Have you witnessed a tiny and bright opulent tail that’s been gracing our skies in the early morning hours before sunrise? It’s been a favorite sight for aspiring photographers for the past week.
Well, you’d be delighted to know that it has a name – Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE. Scientists discovered this fascinating rock on March 27th. A NASA mission that consisted of a spacecraft in orbit around the Earth discovered it. Its job is to catalogue as many asteroids nearby Earth, especially the ones that had the potential to be hazardous to our planet. Anyway, when the NASA team that was on the mission discovered it, it knew that this was something remarkable.
“In the discovery images, it immediately was obvious that something was up. Instead of [appearing] as a point-like dot, it looked distinctly fuzzy. And that’s a good sign that this is a comet as opposed to an asteroid.” – said Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator for NEOWISE at the University of Arizona.
The difference between an asteroid and comet can be broken down to one simple thing: ice. Asteroids, for example, have ice trapped inside them but their outward appearance is that of a chunky dry rock. Comets are composed of water, ammonia, carbon dioxide etc.
They have all forms of ice and rocks. However, to identify a comet, you must try to find its fuzzy tail – that’s its trademark.
On 3rd July, NEOWISE came exceptionally close to the Sun because of which the icy material it’s composed of got cooked that ended up erupting gas and dust. We can view it with a naked eye from Earth because it's 3 miles in measurement.
“You take something that’s a really big chunk of ice and rock all mixed together, and you park it very close to the Sun, it’s gonna set off some fireworks. Not enough to destroy it, we don’t think, but enough to really make the surface sizzle and throw off a lot of material.”- said Mainzer.
Also, if you think that this comet could pose a threat to our planet, then you’re wrong. Mainzer jokingly said that it’s a “once in our lifetimes and our great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandkids’ lifetimes.”
Soon NEOWISE will disappear as it’s cruising away from the Sun – its primary heat source.
“The comet’s outer layers will start to settle down again, and it will go back into the cold dark space that it came from.” – Said Mainzer.