An artist’s rendition of 2016 WF9 as it passes Jupiter’s orbit inbound toward the sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Extremely Rare Comet
Seeing Comet C/2016 U1 NEOWISE fly by would be a rare opportunity for skygazers because the celestial body won’t likely pass by Earth for the next thousands of years. Unlike short period comets such as Halley’s, a comet which passes by our planet every 75 to 80 years, it would take C/2016 U1 NEOWISE far longer time before it gets to visit this region of the solar system again.
The object orbits the sun on an undefined hyperbolic orbit that is possibly millions of years long, which means that the comet’s rendezvous with Earth may even be the comet’s first visit through the inner solar system.
As seen from the northern hemisphere during the first week of 2017, comet C/2016 U1 NEOWISE will be in the southeastern sky shortly before dawn. It is moving farther south each day and it will reach its closest point to the sun, inside the orbit of Mercury, on Jan. 14, before heading back out to the outer reaches of the solar system for an orbit lasting thousands of years. While it will be visible to skywatchers at Earth, it is not considered a threat to our planet either..