Comet 252P/Linear is no ordinary celestial body. The icy object suddenly became 100 times brighter a few weeks ago, and, as a result, all people in the northern hemisphere will need is a set of binoculars to see the mysteriously green comet. As long as they’re in the right place at the right time that is.
For the best viewing times, stargazers should go out about 90 minutes before sunrise. After finding a location as far from light pollution as possible, onlookers should find the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius low in the southern part of the sky. The comet will go between those two constellations according to astronomers.
Sky and Telescope has also provided some star charts here to help out.
Comet 252P, also known as LINEAR, will be in line with Mars and Saturn on March 29, 2016, according to Space.com. On March 31, it will be in line with Saturn and Antares (a star in the Scorpius constellation). The moon will provide some natural light pollution during all the nights, but on March 30, the comet will be closest to the moon, making it hardest to see.
Sky and Telescope Senior Editor Kelly Beatty explained what stargazers are looking for.
“Don’t expect Comet LINEAR to be obvious with a long tail. Its light isn’t concentrated in a single point but instead is spread out in a soft round glow, larger than the Moon but many thousands of times dimmer.”
The greenish tint might not be visible except through a telescope now that the comet is moving away from the Earth. The greenish hue is because of diatomic carbon (C2) molecules that are glowing in the sunlight.
Unfortunately for many stargazers, the Southern Hemisphere was the best place to see Comet Linear last week, according to Fox News. Now, it’s the northern hemisphere’s turn, but the comet has to share the night sky with the moon, plus it’s moving away from Earth.
Astronomers don’t currently know how long the comet will remain visible through binoculars, even the current glare its emitting was unexpected. On March 21, LINEAR came about 3.3 million miles away from Earth, according to Phys.org.
There was another comet, called Comet PanSTARRS, that came about 2.2 million miles away from Earth on March 22. That celestial body is small and faint, and it was only visible using a large telescope.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the twin comets’ flyby made history for being the closest a comet has come to the Earth in about 250 years.
According to Michael Kelley of the University of Maryland speaking to USA Today, “It’s a fantastic opportunity for professionals to learn more about comets, and if you have a chance to try to find them… it’s a fantastic chance to see part of history as it happens.”
— AccuWeather.com (@breakingweather) March 16, 2016
Astronomers believe the twin comets closely-timed flyby past Earth was not a coincidence. Many theorize that the two bodies are actually fragments of the same comet, broken apart eons ago.
According to a statement from Sky and Telescope, “The ‘P’ in both comets’ designations means they are in periodic (elliptical) orbits that bring them near the sun repeatedly — in this case, about every five years. Their orbits are so similar that comet specialists suspect these two bodies are fragments of a single object.”
Astronomers first spotted the Comet 252P on April 7, 2000. They renamed the celestial body after Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR), which is an MIT Lincoln Laboratory program joint funded by NASA and the U.S. Airforce.
[Photo by Philipp Guelland/Getty Images]