Mysterious Comet Nishimura could become visible from Earth next week

Celestial object was discovered only a few weeks ago by Japanese astronomer using a digital camera

Comet Nishimura pictured from Earth on August 21. Photo: Nasa
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A mysterious comet discovered earlier this month could become visible from Earth without a telescope in the first week of September – including in the UAE.

Comet Nishimura was spotted for the first time by amateur Japanese astronomer Hideo Nishimura, using a standard digital camera, on August 11 and 12.

Having evaded detection until recently, little is known about the interstellar object, which is getting brighter as it travels closer to the Sun.

US space agency Nasa said skygazers may be able to view Nishimura without a telescope.

“Will Comet Nishimura become visible to the unaided eye? Given the unpredictability of comets, no one can say for sure, but it currently seems like a good bet,” Nasa said.

“A problem is that the comet will also be angularly near the Sun, so it will only be possible to see it near sunset or sunrise.”

Comets are “cosmic snowballs” made of frozen gases, rock and dust. Nasa said Nishimura will get so close to the Sun that its nucleus may break up.

It is predicted to pass within the orbit of Mercury, the planet in the Solar System nearest to the Sun. Mercury's elliptical orbit takes it 47 million km from the Sun at its closest point.

Thabet Al Qaissieh, founder and chief executive of the Al Sadeem Astronomy in Abu Dhabi, said Comet Nishimura may be visible with the unaided eye from the UAE.

But telescopes will enhance the viewing experience, he added.

“There is a possibility of it being visible in the first week of September, although it will be close to sunrise and the horizon from our location,” said Mr Al Qaissieh.

Look to the skies

There will also be other celestial events taking place in the coming days that will light up the UAE's skies.

The Dubai Astronomy Group said a Saturn opposition on August 27 and a “blue” supermoon on August 31 will be visible.

“A Saturn opposition is a celestial event when Saturn and the Sun are positioned directly opposite each other in the night sky,” a group official said.

“This rare occurrence makes Saturn appear exceptionally bright and offers an ideal opportunity for observers to marvel at its stunning ring system and moons.”

A blue moon is a second full moon within a calendar month, something that happens every two years or so – earning it the description “once in a blue moon”.

“A blue moon is the second full moon that occurs within a month. It's not related to the Moon's colour and happens roughly once every 2.7 years, making it a relatively rare event,” the Dubai Astronomy Group said.

“The next monthly blue moon is not until May 31, 2026.”

The one on August 31 is extra special as it is a supermoon – when the Moon is at its closest point to Earth and seems bigger in the sky – and follows another supermoon, the sturgeon supermoon, at the beginning of August.

Dubai Astronomy Group is hosting observations for the two events.

The Saturn opposition event is being held the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre in Dubai's Mushrif Park on August 27, with tickets priced at Dh50 ($13.6).

Blue supermoon viewing taking place on August 31 at the same location, with tickets costing Dh60.

Updated: August 29, 2023, 12:02 PM