This Colossal Comet Will Make Its Closest Approach To Earth Today, Watch Live
Comet C/2017 K2 will be at its closest orbital point to Earth later today, and you can watch the cosmic flyby live. The comet was first spotted by astronomers in 2017 and should be visible via a small telescope throughout the summer.
When Comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) was first located, it was 1.49 billion miles (2.4 billion km) from the sun, according to EarthSky. It appears to have a large nucleus, and seems to have a very large cometary atmosphere, or coma. When first spotted, it was the farthest active inbound comet astronomers had seen to date. The comet is now orbiting in the inner solar system, and its closest approach to Earth is said to be today, July 14, 2022.
Observations by Hubble suggest that Comet K2 is immense, with the nucleus to be somewhere around 11 miles (18 km). In comparison to K2, the second largest mountain on Earth which is 28,251 feet (8,611 meters) tall, 11 miles translates to about 58,000 feet or 18,000 meters. This means that the nucleus of Comet K2 would be nearly twice the size of the mountain K2.
Adding to the enormous size of Comet K2 is that its cometary atmosphere, or coma, has a diameter of approximately 81,000 miles (130,000 km). This translates to a sphere of gases that are 10 times the diameter of Earth, or nearly as big as the planet Jupiter. Add in observations suggesting its tail is some 500,000 miles (800 km) long, and that makes for quite the colossal coma.
The majority of other comets that have been detected have a nucleus of around 0.5 miles to 2 miles (1 to 3km) in diameter. However, there are a few gigantic ones, such as Hale-Bopp which is believed to be around 37 miles or 60km and Bernardinelli-Bernstein that is said to be an astounding 93 miles or 150km.
Anyone trying to observe Comet C/2017 K2 with a small telescope, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the colossal comet all summer long. Until mid-September it will be visible from the Northern Hemisphere, and closer to the southwestern horizon as seen from the Northern Hemisphere shortly after that. Beyond the end of September, viewing the comet should be best for those in the Southern Hemisphere.
If you would like to watch the cosmic flyby later today, you can do so via a live feed above provided by Virtual Telescope's WebTV beginning at 6 p.m. EST. The comet will be approximately 172 million miles (277 kilometers) from Earth at that time.
Top Image Credit: Virtual Telescope 2.0