Comet twice Everest's size heading toward Earth: How to watch?
A massive comet named C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) is heading toward Earth. It is twice the size of Mount Everest and will make its closest approach on July 14. The icy body, which was first spotted in 2017, will pose no danger to us but shall be a treat for amateur astronomers. So, how to watch it and from where? We unpack everything here.
Why does this story matter?
Astronomers have theorized that the C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) has been traveling from the Oort cloud to the inner solar system in a hyperbolic orbit for around 30 lakh years. Next month, the comet will be around 27.7 crore kilometers from our planet. It has a cometary atmosphere the size of Jupiter and should be visible to people with a simple telescope.
It can be seen in Northern Hemisphere till September
Skywatchers using a small telescope in a dark-sky site will witness a fuzzy patch of light around the C/2017 K2's nucleus. However, long-exposure images should reveal the comet and its tail in its entirety. In the Northern Hemisphere, it will remain visible until September. However, after mid-September, it will touch the hemisphere's southwestern horizon and shall be suitable for observers in the Southern Hemisphere.
C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) has an 8 lakh-km-long tail
The C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) was discovered via the Pan-STARRS survey instrument in Hawaii in 2017. At that time, it was somewhere between Saturn and Uranus. The comet has a nucleus diameter of 18km, which is double the size of Mount Everest, a cometary atmosphere of 1.3 lakh kilometers, and a tail that is eight lakh kilometers long. However, it's not the largest comet ever.
The C/2017 K2 has been active for a long time
Comets are a mass of rock, ice, and gases that become "active" when warmed by a star. However, the C/2017 K2 heading from the edge of the solar system was already bright when seen in 2017. Scientists do not know the reason for this yet.