Science Wednesday: Where To See Comet K2 As It Passes The Earth

Zinger Key Points
  • "Mutual's of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" is returning to television.
  • The FDA is considering the first OTC birth control pill.

Five years ago, astronomers were electrified to confirm the discovery of Comet C/2017 K2, more commonly known as Comet K2. At the time, it was believed to be one of the largest comets zooming across the universe, with a nucleus believed to be around 11 miles in diameter and a tail measuring a ginormous 500,000 miles long.

Comet K2 entered the inner solar system on June 25, and on July 14 it will make its closest approach to the Earth. According to Brian Koehler, a supervisor at the Treworgy Planetarium in Mystic, Connecticut, Comet K2’s journey has created an exceptional visual phenomenon.

“Being able to discover this comet so early means that we've been able to watch it for a really long time,” he said. “And similar to one of the more famous comets, Comet Hale-Bopp, this one has a decent amount of activity, because it is getting close enough to the sun that the activity from the melting of the comet – the flickering and glimmering – makes it one of the more visually interesting comets.”

Koehler noted that over the past five years, astronomers have been able to get a better look at Comet K2 and realized that although “there was some theory out there that it maybe was one of the largest comets ever discovered in terms of diameter, we've discovered it's actually pretty average in terms of size.”

While Comet K2 won’t win prizes for heft, it is offering stargazers a unique opportunity to witness a unique celestial visit.

“Its closest approach to Earth is estimated to be a distance of what we call 1.8 astronomical units, or AUs,” Koehler explained. “One AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, so this thing is almost twice as far away from us as we are from the sun. It is definitely not visible to the naked eye – certainly not the Halley's Comet spectacle, where everybody gets to just kind of go outside and watch it – but if you do have a decent telescope, or a really good pair of binoculars, it is possible to actually see this event, especially this week as it makes its closest pass by Earth.”

And if you miss Comet K2 – well, tough luck.

“After it has passed by the Earth, it's going to make a long elliptical orbit around the sun, and then it's going to fly back out into the far reaches of our solar system,” Koehler continued. “This comet will not return to Earth for several million years. So, this is very much a once in a lifetime experience.”

For those lacking telescopes or binoculars and a view of the evening sky that is not obscured by lights, one can watch the journey of Comet K2 on July 14 online as the Virtual Telescope Project will host a livestream, beginning at 6:15 p.m. EDT.

Science And Medicine Briefs

The Return Of A TV Classic: One of the most iconic television programs focused on wildlife and the global ecosystems is being revived for a new generation.

“Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” is now in production across the U.S. on episodes for its reboot “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild,” while it will premiere in January 2023 on RFD-TV and digital channels.

The initial episodes are now being shot in Florida and will consider crocodiles, sea turtles, manatees and coral reefs.

“This series will celebrate the incredible work being done by many compassionate conservationists and will hopefully encourage a new generation of people who are committed to making a positive impact on the Wild Kingdom,” said Peter Gros, the host of the series who is also a licensed exhibition and animal educator and a conservationist.

“Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” debuted in 1963 with zoologist Marlin Perkins as the host. The series aired through 1988 and then appeared sporadically over the years as specials on Animal Planet and YouTube. 

Aiming For An OTC Birth Control Pill: New York City-headquartered HRA Pharma has submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make its product Opill the first-ever OTC birth control pill available in the U.S.

Opill is a non-estrogen pill with 0.075 g norgestrel that was approved as a pharmaceutical pregnancy preventor by the FDA in 1973, the year of the Roe v. Wade decision. In the wake of the Roe v. Wade overturn by the U.S. Supreme Court, HRA Pharma is now seeking to enable easier access to Opill.

“This historic application marks a groundbreaking moment in contraceptive access and reproductive quality,” said Frederique Welgryn, chief strategic operations and innovation officer at HRA Pharma, in the press release. “More than 60 years ago, prescription birth control pills in the US empowered women to plan if and when they want to get pregnant. Moving a safe and effective prescription birth control pill to OTC will help even more women and people access contraception without facing unnecessary barriers.”

HRA Pharma is expecting a ruling from the FDA during the first half of 2023.

Getting Ready For Flu Season: The summer isn’t even halfway over, but GSK plc GSK is getting ready for flu season by shipping doses of its quadrivalent influenza vaccines to healthcare providers and pharmacies.

The shipment follows a licensing and lot-release approval from the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. GSK expects to distribute over 50 million doses of its influenza vaccine across the U.S., and the company’s Flulaval Quadrivalent and Fluarix Quadrivalent will be available in a 0.5mL, single-dose, pre-filled syringes for patients six months and older.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on health disparities in the US and that there is still much more to be done to close the gap,” said Temi Folaranmi, vice president and vaccines therapeutic area head of U.S. medical affairs at GSK, who added the company was “committed to working alongside our public health partners to increase education and awareness about annual flu vaccination across the board, but especially in underserved communities of color.”

Photo: Time-lapse image of Comet K2 photographed on July 1, courtesy of Chuck Ayoub / Wikimedia Commons

See Also: Analysis: Can The Webb Telescope Photos Inspire A Space Industry Boom During A Recession?

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