Comet SWAN: How to see the comet this month – ‘Best comet’ seen in years

Comet SWAN (C/2020 F8) was only discovered on April 11 but has already proven a hit among astronomers. According to astrophotographer Damian Peach, the glowing space rock has developed a beautiful tail of ionised dust and gas. Mr Peach said in a tweet: “The tail on this is now at least 8deg long! The best comet I’ve seen in some years!”

As the comet gradually comes closer to Earth, eagle-eyed stargazers might spot it in the wee morning hours.

Comet SWAN will be closest to Earth on the night of May 12 to May 13, passing by from a distance of about 0.56 astronomical units – more than half the distance to the Sun.

Although the comet will be better seen in the Southern Hemisphere, it will still be possible to see it from the UK.

The Lancaster University Astronomy Society tweeted: “Comet SWAN @c2020f8 is visible to the naked eye!

“It’ll be an early morning object for us in the UK, and we’re hoping it’ll hold long enough to reach its closest approach on May 13… eyes east.”


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How to see Comet SWAN this month? Where is Comet SWAN?

At the start of the month, Comet SWAN was already fairly visible, shining at magnitude +6.

By the end of the month, the magnitude will likely rise to about +3, outshining the faintest stars in the night skies.

In astronomy, the lower the magnitude of a celestial body, the brighter it appears.

On Friday morning, May 8, the comet was still more than 55 million miles away from Earth.

The comet now appears to be crossing the constellation Pisces, which is not visible from the UK as it is below the horizon.

However, the comet will climb low into the sky by the end of next week.

Look towards the eastern skies in the predawn hours from about May 15.

According to the BBC Sky at Night Magazine, the comet will pass low in the sky, potentially reaching a magnitude of about +3.5.

The further up north you live, the earlier you will have to look out for the comet.

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The skies will be darkest at about 1am BST but this may vary on your latitude.

Astronomer Pete Lawrence wrote: “The period from 25 May into early June presents perhaps the best opportunity to spot the comet for those of us living in the UK.”

Keep in mind viewing conditions are not optimal in the northern hemisphere.

The Sun will interfere by washing out the skies and the comet will fly low on the horizon.

Check out these free astronomy apps you can download now to help you locate the comet.

Why do comets glow in space?

Comets are often called cosmic snowballs because they are made of frozen gases, rock and dust, unlike their rocky cousins, asteroids.

As they get closer to the Sun, comets heat up and release their frozen material into large, ionised comas that can outgrow planets.

The US space agency NASA said: “The dust and gases form a tail that stretches away from the Sun for millions of miles.

“There are likely billions of comets orbiting our Sun in the Kuiper Belt and even more distant Oort Cloud.”

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