A relatively newly discovered comet makes for a tantalizing skywatching target this summer.
Comet C/2023 E1 ATLAS was discovered in March 2023 by the Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), funded by NASA and operated by the University of Hawaii. This array of four telescopes spread across Hawaii, Chile and South Africa scans the sky for near-Earth objects to warn of any potential danger heading for Earth.
Although not very bright, the comet is relatively easy to see for skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere, high in the sky throughout the summer near Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. Comet E1 ATLAS reached perihelion, its closest point to the sun, on July 1.
Related: Comet: Everything you need to know about the galaxy’s ‘dirty snowball’
By the time the July new moon arrives on July 17, the comet is nearing its peak brightness and moving east toward the constellation Cephus, the Whale. If you look for the comet yourself, don’t expect to see a bright green snowball with a well-pronounced tail; through most backyard optics, the comet will likely appear as a faint, greenish blob.
When comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) was discovered, it was relatively faint at magnitude +19 only (the lower the magnitude, the brighter the object). It has since brightened to around magnitude +10, enough to be seen by binoculars and most medium-sized telescopes, but too dim to see with the unaided eye. The comet is expected to reach a maximum magnitude of +8 or +9, still relatively faint compared to many other sights in the night sky.
However, comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) proved photogenic to patient astrophotographers. Austria-based comet hunter and astrophotographer Michael Jaeger photographed C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) on several occasions, and was able to get its rather fuzzy tail:
Comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) 2023 June 15 22.20 UT LRGB 1300/240/240/240sec 12″/4 Moravian G3-16200 2x2bin Michael Jäger pic.twitter.com/Dc3J5MsPxLJune 16, 2023
In a 100-minute exposure shot on June 18, Jäger captured image which shows the comet’s motion relative to the background behind it.
Comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) 2023 June 18 22.30 UT 100min 14″/4.2 QHY600 Michael Jäger pic.twitter.com/n0aHYa7Lx4June 19, 2023
Astrophotographer and astronomy educator Dave Eagle captured this image of the comet on June 26 from Rounds, England.
Another comet is visible, this time in Ursa Minor. This is Comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) taken earlier this morning. A very faint tail can be seen in the original image. Another almost all-nighter, and a busy day, so fuzzy-headed, tired and forgot the date. Now that has been corrected. 🤣 pic.twitter.com/B17N1hYkiAJune 26, 2023
And comet hunter and amateur astronomer Taras Prystavski described a comet from the Great Basin Desert in Utah on June 23showing the comet’s characteristic green glow in vivid detail.
Comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS)2023 Jun. 23.23 UT Dia.=&10.2′ Tail=&25′ at PA 119 degrees. [T68] 0.28-mf/2.2 RASA astrograph + CMOS… iTelescope observatory, U94 (remote from Great Basin Desert, Beryl Junction, Utah, USA) pic.twitter.com/rlIkbHZJFTJune 24, 2023
Want to see comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) or take stunning photos of your own comets and other objects in the night sky? Our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars can help.
Learning about the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography will also help you capture incredible views of the sky.
Editor’s Note: If you take your own photos of comet C/2023 E1 (ATLAS) and want to share them with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to [email protected].
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