Brits will get their best opportunity to see a newly discovered comet in UK skies next week offering what astronomers are calling a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.

Comet Nishimura was discovered in August by Japanese astrophotographer Hideo Nishimura - who it was also named after.

The astrophotographer recorded Comet C/2023 PI when he was taking long-exposure photographs of the sky with a digital camera on August 11.

The newly discovered comet is already visible but next week is set to present people with their best chance to see it with the naked eye.

When to see Comet Nishimura in the UK

According to Professor Brad Gibson, director of the E A Milne Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Hull, the comet is already visible to the naked eye.

Professor Gibson said the best time to see the comet was in the hour after sunset and the hour before dawn by looking east-north-east, towards the crescent moon and Venus.

But added next Tuesday (September 12) would present people with their best chance to see the newly discovered Comet Nishimura. 

Professor Gibson said: “The comet takes 500 years to orbit the solar system, Earth takes one year, and the outer planets can take many decades.

“Halley’s Comet, which caused much interest during its last nearby visit to Earth in 1986, takes 76 years to orbit the solar system.

“So, to say this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Nishimura isn’t an exaggeration.”

Border Telegraph: Professor Brad Gibson said September 12 will be the best time to see Comet Nishimura.Professor Brad Gibson said September 12 will be the best time to see Comet Nishimura. (Image: PA)

Prof Gibson said: “It can already be seen but it will be 78 million miles from Earth on September 12 and that should be the best chance to see it with the naked eye.

“On average, people have the chance to see such a naked eye comet once a decade – this is a rare and exciting opportunity.”

This may be the only chance stargazers get to catch a glimpse of Comet Nishimura.

Prof Gibson said it will pass closest to the sun on September 17, when it will be just 27 million miles away.

He said there is a real chance it may not survive this close fly-by.

What is known about Comet Nishimura

Scientists are still trying to estimate Nishimura’s size but Professor Gibson believes it could range from a few hundred metres to potentially a mile or two in diameter.

He said it is thought the comet could be responsible for an annual meteor shower named the Sigma-Hydrids, which takes place in December every year.

According to Professor Gibson, there is no danger of Comet Nishimura colliding with Earth as astronomers have carefully charted its orbit and speed of travel.

There is a debate between scientists over whether it was an asteroid or a comet which caused the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

He said: “What happened to the dinosaurs is a once-in-a-100-million-year event.

“People have been watching comets since ancient times with their interpretation then spanning everything from being portents of doom to simply being heralds of good news.”

How are comets formed?

Professor Gibson explained comets are “chunks of ice and rock” left over from the formation of the solar system nearly five billion years ago.

As they pass closer to the sun it heats the comet, liberating an icy gas which gives them their distinctive tail.

He said tiny particles of dust and rock from comets are freed by the sun as a comet passes nearby and each year the Earth passes through this debris, leading to meteor showers.