Huge Comet K2 will fly-by Earth on 14 July, 2022

Enthu­si­as­tic astronomers may soon see comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS), which was ini­tial­ly dis­cov­ered in the dis­tance in 2017, fly-by Earth on 24 July this year. At the time, the comet, known as K2 for short, was the fur­thest active comet ever dis­cov­ered. The mega­comet Bernar­dinel­li-Bern­stein, dis­cov­ered last year, recent­ly took over as the leader.

Comet

Comets are icy snow­balls that orbit the sun and are com­posed of frozen gas­es, rock, and dust. When frozen, they grow to the size of a size­able town. When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the Sun, it heats up and ejects gas and dust into a mas­sive, blaz­ing head that is big­ger than most planets.

A comet receives enough heat while in orbit around the sun to cause the ice on its sur­face to melt. Thou­sands of kilo­me­ters from the comet’s nucle­us, the tail devel­ops and can reach great lengths. Because dif­fer­ent wave­lengths of light are reflect­ed and absorbed by atoms dif­fer­ent­ly, comet dust tails are often blue-green in color.

When will Comet K2 make its closest approach?

K2 is note­wor­thy for activ­i­ty even when com­pared to one superla­tive. It is more com­mon for comets to awak­en near Jupiter’s orbit, con­sid­er­ably clos­er in, as opposed to when the comet first start­ed spew­ing gas and dust in the far out­er solar system.

Five years lat­er, the icy body is final­ly draw­ing with­in reach of Earth and its enthu­si­as­tic astronomers. K2’s clos­est approach to our plan­et will be on July 14, and it will get clos­est to the sun on Dec. 19.

Assum­ing K2 sur­vives the heat­ed jour­ney and con­tin­ues to bright­en, Earth­Sky pre­dicts peo­ple with small tele­scopes will be able to spot the sojourn­er soon.

Earth­Sky writes, “It should bright­en to mag­ni­tude 8 or even 7, still too dim for the unaid­ed eye”.

Sharp-eyed view­ers can usu­al­ly spot stars of mag­ni­tude 6 in dark-sky con­di­tions with no aid. In the case of this comet, you will also need areas away from light pol­lu­tion to spot it with a telescope.

Earth­Sky sug­gests, “The dark­er the skies, the bet­ter the con­trast will be”.

Accord­ing to Earth­Sky, pro­fes­sion­al obser­va­to­ries may be able to deter­mine the size of the comet’s nucle­us when it gets clos­er to Earth. The nucle­us of K2 was ini­tial­ly esti­mat­ed by the Cana­da-France-Hawaii Tele­scope (CFHT) to be between 18 and 100 miles (30 and 160 kilo­me­ters) across; how­ev­er, Hub­ble Space Tele­scope scans revealed it may only be 11 miles (18 km) across at most.

Earlier Comet K2 Observations

The coma (or fuzzy atmos­phere) of the comet like­ly con­tains oxy­gen, nitro­gen, car­bon diox­ide, and car­bon monox­ide, all of which turned from sol­id to gas as the comet warmed, accord­ing to Hub­ble pho­tos from 2017.

As sug­gest­ed by an archival search of CFHT imagery, K2 was active at least as far back as 2013, when it was between the orbits of Uranus and Nep­tune, NASA said at the time.

Astronomers say all pre­dic­tions for comet activ­i­ty are, how­ev­er, sub­ject to change. Comets are prone to falling apart or bright­en­ing unpre­dictably when the draw close to the intense heat and grav­i­ty of our sun. 

But, that char­ac­ter­is­tic makes them all the more inter­est­ing to astronomers who want to under­stand how comets are put together.

Read:

Are Comets Potentially Hazardous as Asteroids?

The major­i­ty of aster­oids and comets in our solar sys­tem are not dan­ger­ous to Earth. How­ev­er, one of those objects has an orbit that cross­es that of Earth for every thou­sand or so oth­er objects, rais­ing the prob­a­bil­i­ty of a col­li­sion in the future.

Because the ener­gy pro­duced by a cos­mic impact grows with the square of the arriv­ing objec­t’s speed, a comet might have nine times more destruc­tive force than an aster­oid of the same mass.

Also Read: Spec­tac­u­lar Rings around a Black Hole Cap­tured: What are they actually?

If the comet is 10 kilo­me­ters across or larg­er, the result­ing dev­as­ta­tion to the ecosys­tem will be so severe that a mass extinc­tion, in which most liv­ing things per­ish, will take place (if the impact car­ries an ener­gy of more than about 100 mil­lion megatons).

The fly-by of Comet K2, one of the most remark­able cos­mic phe­nom­e­na, will present a chance to sci­en­tists and space fans who are wait­ing and watch­ing. In the com­ing days, researchers will have more infor­ma­tion about the comet at their disposal.

And there is no rea­son to pan­ic and jump out of your skin. Astronomers say K2 might not be a threat to you this time. All you need to do is watch for it when it comes close on July 14, 2022.

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