Monday 12 October 2020

Comet C/2020 P1 (NEOWISE) makes its closest approach to the Earth.

Comet C/2020 P1 (NEOWISE) makes its closest approach to the Earth on Tuesday 13 October 2020, reaching a distance of 0.66 AU from the Earth (66% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, or 98 534 000 km). At this distance the comet will be not naked eye visible, having a magnitude between 5.4 and 13 (depending on which estimation is used), which means that is may be visible with a good pair of binoculars though a moderate-sized telescope might be more reliable. The comet is currently in the Constellation of Sagitta, which is best observed from the Southern Hemisphere. The closest approach comes three days before the New Moon on Friday 16 October, so that the comet will not be obscured by the brightness of the Moon.

The calculated orbit and current position of C/2020 P1 (NEOWISE)JPL Small Body Database.

Comet C/2020 P1 (NEOWISE) was discovered on 2 August 2020 by the NEOWISE system on the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite. The designation C/2020 P1 (NEOWISE) implies that it is a comet (C/), that it was the first comet-like body (1) discovered in the first half of Augusr 2020 (period 2020 P - the year being split into 24 half-months represented by the letters A-Y, with I being excluded), and that it was discovered by the NEOWISE system.

C/2020 P1 (NEOWISE) is a Parabolic Comet, which is to say a comet that has been disrupted from an orbit in the Oort Cloud, and to be passing through the Inner Solar System on a parabolic orbit that will probably not bring it back again. This parabolic trajectory tilted at an angle of 45.1° to the plain of the Solar System, and will bring it to a perihelion distance (closest point to the Sun) of 34.2 AU (51 187 000 km) from the Sun on 20 October 2020. This is inside the orbit of the planet Mercury, and only 133 time the distance at which the Moon orbits the Earth. 
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