Comet SWAN F8 climbs higher…

There’s good news and bad news. The good news: Comet SWAN F8 is now gaining height before sunrise in the northern hemisphere, and more and more people are photographing it, such as SPA member Paul Sutherland, who took the image shown above, from the south coast of England, around 3am this morning.The comet is the faint fuzzy tadpole-shaped smudge in the middle. That’s a crop from this photo with a wider field of view…

Hard to spot, isn’t it? Well, that’s the bad news: the comet appears to be under-performing as far as its brightness is concerned, hovering at around magnitude 5.7, which technically makes it a naked eye object (as mag 6 is the faintest object the naked eye can see in a dark sky) but as Comet SWAN is still low in a bright pre-sunrise sky, and is an extended object and not a point source, it is definitely not visible to the naked eye, no matter what some social media accounts might be saying. So far the comet has only been photographed by people using long exposures, either with a camera on its own or attached to a telescope, and many of these astro-photographers are actually having to stack multiple images to show the comet at all.

However, let’s not be too pessimistic! It is still early days for the comet’s appearance in northern skies, and over the next week or so we’ll not only see it higher and sooner before sunrise, in a darker sky, but observers far enough north will be able to see it after sunset too. If we’re lucky the comet will now start to grow more active as it nears the Sun, producing more gas and dust, and thus appear bigger and brighter in the sky. And even if the comet stays looking like it does now, it will be easier to find, and a more interesting sight, once it’s in a darker sky. We’ll have to wait and see.

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