There is still little time to see a newly discovered comet as it burns through the night sky, especially if you have binoculars or a telescope at hand.
C / 2020 F3 NEOWISE, also known as comet NEOWISE, was first spotted by NASA’s Infrared Infrared Surveyor near Earth in late March this year. According to NASA, the comet’s core is about 3 miles in diameter and consists of dust, rocks and frozen gases left over from the birth of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.
When comets are near our Sun, the increasing heat creates a coma, or a peculiar atmosphere, consisting of particles and gases surrounding the nucleus. The combination of the solar wind and the pressure of sunlight can reflect part of this atmosphere from the comet, forming two tails ̵1; one of the ions and the other of the dust – which can stretch in the opposite direction of the Sun for millions of miles. The image shows that comet NEOWISE could potentially have two ion tails, as well as its dust tail.
Joseph Masiero, NEOWISE’s deputy chief investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the discovery of comet NEOWISE was “worrying”, especially given the rareness of comets passing by our planet with the invisible naked eye.
“I’m sure every astronomer surveying the sky has a secret hope of finding the next unarmed comet, so I feel like our team has won the lottery,” Masiero said. “These kinds of celestial events really help remind me of how great and wonderful the universe is and how lucky I was to learn it in these difficult times.”
Comet NEOWISE made its closest approach to Earth on July 22, growing darker and darker as it returns to the outer currents of our solar system. But if you want to try your luck for the next few days, find a part of the sky with minimal pollution where your gaze will not interfere with trees or buildings.
Then look at the northwestern sky below and just west of the Big Dipper – the comet will rise above the horizon as the nights go on. You can also use the Comet NEOWISE app to help you figure out exactly where to look for a comet from your location.
If you haven’t checked out Neoraus, the brightest comet that has adorned the Northern Hemisphere for decades, tonight is one of your last chances. You may notice this after sunset, below the Big Dipper. https://t.co/zpSFRKaeaM
But you probably won’t get as good a look as the ISS
🎥: NASA pic.twitter.com/Be6HooyKlo
– WIRED (@WIRED) July 23, 2020
While you may still be able to spot Comet NEOWISE with the naked eye, a pair of binoculars or a telescope should give you a clearer view. EarthSky also recommends using a high-quality camera that can shoot a comet with extended exposure.
If you miss the show this time, you’ll just have to wait another 6,800 years or so for comet NEOWISE to return to Earth.