The comet, which can be observed with the naked eye, has been visible since July 7, NASA said on its website. It has been a photographer’s dream, providing incredible images both on Earth and in space.
“Through about the middle of the month, the comet is visible around 10 degrees above the northeastern horizon (the width of your outstretched fist) in the hour before dawn,” the space agency added. “From mid-July on, it’s best viewed as an evening object, rising increasingly higher above the northwestern horizon.
“The comet takes about 6,800 years to make one lap around its long, stretched out orbit, so it won’t visit the inner solar system again for many thousands of years,” the agency explained on its website.
NASA notes that the comet’s closest approach to Earth will be on July 22, at a distance of about 64 million miles.
(Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher)
If you spot Comet NEOWISE, let us know! Send images and comments to email@example.com to share your views.
Comet NEOWISE has is delighting skywatchers around the Northern Hemisphere. But what makes this comet so special?
The comet made its closest approach to the sun on July 3 but, until now, was only visible in the sky before dawn. Now, for keen observers in the Northern Hemisphere, the comet has been getting higher in the evening sky, sparkling northwest below the Big Dipper constellation, according to Joe Masiero, deputy principal investigator of NEOWISE (NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, the NASA space telescope that first spotted the comet).
One of the most fascinating details about Comet NEOWISE is that it won’t return to our skies for another 6,800 years. But that’s not the only thing that makes this icy space rock special. So let’s take a dive into what makes Comet NEOWISE unique — and a little weird.
Officially known as C/2020 F3, Comet NEOWISE is a comet that was discovered on March 27, 2020, by NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting afterlife of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.
Comets, often nicknamed “cosmic snowballs,” are icy, rocky objects made up of ice, rock and dust. These objects orbit the sun, and as they slip closer to the sun most comets heat up and start streaming two tails, one made of dust and gas and an “ion tail” made of electrically-charged gas molecules, or ions.
Can I see it?
Yes! Because it is especially bright, the comet is visible in the night sky with the naked eye. Skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere can spot the object just after sunset, to the northwest just under the Big Dipper constellation.
In fact, the comet is so bright that scientists are “able to get a lot more and better data than we typically do for most comets,” Kramer said. “We’re able to study it with a wide variety of different telescopes, and that’ll allow us to do really interesting studies.”
No! Because Comet NEOWISE is an especially bright object, it is relatively easy for astronomy enthusiasts to spot it in the night sky with just the naked eye, although binoculars or a small telescope will give you a better view.
“The fact that we can see it is really what makes it unique,” Kramer said. “It’s quite rare for a comet to be bright enough that we can see it with a naked eye or even with just binoculars.”
To those spotting the comet with the naked eye, without any tools or instruments like a telescope, it looks like a fuzzy star with a little bit of a tail. You do need to be away from city lights, though.
With binoculars or a small telescope, the comet will be more clear and the tail will be easier to spot.
There is “about 13 million Olympic swimming pools of water,” in Comet NEOWISE, Emily Kramer, a science team co-investigator forNASA’s NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during a news conference July 15. “So that’s a lot of water.”
“Most comets are about half water and half dust,” she added.
Does it have a tail?
Comet NEOWISE has two tails that typically accompany every comet.
As a comet nears the sun, it warms up and material pulls away from the surface into a tail. Often, dust is pulled away along with gases from sublimating (going directly from solid to a gas) ice. This dust tail is the sweeping trail seen in most comet images. Comets also have an ion tail made up of ionized gas blown back by the solar wind.
Researchers studying Comet NEOWISE might actually also have a sodium tail. By observing what they believe to be atomic sodium in the comet’s tail, researchers can glean keen insight into the object’s makeup.
How big is Comet NEOWISE?
Comet NEOWISE is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) in diameter, “which is a reasonably large but roughly average-size comet,” Kramer said.
“It’s rare to see something that’s this bright,” she added. “There are comets that are of this size that we see regularly, but most of them are so from Earth that they don’t get this bright. They’re too far from the sun and the Earth to be able to see them in the way that we’re seeing this Comet NEOWISE.”
How fast is Comet NEOWISE?
The comet is traveling at about 40 miles per second (that’s about 144,000 mph, or 231,000 km/h).
Joe Masiero, deputy principal investigator of the NEOWISE mission, said the the comet is moving about twice as fast as the Earth’s speed around the sun. But don’t expect that rapid clip to last.
Because of the comet’s extremely elliptical orbit, it will slow down as it reaches its farthest point from the sun, then fall back toward the inner solar system and accelerate again when it heads back round the sun. That trip around the sun is over for Comet NEOWISE’s current orbit and it’s moving back to the outer solar system.
