Look up! Comet Hartley 2 passing close to Earth this weekby Steven Mostyn - Oct 21 2010, 13:07
And there it is... Image: 37Hz/Flickr.
If you're beneath a clear night sky tonight, and just so happen to be carrying a pair of binoculars or a telescope, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Comet Hartley 2 as it passes within viewing distance of our little blue marble.
Specifically, this week sees the hurtling comet travelling past the Earth at a modest distance of 11 million miles, which is the closest pass the chunk of icy rock has made in almost 25 years.
In terms of related Hartley 2 facts and figures, the relatively small comet has a diameter of around 0.9 miles and completes a single orbit of our star every 6.5 years.
Interestingly, NASA will be hoping for an even closer inspection of Hartley 2 in around two weeks, which is when its data-collecting Deep Impact probe is expected to perform a flyby of the comet at a distance of just 435 miles.
“It is nice of Mother Nature to give us a preview before we see Hartley 2 in all its cometary glory with some great close-up images less than two weeks later,” enthused Don Yeomans of NASA's Near Earth Object Office in an official statement.
If you're duly equipped and keen on watching Comet Hartley 2's trajectory through the night skies, StarDate magazine suggests looking northwest during the two hours before dawn (after the full moon has set), and at around 75 degrees above the horizon.
According to stargazing astronomers, the comet will be situated close to the star Capella in the constellation of Auriga until October 22. After this date, it will have shifted into the constellation Gemini.