TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Starting the week of Jan. 29, people will be able to see a comet that’s passing by Earth for the first time in 50 thousand years.

Dr. Elizabeth Melton, an assistant professor at Rose-Hulman and the director of the Oakley Observatory, shared insight into the history and uniqueness of the green comet’s return.

It will make its closest approach by Earth the week of Jan. 29 – Feb. 4 and will be about 26 million miles away.

“What’s really, really cool about this comet is it’s going to be, possibly, be able to be seen with the naked eye without any equipment,” Melton explained.

Melton still suggests people use binoculars or a small telescope since she says the comet will be faint. According to Melton, you’ll need to look to the northern sky during nighttime on a line from Polaris to Capella.

She says it will be most visible this week and gradually fade as we get further into February.
Melton also explained what gives the comet a green hue.

“It has diatomic carbon trapped in its ice. Comets are leftover from the beginning, the formation of the solar system, so they have a lot of molecules that are highly unstable that we don’t see a lot now. So, the diatomic carbon is trapped in that ice and when it gets close to the sun, the sunlight releases that diatomic carbon and it breaks down into that green glow that you see,” Melton said.

Rose-Hulman’s Oakley Observatory will have an open house on Friday, Feb. 3 for people to view the comet. The viewing will take place from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

If the sky is too cloudy on Friday, Feb. 3, the backup date is the night of Saturday, Feb. 4.

WTWO Chief Meteorologist Jesse Walker recently took to Facebook Live to discuss the comet and when it is viewable in our area.