Fresh off close brushes with a comet and an asteroid last month, the planet is up for a close view of the Comet PANSTARRS as it passes by Earth. It could be visible with the naked eye or at least with binoculars.
Such an opportunity arises only about once every 5-10 years, according to NASA, though there will be two such chances this year. This time, the comet in sight is one discovered in 2011, known officially as comet 2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), named for the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System in Hawaii that first spotted it.
The comet has been in view for the southern hemisphere for the past year and a half, but is shifting into view for the northern hemisphere starting next week.
Monday, the comet makes its closest approach to the sun, about 28 million miles away. That will make it impossible to spot in the sun's glare for a day or so, but starting Tuesday, it could be visible on the western horizon around twilight each night.
Catching a glimpse of it might be tricky given its proximity to the sun, NASA scientists explain:
"Look too early and the sky will be too bright," Rachel Stevenson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a NASA news release. "Look too late, the comet will be too low and obstructed by the horizon. This comet has a relatively small window."
"To see it, you will need an unobstructed, cloudless view of the west after sunset. It is best to pick a dark spot, away from streetlights. Look in the sunset direction, as soon as the sky darkens. The comet will be just above the horizon."
Sunset is about 7:10 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. next week in Baltimore.
With each passing day as the comet keeps zooming through space, it will become more faint. Binoculars or even a weak telescope can help.
If you don't catch a view of Comet PANSTARRS, there will be another chance late this year. Comet ISON, or C/2012 S1, will pass within 800,000 miles of Earth's surface, 100 times closer than the sun, according to EarthSky.org.