It’s going to be a good weekend for stargazers in and around Winnipeg — as long as the skies stay clear.
Manitoba Museum astronomer Scott Young says now is the perfect opportunity for Winnipeggers to see the newly-discovered NEOWISE comet as it streaks past earth.
“There’s a lot of comets up there and a lot of them don’t even become visible to the average person, but this one just came almost out of nowhere,” explains Young, who says he was able to see it within the city limits Thursday night.
“It’s this beautiful comet with a tail — and that’s what it looks like, a fuzzy ball with a big long tail behind it.”
Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet visible from the Northern Hemisphere in a quarter-century — swept within Mercury’s orbit earlier this month. Its close proximity to the sun caused dust and gas to burn off its surface and create an even bigger debris tail.
NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March.
Scientists involved in the mission said the comet is about five kilometres across. Its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating back to the origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
The comet will be visible across the Northern Hemisphere until mid-August, when it heads back toward the outer solar system.
Young said the comet had only been visible around Winnipeg in the morning — making it challenging for those of us who aren’t early-risers to see — but it’s now visible nightly starting around 11 p.m.
Young said it’s worth taking a drive outside the the city to get a good look.
“If you can get out of the city lights to dark skies, you get a beautiful view,” he said.
“This is the brightest comet we’ve seen for probably 20 years.”
And you probably don’t want to miss the opportunity. NASA scientists say it will be roughly 7,000 years before the comet returns.
— With files from the Associated Press