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C/2023 A3: New Potential “Comet of the Decade” Heading Our Way

Comet trail

A recently discovered comet, dubbed 2023/A3 is expected to become visible to the naked eye in 2024, putting up a stunning show in the night sky as it makes its way around the sun.

Comet C/2023 A3, also known as Tsuchinshan-ATLAS, is a long-period comet that was discovered on 22 February 2023 by ATLAS South Africa. It was independently found in images taken by the Purple Mountain Observatory on 9 January 2023. The comet is expected to pass perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, on 28 September 2024 at a distance of 0.39 astronomical units (AU), or 58 million kilometers (36 million miles). Initially, the object was considered an asteroid with an estimated magnitude of 18.1, detected by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System using the 0.5-m f/2 Schmidt reflector at the Sutherland Observatory in South Africa.

C/2023: A3From asteroid to comet

However, after the first orbit calculations, it was discovered to be a comet. It had been previously reported to the Minor Planet Center by the Purple Mountain Observatory but was removed from the “object awaiting confirmation list” after no follow-up observations were reported. The comet received its name from both observatories based on naming conventions for comets. Additional evidence of cometary activity was discovered in images taken by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at Palomar Observatory on 22 December 2022. The images showed a very condensed coma and a small straight tail about 10″ in length, confirming that it was indeed a comet.

C/2023 A3: Visible to the naked eye in 2024

The comet is expected to become visible to the naked eye during its perihelion passage in September 2024. Upon its discovery announcement, the comet was estimated to reach a magnitude of +3 during perihelion. It will become more visible from Earth about three weeks after perihelion, around mid-October. Some astronomers estimated that the comet would reach a magnitude of 0.9 during perihelion at the time of its closest approach to Earth.

What are comets?

Comets are icy bodies that originate in the outer solar system and are believed to be remnants of the solar system’s formation. As a comet approaches and moves closer to the Sun, the heat causes the ice to sublimate, producing a coma, a fuzzy envelope of gas and dust around the nucleus. The solar wind then pushes the gas and dust away from the coma, forming a tail that points away from the Sun. The study of comets provides valuable insights into the early solar system and the conditions that led to the formation of the planets.

C/2023 A3: An exciting opportunity

The discovery of Comet C/2023 A3, also known as Tsuchinshan-ATLAS, provides an exciting opportunity for astronomers and stargazers alike to observe a long-period comet as it passes through our solar system. Its expected perihelion passage in September 2024 offers the chance to see it with the naked eye. The study of comets like C/2023 A3 helps to advance our understanding of the formation and evolution of the solar system.

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