Pictures of the amazing Comet Neowise have started appear over the news and social media – and if you want to get a picture of this incredible astro event, then this week is likely to be your best chance. With this particular comet not expected at make its return visit to the earth’s skies for another 6,800 years this is something you don’t want to miss seeing.
Comet Neowise, or Comet C/2020 F3 to give it its full name, has turned out to be one of the best comets for people to view without the need for specialist equipment since Comet Hale-Bopp back in 1997. Often comets turn out to be more disappointing than astronomers had hoped – but this one has so far exceeded expectations, and there is still plenty of time to see it for yourself.
It is visible on the northern horizon after sunset or before dawn… as it needs to be dark enough to make out the comet and its tail. You do need to be in the Northern Hemisphere – and of course you also need clear skies.
How to see the comet
But according to Space.com, the conditions for seeing Comet Neowise are now getting better. Up until this week, the best images have been shot in the early hours of the morning, but right now the best views will now be an hour or so after sunset.
“If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you can see it,” said Joe Masiero, deputy principal investigator of NEOWISE, the NASA space telescope that discovered the comet, “As the next couple of days progress, it will get higher in the evening sky, so you’re going to want to look northwest right under the Big Dipper.” (The Big Dipper is a ladle-shaped star pattern that is part of the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear.)
But take note from our colleagues at Space.com “that the best time to view the comet during the evening will come during the 14-19 July time frame.” So if you are going to shoot it, this weekend is going to be the right time to do it!
How to photograph the comet
For photographing the comet, you need a reasonably long exposure in order to capture the comet. An exposure setting of around 5 to 10 seconds is roughly what to expect. For this you will need to use your lens at its widest, maximum aperture – and then set a relatively high ISO in order to give you the correct exposure. An ISO of between 800 and 3200 is what to expect (the exact setting will depend, amongst other things on the maximum aperture of your lens). A tripod is therefore essential if you want sharp shots.
You can use any lens, but the best shots we have seen so far have used a short telephoto setting – so as to get the comet a reasonable size in the frame. A key point is that you should try to find a camera position where you can include some foreground interest – some rocks, say, or a building – that will provide some context to your image.
To observe the comet better, and to see the forked shape of its tail, it is well worth taking binoculars with you.