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Newly-discovered comet visible for a few days in Northwest skies

Comet Nishimura (with the green hue in the left half of the photo) is making its way toward Earth and the sun.
Photo by Dan Bartlett. Courtesy NASA
Comet Nishimura (with the green hue in the left half of the photo) is making its way toward Earth and the sun.

Inland Northwest sky gazers can track a newly-discovered comet in the early morning skies before dawn this week.

An amateur Japanese astronomer, Hideo Nishimura, discovered the moving celestial body (now known as Comet Nishimura) in mid-August. According to an article on NASA.com, he spotted it while taking a series of photos of the night sky with his digital camera. Since then, the comet has become brighter as it moves closer to the sun.

Astronomers say Nishimura is proceeding toward the Earth, expected to reach its nearest point, about 78 million miles away, on September 12. As it approaches, they believe it may become bright enough to detect with the naked eye, whereas now, it's likely only visible using a pair of binoculars. Then it will push toward the sun, reaching its closest proximity, about 27 million miles, around September 17.

This is a chart that estimates where Comet Nishimura will appear in the sky over the next few days.
Courtesy of Stellarium with additions by Bob King
This is a chart that estimates where Comet Nishimura will appear in the sky over the next few days.

How to spot it

Comet Nishimura can be seen to the northeast, before dawn. The best time to look is about a quarter to five, before the start of morning twilight.

Look for the brightest object in the eastern sky, Venus, and then scan with your binoculars to the left, or towards north. It's quite a few degrees away from Venus, but at roughly the same height above the horizon. The comet should appear as a small fuzzy patch of light, but is sporting a small tail. More detailed charts to locate it are available online, you can find them by googling Comet Nishimura. 
Here are some tips for tracking the comet. More about the comet here.

NASA says the comet is expected to get very close to the sun and inside the orbit of the planet Mercury. Astronomers are not sure if it will survive that encounter, so the next few days could be your best — and perhaps only — opportunity to see it.

If it does survive, your next chance to see it would be 437 years from now, which scientists have calculated is the time it will take for the moment to make one orbit in its current path.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.