Beautiful Comet Doesn't Bring Death

By Colin Wang

The new comet that has appeared in the sky is a huge ice ball approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) across.  "Just to put it into context, about 65 million years ago there was an asteroid or a comet that was thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs," says astronomer Amy Mainzer. "That object is thought to have been about 5 to 10 kilometers across."  Mainzer is a “principal investigator for a NASA mission known as NEOWISE”, wrote Geoff Brumfeil, the author of the article, that spots asteroids and comets that could wipe out life on Earth.  They spotted the comet in March, potentially making an already bad year become worse.  

The comet, “officially known as “C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) — or just comet Neowise for short— is providing an unexpected bright spot in the lives of quarantined astronomers,” wrote Geoff Brumfeil, the author of the article.  The comet “came from a dark part of the solar system known as the Oort Cloud — an icy graveyard billions of miles out that is filled with ancient comets and asteroids,” wrote Brumfeil.  It shot into the inner solar system where it passed closer to the sun than Mercury.  "Of course, the question we asked was, 'Will it survive? Or is the sun going to melt it like an ice cube on a Tucson summer day?' " said Mainzer, who is a professor at the University of Arizona. Survive it did, mainly because of its size, and it is currently passing earth.  It appears to be rich in carbon, giving it a sooty appearance up close.  The sun’s rays are making the comet visible, even to the naked eye.  Until this week, it was only visible very early in the morning, but now it’s appearing in the evening below the Big Dipper.  It appears close to the horizon but will slowly rise higher.



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