1 day ago
Jan 2007 - Comet McNaught: At dusk on Saturday 20th January we witnessed cosmic history when a comet brighter than Halley’s Comet dazzled South African star gazers by lighting up the skies below the equator. Immediately after sunset, the comet was visible to the left of where the sun disappeared. Venus (the morning star—which we saw in the evening????? HUH????) was close to the rising moon and also made for fine photographic pictures.
This comet is reported to be the brightest comet visible from earth since 1965. Since 1960, only 10 comets have been visible with the naked eye. Few of these qualified as Great Comets, sufficiently bright enough to draw worldwide attention.
A comet is a lump of ice, about five kilometres in diameter which orbits the sun and can develop a tail millions of kilometres in length made of ice, gas and dust. Comets have been likened to dirty snowballs. They consist largely of frozen, fluffy water, with dust particles embedded in them. They reside in the outer solar system, beyond the orbit of Pluto. Small disturbances to their orbits, induced by planets, occasionally cause one to fall towards the Sun.
Comets would normally be expected to return to the outer solar system, albeit on an orbit which will eventually return to the Sun. However, comet McNaught will never come back to us. Instead it will leave the Solar System and may eventually (after millions of years) fall towards another star.
#SouthAfrica #nightskies #greatcometof2007