Comets have captured us humans for aeons, and now, it seems that all the people of 2024 may be in for another blazing, otherworldly sight. Astronomers have just discovered a comet they think could be the brightest that any of us have seen in more than a decade – and it should be coming in hot to Australian skies in about a year’s time from now.
This is everything you need to know about Comet C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS).
So, what exactly is Comet C/2023 A3 C/2023 A3?
If you can get past the extremely wordy name, you should know this comet has just been discovered independently by scientists at ATLAS observatory in South Africa and Tsuchinshan observatory in China (hence, the strange double-barrelled name – everyone wants the credit).
Lauded as the possible next ‘great comet of the decade’, this celestial overlord looks like it could be very, very bright, and therefore very visible to the naked eye for all Earth-dwellers when it comes round in 2024.
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This being said – astronomers are saying we need to be aware that comets are unpredictable, and despite Comet C/2023 currently predicted to reach a peak brightness level of -6.6 – (this makes it 100 times brighter than 1997’s Hale-Bopp comet that was visible to the naked eye for a hefty 18 months), it could fizzle out by the time it makes it over to our corner of the solar system – kind of like the much-hyped green comet that didn't end up being as spectacular as we hoped.
Basically, it’s all very much touch and go right now, because astronomers still aren’t one hundred per cent sure on the comet’s actual size. This is important because this will determine whether it survives a trip around the sun or not.
If it does manage to complete its mega journey, some researchers reckon it could easily outshine all the stars in the sky, while others say that to get the best look, we’ll need a pair of binoculars.
When can we see Comet C/2023 A3 in Sydney and Australia?
As of 2023, this comet has been sighted as a very faint shape near Jupiter, with it set to get to its closest point to Earth on October 12, 2024.
It isn’t visible to the naked eye just yet (but we’re told if you’ve got a really good telescope, it is extremely bright for something that’s very far from the sun), however it should be visible to the naked eye (if all goes to plan) in the morning in late September and early October 2024, and then again in late October, 2024.
How likely is it that Comet C/2033 A3 will be really bright?
Right now, astronomers have found that this hunk of space ice is following an orbit that has the potential to be something seriously epic. Like, generation-makin’ stuff.
Right now, Comet C/2023 is checking off all the big boxes needed for extra bright comets, with it:
- Having a big nucleus (which makes it extra bright)
- Set to get extremely close to our sun
- It will make a very rare pass between the Earth and the Sun, and will come a wild 70 million kilometres of Earth (that’s super close, by the way), which is cool because the closer a comet is to us, the more dazzling it will appear.
Basically, it’s looking good – but ultimately, you can’t predict a comet.
At this point, whether we all get to look up and see a blindingly bright ball of light shooting through our skies in the middle of the day is anyone’s guess, but if you’re keen to stay on top of things, you can track the comet’s trajectory as it moves towards the sun right here.
One thing we do know? It's all written in the stars.