- nemesis maturity
THE RAPID BRIGHTENING OF COMET NEOWISE: Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) is passing by the sun this week–and it’s looking good. The comet just experienced a sharp increase in brightness recorded by coronagraphs onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). “During the transit, Comet NEOWISE increased in brightness from magnitude +4 to +1.8–an almost 8-fold jump,” says planetary scientist Qicheng Zhang of Caltech, who analyzed the images. “If the comet maintains this brightness, it will be visible to the naked eye when it emerges from the sun’s glare in July.” Zhang is a bit concerned, however, that the rapid brightening might be too much of a good thing. “When a comet brightens this quickly (2.2 magnitudes in only ~4 days) it could be a sign that the nucleus is unstable. Comet NEOWISE might yet disintegrate,” he cautions. It wouldn’t be the first time. Earlier this year two comets, ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) and SWAN (C/2020 F8), approached the sun with much fanfare, then disintegrated before they could become naked-eye objects. Will Comet NEOWISE end the same way?