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Comet to light up the skies at sunset

C/2006 P1 (McNaught) is set to be the brightest object visible in the sky in last 40 years, reports Satyen Mohapatra.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2007 04:09 IST

There is growing excitement among astronomers as a faint new comet discovered last year is becoming the brightest object to be seen in the sky in the last 40 years. It is already being dubbed as 'The Great Comet of 2007'.

The comet can be viewed by naked eye easily in the evenings immediately after sunset a little to the south of west, according to Director of Nehru Planetarium N Rathnasree.

Courtesy:www.uai.it

The view will be clearer in the southern parts of the country. In Chennai, it may be seen 4 to 5 degrees above horizon, but in Thiruvananthapuram it will be visible about 6 to 7 degrees above the horizon, Rathnasree said.

"From Delhi we were not able to locate it due to its closeness to the sun and pollution in the skies," she explained.

Beginning Monday, one can expect better view of the comet.

The comet, C/2006 P1 (McNaught), was viewed by some amateur astronomers from the Vega club of Mumbai successfully before January 12 when it was to come close to the sun.

What's a comet?

Comets are dirty snowballs made of ice and dust which sometimes plunge towards the sun from the outer reaches of the solar system where they are formed. The heat close to the sun vaporises the ice and solar wind, and light pressure pushes the gas and dust of the comet outside, creating its tail. Sometimes comets are totally vaporised by the sun, but usually after its encounter with the sun they display a brighter tail.

The comet survived its closest encounter with the sun when many feared it might blow up.



C/2006 P1 (McNaught) was discovered by British Australian astronomer Robert H McNaught of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the Australian National University on August 7, 2006, at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

Interestingly, as far as its brilliance is concerned, astronomers are keeping their fingers crossed because even though some believe that it may be the brightest comet to be seen in sky in the past century, others do not want to risk a guess because McNaught is being seen for the first time near the sun and its behaviour is unpredictable.