The SWAN comet was discovered on April 11. As the defunct ATLAS comet, SWAN is heading towards Mercury but will pass at a close distance from Earth, and it is now visible with the naked eye in the Southern hemisphere.
Amateur astronomers have already spotted the comet on the sky, with some noting that its brightness is considerably higher than only a few nights ago. The comet will continue to come closer to Earth until May 10, when the closes point will be reached as it will be at a distance of 0.56 astronomical units to our planet.
That is also approximately half of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. SWAN was observed for the first time by an Australian astronomer who was looking at data collected by the SWAN instrument operated by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.
SWAN comet becomes visible in the sky
The SWAN instrument is exploring the solar system in an attempt to track down oxygen, and it was easy to spot the comet since it emits a significant amount of hydrogen as it rushes towards its destination. Comets tend to release hydrogen as water-ice. However, it is thought that a phenomenon has affected the comet and determined the release of a significant amount of volatiles.
Some astronomers already fear that the SWAN comet will start to disintegrate in the near future. It was anticipated that ATLAS would be the first of the two that will be visible with the naked eye, but the comet started to fragment during early April, and a group of fragments is now visible in its place.
An astronomer who anticipated the demise of comet ATLAS has already stated that the SWAN comet may also vanish in a few days, but there is no way to draw a definitive conclusion at this point. Interested stargazers will find a series of handy tips that will help them to spot the comet on the night sky.