Comet Nishimura: The Brightest Comet 2023 Can Be Visible to the Naked Eye Now

~7 min

Comet Nishimura didn't achieve the brightness we anticipated. Now, with its proximity to the Sun, spotting it in the sky is almost impossible, but our stargazing apps Star Walk 2 (App Store, Google Play) and Sky Tonight (App Store, Google Play, AppGallery) offer a clear view. You have only a few days left to attempt catching the comet near the horizon at sunset.


C/2023 P1 (Nishimura): latest comet news

Comet Nishimura is currently in the constellation Virgo. It made the closest approach to the Earth on September 12 and soon will reach its perihelion. The comet has a magnitude of 2.9, yet its position close to the Sun makes it extremely challenging to observe. The comet’s growing tail is now nearly 1° long. There is a short window to view C/2023 P1 after the Sun has set. Although the twilight sky won’t be completely dark, with a touch of luck, this elusive beauty might just come into view.

What does the name of C/2023 P1 (Nishimura) mean?

The name of the comet contains data about where and when it was first seen:

  • The letter C indicates a non-periodic comet – comets of this type originate from the Oort cloud and may pass through the Solar System only once or take from 200 to thousands of years to orbit the Sun;
  • “2023 P1” means the comet was discovered in 2023, in the first half of August (this corresponds to the letter P in the IAU comet naming system), and was the first such object discovered in the same period;
  • “Nishimura” means the discovery was made by Hideo Nishimura, the Japanese astronomer.

Nishimura meaning in English

The comet’s proper name “Nishimura” is a common placename and family name in northeastern Japan and the island of Okinawa. It’s translated from Japanese as “western village.” Some people with this last name have samurai roots, and, as we know, at least one of them is a great comet hunter.

How to see Comet Nishimura in sky tonight?

To find the comet easily, use one of the stargazing apps, Star Walk 2 (get it on App Store, Google Play) or Sky Tonight (App Store, Google Play, AppGallery):

  • Tap the magnifying glass on the main screen.
  • Type "Nishimura" and choose the fitting result. The app will show where the comet is on the sky map.
  • Tap the compass or point your device at the sky. The screen will match your sky in real time.
  • Follow the arrow to see the comet on the screen, then look in that direction in the sky to spot it!

Comet Nishimura location and magnitude in September 2023

Here is the path of the comet Nishimura for the nearest future:

  • September 15: C/2023 P1 (mag 2.8, elongation 12.1°) enters the constellation Virgo.
  • September 17: C/2023 P1 (mag 2.8, elongation 12.2°) reaches perihelion in the constellation Virgo.
  • September 21: C/2023 P1 (mag 3.7, elongation 14.0°) passes 1°23' away from the star Porrima (mag 2.7) in the constellation Virgo.

In the Sky Tonight and Star Walk 2 apps, the comet's trajectory and brightness are constantly updated with the latest astronomical data, giving you the most accurate and up-to-date view of it.

When is the best time to see Nishimura Comet?

Comet Nishimura was visible to the naked eye on September 8. It's now close to the Sun, so it's tricky to see. You can try to find it in the constellation Virgo shortly after sunset. It'll shine brighter soon but will be even nearer to the Sun, making it hardly possible to spot.

Nishimura comet at perihelion on September 17

On September 17, C/2023 P1 will reach its closest point to the Sun, called perihelion. It will be really close to our star, at a distance of about 0.23 AU from it. At that time, comet Nishimura could be as bright as 2.8 magnitude, which is visible to the naked eye. The comet will be located only around 12° away from the Sun in the sky, so you won’t have much time to observe it. Spot C/2023 P1 at sunset in the constellation Virgo. People in the Northern Hemisphere will have the best view. There is still a possibility that the comet will fall apart as it reaches its closest point to the Sun, so keep following it.

By mid-October, C/2023 P1 will fade back to telescope visibility as it moves away from the Sun. In a few months, by February 2024, another bright comet, C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS), will enter the scene.

How to photograph comet Nishimura?

Comet Nishimura is pretty close to the Sun. So, if you can predict the Sun’s position, you will find the comet near the Sun. Photograph the comet around sunrise and sunset, when it's best visible.

