Mumbai: A comet is swinging through the inner
solar system and is brightening rapidly even as it approaches
the Sun, according to US space agency National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA).
Comet McNaught (C/2009 R1), which has a vivid green head
and a long wispy tail, can be found low in the northeastern
sky before dawn gliding through the constellation Perseus. It
is brightening as it approaches Earth for a 1.13 AU close
encounter on June 15th and 16th, NASA said.
"By the end of the month it could be visible to the naked
eye perhaps as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper...Because
this is the comet`s first visit to the inner solar system,
predictions of future brightness are necessarily uncertain;
amateur astronomers should be alert for the unexpected," NASA
said in its website www.spaceweather.com.
The comet`s green atmosphere is larger than the planet
Jupiter, while the long willowy ion tail stretches more than a
million kilometres through space. These dimensions make the
comet a fine target for backyard telescopes.
Mid-June is when McNaught should be most interesting,
offering the best compromise between its increasing brightness
and its decreasing altitude at the start of dawn. Moreover,
the sky will be free of moonlight, according to astronomy
journal `Sky and Telescope`.