Will comet C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS) be visible in the autumn skies?

Geometry of a comet's position relative to Sun and Earth can create solar forward scattering phenomenon
An undated image of a comet in the sky. — Unsplash
An undated image of a comet in the sky. — Unsplash

2024 isn't even half over yet, and it already has treated us to solar eclipses and spectacular displays of the Northern Lights. Now, a new comet is making its way to Earth, promising a spectacular sight in the fall skies. 

Comet C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS), discovered in February 2023, is expected to approach Earth this fall. With its approach to the closet on October 12, it may brighten for seconds or even earlier, making it visible to the naked eye. 

A bright and easy-to-see comet Tsuchinshan—ATLAS?

However, there's a caution — the eccentricity of its orbit suggests it's a "first-timer" in the form of the Oort Cloud, which means it may not live up to expectations. 

The Oort Cloud is a spherical shell of icy space debris outside the outer reaches of the Solar System. Comets from here have never passed this close to the Sun and may not be as bright as expected. 

Read more: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope — 5 latest images of 2024

The geometry of a comet's position relative to the Sun and Earth can create a phenomenon known as "solar forward scattering", which can cause a dramatic increase in brightness. However, those in remote locations such as Australia, New Zealand and South America will be able to track it in the morning sky before sunrise. 

Comets Skjellerup — Maristany (C/1927 X1) and McNaught (C/2006P1) suddenly brightened due to forward scattering, becoming visible in daylight. As Dr. Fred Whipple once said, "If you bet, bet the horse, not the comet!" 

There are no guarantees in the world of comets. Some may promise a great show but fail to deliver, while others may surprise us with an unexpected spectacle. Only time will tell if Comet C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS) will be visible in the sky this fall.