You Can See Comet NEOWISE at Its Brightest This Weekend—Here’s How
Watch it now...or wait another 6,000 years.
In late March, astronomers using NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) space telescope watched a fairly unremarkable comet traveling over Earth. They categorized the comet as C/2020 F3, dubbed it Comet NEOWISE, and figured it would fade out before passing by the sun as was the case for two of its predecessors. However, astronomers say that Comet NEOWISE not only survived its journey past the sun, but it’s heading back toward Earth and should be visible to even the most amateur stargazers. Here's how to see Comet NEOWISE while you still can.
When to look for Comet NEOWISE:
According to The LA Times, the comet will be "brightest about an hour and a half after sunset between now and Sunday," if you look about 10 degrees above the horizon.
EarthSky reported that the comet was visible at dawn from July 8th until July 11th, when it was its highest in the northeast morning sky. Then you could see it at dusk near the northwest horizon around July 12th through the 15th. After this weekend, it will come closest to Earth on July 22 and then again around July 25th, when it will pass 64 million miles above us.
You won’t want to miss your opportunity to see Comet NEOWISE this month. Astronomers believe that it won’t come back again until the year 8786. Whoa.
How to view Comet NEOWISE:
Though some experts say you'll be able to see the comet, minus its tail, with your naked eyes, if you own binoculars, you should be able to see it in its full, dazzling glory. Have a telescope? You'll be living your best comet-watching life this month.
According to Space, astrophotographer Chris Schur saw Comet NEOWISE on its return trip on July 5th in Payson, Arizona. "I was able to easily see it naked eye with about a degree of tail visually,” Schur told Space. “Gorgeous yellow color in the scope."
Others have seen Comet NEOWISE in the early morning sky, too. Facebook user Zolt Levay posted photos of the comet, which he snapped in Bloomington, Indiana that same day.
“Still not a super spectacular comet, but with a bright nucleus and prominent tail,” Levay wrote on Facebook. “And so far it's much better than the last two comets that were predicted to be knockouts.”
Comet expert John E. Bortle told Space in early July, "Theoretically, the comet shouldn't still be brightening noticeably, as its distance to the sun is undergoing only a small reduction day-to-day at this point, making me think that the comet's current brightness is not being governed mainly by its distance from the sun but, rather it is experiencing some manner of progressive slow outburst.”
In layman’s terms, Comet NEOWISE almost has what it takes to be one of the rare “Greats,” which are comets classified as being bright enough to be viewed with the naked eye and having a noticeable tail of dust and gas—though, EarthSky believes Comet NEOWISE’s magnitude and appearance falls a bit short. But, Russian astronaut Ivan Vagner tweeted that this is the brightest comet to pass by the International Space Station in seven years. And The LA Times reported that it gives the "best show" since Hale-Bopp in 1997.
See Comet NEOWISE in these unreal photos.
Grab your binoculars, look up, and pray that C/2020 isn’t a harbinger of the second coming of dragons à la the Red Comet in Game of Thrones. Hey, 2020 has been unpredictable already.
This post was updated on July 16th, 2020. Originally posted July 8th, 2020.