No, the sky isn’t falling down.
Stargazers across America might have noticed something a little flashy about the sky recently. That’s because the Comet C/2020 F3 — otherwise known as NEOWISE — has been blazing a trail across the edges of our solar system, and will continue to do until mid August. If you haven’t seen it yet, or want to get a better look, here’s how.
The name “NEOWISE” comes from the NASA project that discovered the comet back in March — Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer — which collects measurements of asteroids and catalogues them for a larger database.
“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 NEOWISE Principal Investigator at the University of Arizona, Amy Mainzer. “As soon as we saw how close it would come to the Sun, we had hopes that it would put on a good show.”
On July 3, the three-mile-long comet, NEOWISE, made a once-in-our-lifetime approach to the Sun, cruising just inside Mercury’s orbit. The temperatures were so high that they sparked eruptions in the gas and dust of the comet’s surface, causing a long streaking trail.
Prior to July 11, the comet could be seen close to the horizon around dawn — or just an hour or so before sunrise.
This week, you’ll be able to spot it about 80 minutes after sunset, Space.com says, above the north-northwest horizon:
“We at Space.com feel that the best time to view the comet during the evening will come during the July 14-19 time frame.
We also strongly recommend that observers should seek the most favorable conditions possible. Even a bright comet, like this one, can be obliterated by thin horizon clouds, haze, humid air, smoke, twilight glow and especially city lights. We especially emphasize that last factor: the farther away you get from a metropolitan area, the darker your sky and the better your view of NEOWISE. Binoculars will enhance your view.”
Ok, so maybe you can’t get out of NYC, but even this photographer caught in with the skyline lights, so it’s definitely still worth a look! The moon is also a waning crescent at this time so it won’t light up the sky.
In case you were wondering, the next Hailey’s Comet won’t appear until July 28, 2061, so keep your eyes peeled for NEOWISE!
featured image source: NASA