comet nears the sun on an orbit, the frozen gases begin to boil off. Then the vaporized gas and dust spread out behind the nucleus, which creates its visible tail.
Battams said Neowise actually has two tails. He said one is gas and one is made of rocky dust. They point in two slightly different directions because they react differently to the movement of the comet and the solar wind of charged particles that stream from the sun, he said.
Astronomer John Bortle said the comet's increase in brightness could mean the sun's heat has reached volatile pockets near the nucleus.
The comet was at its brightest when it was closest to the sun, but now it is in a better position to see it, he said.
"Soon it will recede from the morning twilight in which it has been mired this week and become much better seen, perhaps making it look brighter temporarily to most observers," Bortle said in an email.
The comet has already been seen by astronauts on the International Space Station. The ISS twitter account posted a photo of the comet taken on July 5.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.