Comet NEOWISE is currently visible in the night’s sky and will continue to be for the coming weeks as it voyages through the solar system. But it could be the last one many of us will be able to see, according to a dire warning from scientists. Light pollution is increasingly making it difficult for astronomers and amateur stargazers alike, as artificial lighting is constantly on the increase, a team of researchers say.
According to the Natural History museum, light pollution caused by artificial lighting is increasing by an average of six percent a year.
And as things get lighter here on Earth, the sky at night seemingly gets darker.
Gareth Dorrian, post doctoral research fellow in Space Science at the University of Birmingham, and Ian Whittaker, senior lecturer in physics from Nottingham Trent University, said everyone should take advantage of the current comet, the first to be visible from Earth since the 90s, as it could be our last.
The pair wrote in The Conversation: “So comet NEOWISE will only be seen for a few weeks near Earth while it is near perihelion (its closest approach to the Sun).
“It will then spend thousands of years moving slowly near the other end of its orbit.
“It’s aphelion (farthest point) is estimated at 630 astronomical units (AU), with one AU being the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
“With the constant increase of light pollution in the night sky the observation of comets with the naked eye is becoming much rarer.
“For now, though, NEOWISE presents a fantastic opportunity for millions of people to see a night sky phenomenon which typically only presents itself perhaps once in a decade or more. Enjoy the view!”
“Comet Hale-Bopp reached a maximum magnitude of 0 in 1997 due to its exceptionally large size, while comet McNaught was visible from the southern hemisphere with a maximum magnitude of -5.5.
“NEOWISE may get brighter over the next week, but which level of brightness it reaches will depend primarily on how much material erupts from its surface rather than the distance from the Earth.
“This material consists of highly reflective water ice particles from the nucleus of the comet erupting outwards, shining when they catch the sunlight.”