SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The brightest comet currently in the night sky will be at its closest distance from Earth tonight after traveling about 3 million years to get to us and people in Southwest Missouri will be able to see it with minimal equipment.
The comet’s name is Comet C/2017 K2 — K2 for short — and it is making its way into the solar system for the first time. K2, which is about 12 miles in diameter, is following a path that will bring it 170 million miles close to Earth, which is enough to see it with a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope if the sky is clear enough. Though the view might not be spectacular, it is a once-in-a-lifetime event that may interest those with their minds set on the stars.
Dr. Sarah Morrison, an assistant professor in Missouri State University’s Physics, Astronomy, and Materials Science Department, talked to Ozarks First about the once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event.
“The comet will be overhead at night in southwest Missouri,” Morrison wrote. “Currently, the moon is just past a full moon, however, so the night sky will be fairly bright once the moon has risen, making the comet a bit harder to see later at night.”
Moonrise is about 9:57 p.m. tonight. Those who want to look for K2 tonight will find it around the Ophiuchus constellation, which will be in the southern sky for Missouri tonight.
Though the comet will be the closest it’s ever been tonight, it should be visible through a small telescope through August. If people can’t catch a glimpse of it tonight, they can try again when the moon wanes.
“Based on Comet C/2017 K2’s hyperbolic orbit, this is the first time the comet will be passing by Earth and into the inner solar system,” Morrison wrote. “This comet was one of the most active comets observed with it was still quite distant from the sun, beyond Saturn’s orbit.”
The comet K2 will slingshot around the sun and continue along its massive U-shaped hyperbolic path away from our solar system. The comet was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2017 and was the farthest active inbound comet anyone had ever recorded, according to a NASA article.
The further away from light-polluted areas, the better people will be able to see K2. People can also see the comet through a live feed from the Virtual Telescope Project.