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New Comet is Brightest in 30 Years

A newfound comet has backyard skywatchers buzzing about its incredible brightness even though it is a challenge to spot.

Comet McNaught, named for Australian astronomer Robert McNaught who found it last year, is about to circle the Sun. It sets right after the Sun, making it visible in the West [sky map] for only a few minutes in twilight.

Tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 10) may be the best chance for Northern Hemisphere viewers to spot it.

Comet McNaught has become the brightest comet in 30 years, according to the International Comet Quarterly at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The comet, dazzling in pictures, is brighter than was Hale-Bopp in 1995.

But this comet remains a challenge to see. You need a very clear view of a very flat horizon and good sky conditions. Look for it moments after sunset from high ground or tall buildings if possible. Binoculars can help to first detect the comet, but it is visible to the naked eye, several observers have reported.

On Jan. 12, Comet McNaught's orbit [video] will take it closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury. Solar radiation could cause the comet to become even brighter. During its trip around the Sun, the comet will be visible on the Internet in images from the SOHO spacecraft.

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Robert Roy Britt
Rob has been producing internet content since the mid-1990s. He was a writer, editor and Director of Site Operations at SPACE.com starting in 1999. He served as Managing Editor of LiveScience since its launch in 2004. He now oversees news operations for the TechMediaNetwork's growing suite of technology, science and business news sites. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.