Comet Neowise is the most impressive comet in nearly 25 years, and it’s visible now. After two other promising comets — Swan and Atlas — fizzled and faded away this year, Comet C/2020 F3 (aka Neowise) is already dazzling skywatchers, and the best views may be yet to come.
Emily Kramer is the co-investigator on the science team for NASA’s Neowise spacecraft that discovered the comet. She told reporters Wednesday that it’s rare for a comet to be bright enough to see with the naked eye.
“It’s been quite a while,” she said. “The last time was 1995-1996 (with comet Hale-Bopp).”
Neowise survived its closest brush with the sun on July 3 and is now headed toward its nearest pass by Earth on July 23.
Over the past couple of weeks, a number of amateur astrophotographers have shared stunning images of the comet captured as it appeared just above the horizon in predawn skies.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have also spotted the comet, aided by their premium vantage point, and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured the profile of Neowise, showing it has multiple tails.
The best time to view the comet from the surface of Earth is currently shifting from the early morning hours to the evening.
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According to NASA solar system ambassador Eddie Irizarry, it’ll start to be visible in the evening around July 15-16. It should be a little easier to see during the second half of July when it’s higher in the sky.
Right now, the advice being shared by many of those who have successfully spotted the comet is to first locate it in the sky using binoculars or a telescope. Once you’ve found it and its trademark split tail, you should be able to then track it with the naked eye.
The comet’s closest pass by Earth will be July 23, which might make for a particularly exciting viewing opportunity if the comet’s brightness continues to hold where it is or even intensifies. It’ll also rise a little higher in the sky on July 24 and 25 in case you miss the actual flyby date. Comets are notoriously fickle things that could always break up and burn out at any moment, so fingers crossed.
There’s a possibility, for the most optimistic of us, that Neowise might brighten dramatically to become a so-called “great comet” that’s easily visible and spectacular to see with the naked eye. While there’s no strict definition of what a great comet is, it’s generally agreed that we haven’t seen one since Hale-Bopp.
Once it appears in the evening sky at mid-month, the comet will be visible toward the northwest and western edges of the sky.
Here’s where you can spot the comet over the next couple of weeks. Online resources like TheSkyLive also offer similar night sky maps to aid your comet quest.
If you don’t catch the comet before it inevitably fades away in August or sooner, you’ll have to wait awhile for its next trip through the inner solar system, currently estimated to happen in the year 8786.