Comet 2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) – dubbed ‘The Record-Breaker’ – will make its close approach to Earth on July 14, 2022, and then reach perihelion (the closest point to the Sun) on December 19, close to the orbit of Mars. The comet is record-breaking because it was already becoming active when it was discovered in 2017 under the feeble glow of the distant Sun.
- The best time to look at it is now because the supermoon on July 13 will brighten the sky too much to make it clearly visible.
- Contrary to some media outlets, the comet will not impact the Moon on July 14.
Officially designated C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) and also known as K2, the comet was already beginning to develop a 130 000 km (80 000 miles) wide coma (halo of dust) around its solid nucleus in May and June 2017 when it was as far as 16 AU or 2.4 billion km from the Sun.
These observations represented the earliest signs of activity ever seen from a comet entering the Solar System’s planetary zone for the first time.1
Only comet Hale–Bopp produced such a show from that distance with a similar nucleus. However, this comet will not be as visible as Hale–Bopp was in 1997 in part because it does not come nearly as close to the Sun.
K2’s orbit indicates that it came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region almost a light-year in diameter and thought to contain hundreds of billions of comets.
The comet was within 5 AU (750 million km / 466 million miles) of Earth by January 11, 2022.
It has just crossed the celestial equator and is now heading toward its closest approach to Earth on July 14 at 1.8 AU or 270 million km (167 million miles). It will shine around 9.0 magnitude which will make it a decent binoculars object.
K2 will reach perihelion on December 19, 2022, close to the orbit of Mars, but at 8.0 magnitude should not be visible to the naked eye.
1 Comet K2 ‘The Record-Breaker’ – farthest active inbound comet ever seen – The Watchers – September 29, 2017
Featured image: Comet 2017 K2 acquired on July 1, 2022. Credit: Chuck Ayoub (CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 international license).
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