The gear you need to photograph the comet

You'll need a camera, а tripod, and a shutter release or intervalometer to prevent vibrations and avoid blurry images. Lens choice depends on your desired shot. Use a wide-angle lens like 14mm, 24mm, or 35mm for landscapes with a small comet. For a closer view or to align the comet with an interesting object (such as a tree, building, etc.) near the horizon, opt for longer focal lengths like 200mm, 300mm, or 500mm. If you have an equatorial mount or a star tracker, you can use it to shoot much longer exposures and thus capture more detail on the comet and its tail.

How to set up the camera to photograph the comet?

Now that we have the equipment we need to capture the comet, let's look at the camera settings for both situations:

  • when you want to use a wide-angle lens to include the landscape,
  • when you want to use a telephoto lens to capture only the comet itself.

Photo with the landscape

  • To photograph сomet Nishimura, arrive at your chosen location about an hour before your intended shooting time. Use augmented reality mode in Star Walk 2 or Sky Tonight to confirm that the comet is positioned as desired.

  • Decide on the focal length for your desired composition, such as 10mm, 14mm, or 24mm. Given the low light conditions, opt for a wide aperture like F1.4 or F2.8. Aim for the longest exposure that keeps the comet looking like a dot rather than a trail, perhaps 10 or 20 seconds. Ensure the comet appears as its distinct shape and not a streak. Experiment with various exposure times to find what suits you best. If you're using a star tracker, you can take longer exposures to capture more detail in the comet and its tail. With a star tracker, you'll also need a separate shot for the foreground.

  • Based on your chosen aperture and shutter speed, adjust the ISO to achieve the right exposure. Depending on the available natural light, you might select an ISO of 1600, 3200, or even 6400.

  • Focus on the object; if it's beyond the hyperfocal distance, the comet will also appear sharp in the photo. Alternatively, focus directly on the comet for optimal sharpness, though this might slightly blur your foreground. Another technique is focus stacking: take one shot focused on the comet and several on the foreground to ensure sharpness throughout. If your foreground is too dark, use LED panels to illuminate it and achieve proper exposure.

Close-up photo

  • For a close-up of the comet, use a long focal length, such as 300mm, 400mm, 500mm, or even 1000mm. Select the widest aperture available. If you have a star tracker, close the aperture by one or two stops, for instance, from F2.8 to F4.

  • Adjust the shutter speed to either half a second or one second. Avoid exceeding one second to prevent the comet from appearing blurry due to motion blur. However, with a star tracker, you can use longer exposures like 5, 10, or 20 seconds, ensuring the comet remains sharp.

  • After setting the aperture and shutter speed, adjust the ISO to achieve the right exposure for the comet. An ISO of 800 is typically effective with a star tracker.

  • Since you're capturing a close-up, focus directly on the comet. Take a test shot to confirm sharp focus and proper exposure. Capture 15 to 20 shots to later stack in post-processing, enhancing the comet's detail and tail.

C/2023 P1 (Nishimura): new comet discovered 2023

On August 11, Japanese amateur astronomer Hideo Nishimura detected a bright object very close to the Sun. No one had seen it before because the object was lost in our star’s glare. And, exciting news, it turned out to be a brand-new bright comet! On August 15, the Minor Planet Center officially confirmed the discovery and named the comet C/2023 P1 (Nishimura).

Recent calculations show that the comet may be a periodic one with an orbital period of around 430 years, which is good news for observations. Statistically, comets that make their first approach to the Sun are the most likely to break apart. However, with each successive perihelion passage, the core of the comet becomes more robust, while the weaker ones drop out of the competition. And since C/2023 P1 has already encountered our star, it has a better chance of surviving its journey to perihelion.

Comet Nishimura: The Key Takeaway

The green comet C/2023 P1 (Nishimura), discovered a month ago, is expected to reach its peak brightness (mag 2.8) by September 17 when it passes perihelion (closest point to the Sun). However, its proximity to the Sun in the sky makes it challenging to observe at that time.

Use astronomy apps Star Walk 2 (App Store, Google Play) and Sky Tonight (App Store, Google Play, AppGallery) to locate the comet in the sky.

Wishing you clear skies and good luck in hunting for the Nishimura comet!