“And so as it goes farther from the sun, [it] will be slowing down as it climbs back up that gravity well,” Masiero said.
Will it hit Earth?
Have no fear, Comet NEOWISE will not hit Earth.
“This particular comet has no possibility of impacting the Earth. It crosses the plane of Earth orbit well inside of recovery orbit and almost near the orbit of Mercury, so there’s absolutely no hazard from this comet,” Lindley Johnson, the planetary defense officer and program executive of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA Headquarters, said during the news conference.
The comet orbits the sun every 600 to 700 years, Johnson said. The comet is currently about 70 million miles (111 million kilometers) away from Earth.
Is it from interstellar space?
No, Comet NEOWISE originates in our own solar system. To date, only two interstellar objects have been discovered: ‘Oumuamua and Comet Borisov.
“This one we know it’s not Interstellar object. By watching its motion, we can see that it’s bound to the sun’s gravity,” Kramer said. “So it’s coming in very rapidly and then it’s going to go far back out again and then but then should come back in again in about 6,800 years.”
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The comet Neowise has been visible recently from the northern hemisphere, even from light-polluted urban areas like Seattle, and now can be spotted to the northwest just below the Big Dipper about an hour after sunset.
Skywatchers can expect mostly clear skies over the Puget Sound region after the Friday morning clouds and rain dissipate, but some areas along the coast and near the Cascade Mountains might still see lingering cloud coverage Friday night, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.
Astronomers discovered the comet in late March, using the Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope, according to Scientific American. Officially named C/2020 F3, the comet has been informally dubbed Neowise, after the acronym for the instrument that spotted it.
Neowise will come closest to Earth — a mere 64 million miles away — on July 22. After this appearance, Neowise isn’t expected to be near Earth again for about 6,800 years.
This image was made with a 400mm telephoto lens mounted on a tripod using a 1.3-second exposure, at f8, and ISO 10,000.
Seattle Times staff reporters David Gutman and Elise Takahama contributed to this report.
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.
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.
July 5 – my third consecutive morning observing Comet NEOWISE. When I held my 7×40 binoculars to my eyes to search for…
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.
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – If you’re outside at the right time with a clear view of the sky, and looking in the right direction, you have the opportunity to catch Comet NEOWISE in the upcoming days. This previous story gives all the vital background details on the comet. Here in this article, we deliver your guide to viewing the comet across northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio from expert skywatcher Tony Rice.
He’s calculated our best viewing times across the region. Take a look:
morning (low on NE horizon)
evening (low on NW horizon)
3:49 AM – 4:56 AM reaches 7.3° above horizon
10:36 PM – 10:37 PM appears 0.1° above horizon
3:42 AM – 4:49 AM reaches 6.8° above horizon
10:43 PM – 11:00 PM appears 1.4° above horizon
3:35 AM – 4:43 AM reaches 6.2° above horizon
10:50 PM – 11:26 PM appears 2.7° above horizon
3:29 AM – 4:36 AM reaches 5.5° above horizon
10:57 PM – 11:55 PM appears 4.1° above horizon
3:25 AM – 4:29 AM reaches 4.7° above horizon
11:05 PM – 12:25 AM appears 5.3° above horizon
3:21 AM – 4:21 AM reaches 3.8° above horizon
11:12 PM – 12:56 AM appears 6.6° above horizon
3:21 AM – 4:14 AM reaches 2.8° above horizon
11:20 PM – 1:25 AM appears 7.7° above horizon
3:25 AM – 4:06 AM reaches 1.8° above horizon
11:27 PM – 1:47 AM appears 8.8° above horizon
According to Rice, the comet will be most visible before dawn over the few couple days, by early next week visibility will improve after dusk.
When asked if the comet will dim in the sky, Rice says, “Probably. The inverse square law (remember your physics classes?) says Comet NEOWISE will be less than half as bright this time next week. It could dim more slowly, or it could break at any time, ending the show. Remember ‘comets are like cats, they have tails and do what they want’. Also, remember we’re looking through 25+ air masses at the horizon. Isn’t skyience (sky-science) cool?”
Note: Some enhancements to the photos have been made. The photographer notes, “The comet is visible to the unaided eye but is not as bright as these photos (or any other you may see online), of course. It’s more pronounced (looking less like a blurry smear) than other bright comets I have seen, especially recently. Still, it’s dim, so finding that sweet spot between it rising shortly after 4 am when the sky is really dark, and 5 am when it’s above the treeline, but begins getting lost in the twilight, is key to seeing it.”
Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE appears as a string of fuzzy red dots in this composite of several heat-sensitive infrared images taken by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission on March 27, 2020. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Catch the comet in the morning sky until July 11, after which you can find it just after sunset until mid-August.
A comet visiting from the most distant parts of our solar system is putting on a spectacular nighttime display. Named Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the comet made its once-in-our-lifetimes close approach to the Sun on July 3, 2020, and will cross outside Earth’s orbit on its way back to the outer parts of the solar system by mid-August.
The comet cruised just inside Mercury’s orbit on July 3. This very close passage by the Sun is cooking the comet’s outermost layers, causing gas and dust to erupt off the icy surface and creating a large tail of debris. And yet the comet has managed to survive this intense roasting.
Observers all over the world are racing to see the natural fireworks display before the comet speeds away into the depths of space. Even the astronauts aboard the International Space Station spotted it from their vantage point high above Earth’s atmosphere.
Comet NEOWISE from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA Astronaut Bob Behnken
People wishing to catch a glimpse of the glowing comet can spot it as it swings through the inner solar system, but its nearness to the Sun creates some observing challenges.
For the next few days it will be visible about an hour before sunrise, close to the horizon in the northeastern sky in the United States. Observers might be able to see the comet’s central core, or nucleus, with the naked eye in dark skies; using binoculars will give viewers a good look at the fuzzy comet and its long, streaky tail. As it speeds away from the Sun, Comet NEOWISE will begin to make its appearance in the evening sky shortly after sunset on July 11.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission discovered the icy visitor on March 27, 2020, using its two infrared channels, which are sensitive to the heat signatures given off by the object as the Sun started to turn up the heat.
The spacecraft was launched in December 2009 and was originally named the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). WISE was not designed to study asteroids and comets and is now long past its expected lifetime of 7 months. Although incapable of discovering large numbers of near-Earth asteroids and comets, the spacecraft has provided information on their numbers and sizes based on a sample of them and was repurposed for this use in 2013 by what is now known as NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
Comet NEOWISE captured on July 6, 2020, above the northeast horizon just before sunrise in Tucson. Credit: Vishnu Reddy
“In its discovery images, Comet NEOWISE appeared as a glowing, fuzzy dot moving across the sky even when it was still pretty far away,” said Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator at the University of Arizona. “As soon as we saw how close it would come to the Sun, we had hopes that it would put on a good show.”
The search for asteroids or comets that could potentially impact Earth also expands the science of these primitive solar system bodies. In this case, Comet NEOWISE will pass by Earth at a harmless distance of 64 million miles (103 million kilometers) while giving astronomers the opportunity to learn more about its composition and structure. The NEOWISE mission’s infrared data complements images taken at visible-light wavelengths by observers on the ground.
“From its infrared signature, we can tell that it is about 5 kilometers [3 miles] across, and by combining the infrared data with visible-light images, we can tell that the comet’s nucleus is covered with sooty, dark particles left over from its formation near the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago,” said Joseph Masiero, NEOWISE deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
The NEOWISE mission is not expected to last much longer due to natural orbital precession and will eventually harmlessly re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The University of Arizona and JPL are now working on developing a highly capable next-generation space-based telescopic survey called the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM). If fully funded, NEOSM would greatly expand NASA’s ability to identify, track, and characterize asteroids and comets that could potentially impact Earth. This would help the agency reach a near-Earth asteroid discovery goal set before it by Congress, and would complement existing and planned ground-based efforts.
NEOSM would optimize the NEOWISE mission’s architecture for the study of near-Earth objects, improving it by using next-generation infrared sensors and strategic operations that would allow it to search a much larger swath of space around Earth’s orbit.
NEOWISE is a project of JPL, a division of Caltech, and the University of Arizona, supported by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
A comet has suddenly become visible to the unaided eye. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was discovered in late March and brightened as it reached its closest approach to the Sun, inside the orbit of Mercury, late last week.
The interplanetary iceberg survived solar heating, so far, and is now becoming closer to the Earth as it starts its long trek back to the outer Solar System. As Comet NEOWISE became one of the few naked-eye comets of the 21st Century, word spread quickly, and the comet has already been photographed behind many famous sites and cities around the globe.
Featured, Comet NEOWISE was captured over Lebanon two days ago just before sunrise. The future brightness of Comet NEOWISE remains somewhat uncertain but the comet will likely continue to be findable not only in the early morning sky, but also next week in the early evening sky.