One of the great sites of the night skies are comets. Comets are small objects made up of dust and rocks. Comets come in the inner solar system from the outer region beyond Pluto.
Comets are ancient objects, remnants of the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. When they approach the inner solar system the sun’s radiation begins to warm up the comet. Its dust and ices begin to blow away from the comet and then the comet forms its tail. The comet’s tail always points away from the sun as the comet passes around the sun.
When a comet is first discovered it is usually far away and only visible in larger telescopes. But as it approaches the sun it brightens. Each comet is different and it is hard to predict how each comet will look from the earth as it gets nearer and nearer.
A new comet discovered by a Japanese astronomer in late 2018 is now visible to the naked eye and better yet, a pair of binoculars, known as Comet C/2018 Y1, Iwamoto. It’s a fast moving comet traveling at 147,000 miles per hour. Iwamoto will pass the earth at a safe distance of 28 million miles.
The best time to view this comet is February 11 and 12. Look to the eastern sky in the evening as the constellation Leo the Lion rises. Due to its long orbit, we won’t see this comet again until the year 3390.