Comet NEOWISE to Show up in the Skies Tonight – How to Spot it Before it’s Gone

Comet NEOWISE has become one of the most favorite space rocks amidst amateur astronomers and professionals alike. Boasting a long beautiful tail that stretches thousands or even millions of miles across the sky, Comet NEOWISE will be visible until the end of this month.

The comet will also make its closest flyby of Earth, approaching within 64 million miles (103 million kilometers) of our planet. The icy space rock was first spotted on March 27th of this year and was officially named C/2020 F3 NEOWISE. Its name comes from NASA‘s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope.

On July 3rd, Comet NEOWISE passed near the Sun and, fortunately, survived its rendezvous with the fiery star. The space rock will now make its closest flyby of Earth on Thursday, July 23rd.

Where is Comet NEOWISE Now?

Comet NEOWISE​ is the brightest comet to be spotted from the Northern Hemisphere since the Comet Hale-Bopp flew past our planet back in 1997. The cosmic object showed up in the northern skies in early July, reached its highest peak in brightness in the first hours of the morning.

Since about mid-July, the comet’s peak viewing times have switched to the evening hours. About until the end of this month, the space rock will consistently ascend in altitude, but it has already started to dim out.

Unluckily, you won’t be able to watch the comet if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. The object can be spotted just below the Big Dipper or Plough asterism. The Big Dipper’s seven gleaming stars are part of the Ursa Major constellation in the northwestern skies.

Comet NEOWISE’s location. [Image: earthsky.og]
NASA’s Emily Kramer, NEOWISE co-investigator, explained: “You should be able to see it from most places in the Northern Hemisphere, so long as you have a reasonably dark sky and have a clear view of the northwestern horizon.”

How to Watch Comet NEOWISE​ in the Skies?

It might also be more difficult for you to spot the comet if you live in a big city due to light pollution. And even though many astronomers have said that the object is visible to the naked eye, it is best to take a pair of binoculars or a small telescope with you as you’ll have more chance to spot it using an instrument. Also, keep your eyes out for the comet about an hour after sunset.

You can visit a website like TimeandDate to check your local sunrise and sunset times as well, and if you want to see the detail in the comet’s tail, we recommend you take a long exposure picture.

Joe Masiero, the deputy principal investigator of the NEOWISE mission, explained: “You can’t really see it with the human eye although you might notice it moving a little bit with respect to the background stars. If, for instance, you have a camera with a tripod and you’re taking images over time, but on minute-to-minute, it’s not moving very fast. If you’re two images night-to-night, you will see it distinctly moving against the background frame of the stars. So you can see that motion over even one day.”

Once Comet NEOWISE​ passes out of sight, it will not be seen from Earth for at least 6,800 years.

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