LOGAN – Next week a comet with a 6,800-year orbit will make it’s closest approach to earth. It will be most visible in northern Utah the night of July 22.
The comet was discovered in March by NEOWISE, a space-based telescope built by Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Lab.
Pedro Savilla is SDL’s NEOWISE program manager. He said the comet was created at the dawn of the solar system billions of years ago.
”That’s why comets are so fascinating because they’re basically a rock, but they also have ice within them and that ice has been in those comets for potentially billions of years,” Savilla explained. “We all know all the planets in the solar system were formed from asteroids and comets. So this is literally a piece of history that has been traveling through space for billions of years.”
He said Comet NEOWISE, which is named after the telescope, will achieve its closest approach to the earth on Wednesday, July 22.
“The sooner you see it the better, because comets are very fickle and sometimes they are very unpredictable,” he added. “Right now, you can’t see it at night but probably after 10 o’clock at night you can see it, until about 11. By July 22 it will be higher up in the sky, so it should be better, but it’s also getting away from the
sun, which means it won’t be quite as bright as it is right now.”
Savilla said on July 22 stargazers should look toward the northwest sky and it will be visible right under the Big Dipper.
In 2009, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) was launched into space. Four years later, NASA re-named the spacecraft Near-Earth Object WISE, or NEOWISE, in a new assignment hunting the universe for comets and asteroids close to Earth’s orbit.