If you’re interested in the wonders of space, you might want to look up at night. Comet SWAN—named for the satellite used to discover it—is now visible, but only for a limited time.
Michael Mattiazzo, an amateur astronomer from Swan Hill in Victoria, Australia, discovered the comet in late March, according to ABC News Australia. “Normally, I work in the pathology industry, but it’s taken a bit of a downturn since the COVID-19 situation,” he tells the outlet. “It’s given me a bit of spare time, so I’ve taken up some annual leave and made the most of my hobby.”
Courtesy of Gerald Rhemann
Officially named C/2020 F8 (SWAN), the comet, which is technically an “outgassing interplanetary iceberg,” will be closest to Earth on May 13, and nearest to the sun May 27, according to NASA. (The warmth of the sun causes comets to vaporize.) Right now, it’s only visible to individuals in the Southern hemisphere, including those in Australia, Chile, and New Zealand, but if it continues to brighten along its journey, those of us in the Northern hemisphere could see it soon. NASA reports that people might be able to see it with the naked eye in June. Space.com notes the best times to see it will be in the West-Northwest sky after sunset, and in the East-Northeast sky before sunrise.
However, just because it’s visible now, doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Comet ATLAS, another cosmic snowball, was supposed to show itself from April to May. However, it fell apart on April 20. NASA notes, “the brightness of comets is notoriously hard to predict,” so we’ll have to wait and see if Comet SWAN delivers.
In the meantime, you can head to the comet’s Twitter account (yes, really) to receive updates on when and where it is visible. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see it soon.